Lisa Kogan
Photo: Michael Edwards
I spent 10 Thanksgivings volunteering in a Harlem soup kitchen because—hell, I'll just say it—I'm one of the few women of my generation who look really good in a hairnet. Also, I love to cook. I love turning nothing into something. I love the smell of garlic and lemon and ginger and onion. I love how blissed out a table full of people get over a crumbly cornbread stuffing or a perfectly dressed salad or a sweet potato-bourbon pie made from scratch. Oh, and there's one more reason I went out of my way to spend every holiday surrounded by a group of strangers: I couldn't bear to be with my family.

It's not that I don't love them—I do. They are a decent, God-fearing lot who would walk a mile out of their way to help if they thought you were in trouble. They recycle, they vote, they pay taxes, they e-mail the warning signs of a stroke. They are pillars of their communities, credits to their race, sugar and spice and everything nice, the cat's pajamas, the monkey's espadrilles. They'll meet your plane, they'll walk your dog, they'll remember your birthday, they'll save you a drumstick. But here's where my family and I parted company: They were all married with children, and for the first 42 years of my life, I was neither.

One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn't belong, goes the lyric to my favorite Sesame Street tune. Who'd have guessed that Big Bird would end up killing me softly with his song, but it's true—while I hardly qualify as the family's black sheep, in the race for odd duck I've broken away from the pack and am currently maintaining a significant lead.

Now, if you've read my column before, you know I have a boyfriend (that would be Johannes) and we have a 3-year-old daughter (the lovely and amazing Julia Claire). But I would remind you that the boyfriend lives in Europe and, as I just mentioned, the daughter wasn't born till I was in my 40s. I've looked at life from both sides now, but with Johannes off raising his son in Zurich eight months of the year, I continue to live with one foot planted firmly in the land of the single woman. And I'm here to tell you that it's hard out here for me and a whole lot of other bachelor girls in their 30s and 40s.

I'm not entirely sure why I never married. I've been accused of being too picky, too career oriented, too selfish, too difficult. If too picky means that I happen to be partial to men who chew with their mouths closed, then by all means, color me picky. As for the rest, frankly I've always found myself to be utterly delightful (or at least no more ambitious, selfish, difficult than any of my married friends). Still, in the interest of fairness, I invite those with opposing viewpoints to go ahead and vent away in their columns.
So what did happen? Is it possible that, like the dizzy comic-strip women in those Roy Lichtenstein paintings, I simply got too caught up in the little psychodramas of everyday living? Here's a thought: Maybe I was so busy dealing with all my family's and friends' weddings that I didn't have time for one of my own. I checked registries and bought the silver seafood forks, the ice cream makers, the Tiffany corncob holders, the lacy black camisoles for three dozen bridal showers where I drank Prosecco and made nice to the groom's aunt from St. Paul. I walked down the aisle in satin pumps dyed Kit Kat-bar brown to match the strapless taffeta dresses I was assured I'd wear again and again. I sat through the toasts to couplehood, the questions about when it would be my turn, the casual mention that "it's perfectly okay to be know...if anybody happens to be."

I smiled gamely as the band played "Someone to Watch Over Me." I made a point of being in the ladies' room during the bouquet toss, I threw sachets of politically correct birdseed, and I went home and waited for the baby showers to begin.

Evidently, nothing leads to pregnancy faster than chowing down on a scoop of homemade ice cream and an ear of corn while dressed in a lacy camisole, because it wasn't long before I was buying the newlyweds a car seat, a crib set, a soft yellow squeaky thing that played "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," and listening to brand-new mothers extolling the virtues of a good epidural. Legend has it that my friend Brenda found herself licking the anesthesiologist's fingers during the birth of baby number three, but I'll save that for my Valentine's Day column on unrelenting pain. Meanwhile, back at the Thanksgiving column, my list of cousins was growing. The holidays became about sippy cups and I became "the kid with the interesting job."

The only someone to watch over me was me, and everybody knew it. Conversational gambits at holiday dinners were confined to safe subjects guaranteed not to draw any attention to the fact that I'd never be on the receiving end of a silver seafood fork. Allow me to elaborate:

Uncle Sol: "Say, did you know that Dalmatians tend to be hard of hearing?"
Me: "Umm, no."
Uncle Sol: "It's true."
Me: "Okay."
Uncle Sol: "So [long pause], how's your bicycle doing?"
Me: "Pretty good...yours?"
Uncle Sol: "Great."
Me: "Great."

They tried, I tried, we all tried, and the harder we tried, the more strained it got, until one day, I had a baby of my own, and suddenly my relationship with Johannes was deemed legitimate and motherhood took me from screw-up to grown-up in the eyes of the people whose respect I craved most.

That was a few years and a million somebody elses ago. Jules is in preschool now—and (as we go to press) still single, though she has been seeing one Mr. Bennett Orenstein, who is not only potty-trained but was recently awarded a medal for swimming with his face in the water.

I know that someday soon my girl will come home with a construction-paper Pilgrim hat and a pipe-cleaner turkey and they will become the centerpiece for our own Thanksgiving dinner, complete with our own traditions. We will invite all our friends who, thanks to divorces and long distances and family dynamics, find themselves free that night. We'll raise our glasses and drink to being who we want to be. And then we'll sit down to a large platter brimming with fettuccine Alfredo and all the trimmings. Once an odd duck, always an odd duck.

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