This year, I have actually been gifted some amazing new friends. Living in Raleigh for just 15 months, I have been blessed and amazed at how quickly the friends have come and how beautiful they have all been. So my “Thanksgiving Family” was made up of new-ish and newer friends and I know next year, it will be some of these same ones and a few that I haven’t even met yet. Yesterday, I kept finding myself looking around and smiling and remember that desperate feeling I had two years ago and how my hearts’ desire were finally met.
But here’s the thing and this is the important reason for sharing this story…I could have stayed in that place I was in two years ago…quite literally. I could have not recognized, or dare I say ignored, the changes I needed to make to have the relationships I longed for most. I could have not actively looked for friends once I moved here. I could have chosen not to make the vulnerable move and invite people to thanksgiving, remembering my failed attempts of years past, but I did it.
I made daily changes without the attached outcome of a Thanksgiving Family, but that was the added bonus of it all! I stuck my neck out to cultivate friendships and plan dinners, coffee, time together and thanksgiving meals. I recognize some thanks should go to the person who created meetup.com. In fact, all of the beautiful face around my table I either directly or indirectly met through three different meetups…one I host to discuss dating dilemmas, one is a woman’s dinner club and the other a cooking meetup. But what if I never went to a meetup? What if I never sent that facebook friend request or exchanged phone numbers so I could have a friendship with the cool kids outside of the meetup? I am pretty sure if I hadn’t, this thanksgiving would be a whole lot like that of 2013.
We can be grateful for what we have, we can be thankful even when its truly not enough, we can chose to keep things the way they are and wallow in our stories and disappointments, but like I said in the blog below, that really isn’t me. It doesn’t have to be you either…be intentional, create the story YOU WANT instead of the one you’re replaying in your head. You just might find a new reason to be thankful, new faces around your table, new things to be grateful for and a new “Thanksgiving Family!”
I started cooking Thanksgiving dinners when I was 15 or so. The first couple of years my mom lovingly guided me from the kitchen table, but with each passing year, especially once I got married and I had china and silver and crystal, the meals and table settings got more elaborate. Being the only child of an only child on my moms’ side and my dad’s siblings had died young, our table wasn’t surrounded with a lot of family. However, we always found people who didn’t have anywhere else to go that day and they became our annual “Thanksgiving Family.” Over the years, the thanksgiving family got to know each other and everyone looked forward to their annual catching up. And each year, there would be new friends because a few of the old would have other plans…it was always exciting to me to see who would be around the tables.
But what happens when life starts throwing some major curveballs? The first came when I lost a child who every year would sing silly Thanksgiving songs after the meal. He loved to eat, entertain and be hospitable and anytime we had cake,he said it was a party! So “Turkey Feast” as we called it, was his kind of bliss. The first Thanksgiving after we lost him, we decided to shake it up and do a brunch instead, but it didn’t really help and I still miss our traditional version of Thanksgiving. The next year I was back to OUR old thanksgiving and again the year after, they were smaller but I had no idea it would be my last big thanksgiving meal, and my last with my mom.
Months after my mom died, who by then was basically my last living family member, we packed up and moved 1400 miles away where I anticipated scaled down holidays while dealing with some pretty profound grief. While nothing compares to losing a child, losing your roots, the family that raised you and molded you has been paralyzing for me in many ways. I don’t want it to be. I want to be able to be bigger than it, glass half full, bright side, sunny disposition…I’ve always said I’m a realist with a lean towards the positive. I’ve never allowed myself to be marked by and steeped in grief…I couldn’t live there, it’s just not me. However, for someone that always went all out for the holidays, I miss that part of me and long to have it back some day.
Quite honestly, I never enjoyed having a small family, which is not only why we collected people over the years but also why I wanted to have a bunch of kids. I excitedly anticipate the day they come for the holidays with significant others and kids in tow…I know a full house will give me a full heart! But that’s years off…and we’ve moved states two more times since that 1400 mile move….so starting a collection of people hasn’t happened as easily as I would have liked. This year (2013), I tried…in fact, I contemplated even putting an ad somewhere online. I know there are others like me, especially single parents whose kids will go to their ex’s house and they can’t be with their family for whatever reason. My dream would be to have those people surrounding my table someday, a new “Thanksgiving Family.” When my efforts of late were getting me nowhere, I realized a couple of things.
First, I started telling myself that I needed to be content with a thanksgiving for four…and to be happy I don’t even have to share part of the day with their dad. I am unbelievably grateful for my kids…but honestly that’s something I feel every day. So I started telling myself I need to be happy with “what is” versus what used to be, or what should be, or I wish would be.
I began to tear those things apart and evaluate them this week. I will never have those experiences again that I had the first 15-20 Thanksgivings I prepared. Besides the most significant players having all died, the other players have married, had kids or grandkids and their lives have all changed too. They have new places to go for dinner and I am genuinely happy for them. Then I thought about my last two Thanksgivings where I live now…there have actually been three but I can’t recall the one before. Two years ago, my ex husband and I had finalized our plans to divorce just two days before Thanksgiving and announced it to our world “we completed our marriage.” We actually spent Thanksgiving separately….he went to one set of friends and the kids and I went to another. But the kids complained we didn’t get to eat their favorites so we had a mini version that Sunday, where all five of us ate our last meal at a table together. I know you’re thinking “No wonder you aren’t happy today!” Honestly our marital relationship was over years before and so both of us felt some level of relief and it really was okay. I just happen to be on the slightly sentimental side and for his final two weeks still living with us kept thinking “This is the last time….” Or “He won’t get to be a part of this next time…”.
What do I wish? Well, I’d be happy with a myriad of scenarios as long as it included a host of people. I know I can’t bring my family back, I know I can’t pretend to be a part of someone else’s. I know I can’t snap my fingers and make it all the way I want. Basically I just want to be with more people and the day to feel special. I will not scroll facebook today because it’s a constant reminder that it just feels like another day here at my address…only with food I make just once a year. I will avoid the stores tomorrow because I see all of the herds of relative shopping while I shop alone. I will try to get through the next couple of days not remembering that I am untethered when I long for that more than anything else. Somehow, I will sit at my table with the beautiful faces of my children and not feel guilty that I couldn’t give them a “thanksgiving family”, but hopefully, we can still be grateful when it’s not quite enough.