Today I figured I’d offer 7 Thanksgiving-related things that I’m thankful for. (Is that “Thanksgiving” enough for you?)
I am so incredibly thankful – and I feel it most acutely at this time of the year – to have a little family of my own. I’ve talked about it before (here and here), but Brennan and I both spent about a decade of our adult lives single (single single, as I put it in one of those pieces) before we started dating. For much of that time – with no boyfriend, no dates, not even any real prospects – I seriously wondered whether I would ever have a family of my own. I never took that “husband and kids” future for granted. I hoped and prayed for it, but eventually I had to try to come to terms with the idea that it might not happen.
For this reason, I feel a particular sympathy for singles, of course, but also for couples experiencing fertility problems. I’m sure I don’t understand half of what they go through, but I very much understand the heartache of wondering on that one, very important point: Will I ever have a family of my own?
When I think on gratitude (and I’m grateful to have had so many reasons to think on it), the image of walking tends to come to mind. “I walk with gratitude,” is how I think of it. With this step, I think with gratitude on the big, loving, supportive family I was born into. With this one, I think of all the friends who have added so much to my life. With these few, I think on how I’ve been blessed to be able to live out my interests in community, church, politics, history, music, and service. With this one, I think on my kind, handsome, interesting husband. With these two, I think on my lively, loving, gorgeous boys. With this one, I think on my tiny son moving within me.
And I am wowed. I have been so blessed.
I am thankful that my childhood Thanksgiving memories include something so wonderfully unusual for an American to have experienced: a blessing of the hounds before a fox hunt. When I was a child, my grandparents had a farm next to a historic manor that sat on something like 1,000 acres. On Thanksgiving morning, we and other members of the local community would pull into the Manor’s long drive and walk out onto a grassy area where the hunters and horses and hounds were all gathered. We kids would be giddy with excitement, staring at all the horse trailers and the beautiful animals with red-clad hunters on their backs. We’d walk out on the field, shivering yet showing off our holiday finest, trying to get glimpses of the hounds between all the people milling about. After a while, a priest would say a blessing over the hounds, and they would be off. Then we’d all pile back into our cars and drive next-door to my grandparents’ for our big (midday) dinner.
I’m thankful that with our big, pitch-in-together family, we get the benefits of a massive spread of food at Thanksgiving without anybody killing ourselves over it. My grandparents roast the turkey and do sweet potatoes and a cranberry salad while everyone else brings the appetizers, the other sides, and the desserts. Each of the dozen or so families that usually come bring 2-3 dishes, and we have more food (and a better selection!) than anybody could possibly want. Yet (I don’t think) any of us feel like we’re under the terrible stress that so many Thanksgiving cooks describe this time of the year.
(For anybody who cares about such things, here’s what our spread usually looks like: turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, sauerkraut, green bean casserole, corn pudding, spinach or broccoli casserole, green salad, cranberry salad, ambrosia or a Jello salad, rolls, a variety of dips or finger foods, pumpkin pie, apple pie, some other pie(s), pumpkin roll, cookies and/or brownies. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.)
I promise you it’s not as bad as it sounds: we generally have around 50 people to feed.
I’m SO thankful that this year… drum roll… my parents took my boys home with them on Thanksgiving night! And they’re keeping them until Saturday evening!
That’s like 48 child-free hours! I have about two weeks’ worth of tasks to fit into the 30 hours I’ve got left, so I’d better get cracking!
Following on number four, I’m thankful that this year I actually got to play cards with my family on Thanksgiving evening. My family is really into cards and board games and though I love them too, normally I’m chasing after small boys or my (deservedly) tired husband is itching to go home. But this year the boys went home with Mom and Dad and the hubby and I had driven separately, so mama was free! It felt marvelous.
I’m thankful that my husband fits into my side of the family so well. He’s from Minnesota and we’re in the greater DC area, so we don’t get to see his family as much as we’d like to. But Brennan really enjoys being around my family and especially loves talking politics and hunting with my brother, uncles, and cousins, so he looks forward to these gatherings as much as I do. My uncle has started a tradition of having a “turkey shoot” (really, a trap shoot) at his small farm on Thanksgiving morning, which Brennan looks forward to all year. So he starts Thanksgiving day there with the trap shoot and my aunt’s delicious homemade cinnamon buns, while the boys and I enjoy the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with some homemade goodies of our own. Then we all meet up at my grandparents’ for dinner.
I’m thankful that, a couple of years ago, I had the good sense to decide to view the holidays through an ultra-realistic lens.
Before I was married with my own children, I had these perfect little images in my head of what it would be like to create perfect little holiday experiences for my perfect little hypothetical children. (Okay, I wasn’t that unrealistic: I had enough exposure to small children to know that none of them – my own someday-children included – would be perfect.) But I had enough invested in this idea of perfect, sparkly, greeting-card-worthy holiday scenes to become pretty darned disappointed with my own less-than-perfect first holidays as a wife and mother.
So after a couple of years, I knew I had to do something about it. I couldn’t walk away from every holiday, ever, for the rest of my life, feeling disappointed. I needed to lower my expectations. (That sounds horrible, doesn’t it? But it was true.) I needed to realize that any stresses, difficulties, or hang-ups I have with myself or with others on a normal day would be there on a holiday too.
I needed to give up my ideas of fancy special-occasion clothes and pretty place-settings for an elaborate holiday dinner. Because that’s just not what we do. In my family we do a rowdy, casual potluck for something like 50 people. We haven’t had an “adult table” and a “kid table” in years: we have people sitting on every chair, sofa, and patch of floor they can find. We no longer bring out the silver and the real plates: we’re smart enough to use disposables. We no longer have a roaring fire: it’s just too darned hot with all those bodies packed into a moderate-sized home.
In my family, the joy of the holiday is in being together. We do not prioritize taste or décor or even peace. All that counts is that we’re together.
(Let me express my pride for a moment that my one cousin who works in retail, a teenager, has her priorities enough in order that she gave up time-and-a-half at her workplace yesterday to come to our family Thanksgiving dinner. We’re thankful that she had a choice, and even more thankful that she chose us.)
I’m thankful to have finally embraced that “All that counts is that we’re together” thing. The first few holidays of my married life were the most miserable I ever experienced. The last few have been the absolute best. I attribute that entirely to two words: realistic expectations.
A belated Happy Thanksgiving to you all! Be sure to stop over to Jen’s to check out the rest of the Quick Takes!