Today is Thanksgiving and it is always a mixed bag of emotions for me. I’m going to use the wayback machine on this one. It’s all personal stories, so keep scrolling if not interested.
Back when I was a kid, a rift in the extended family meant that people chose sides. My aunt is a true narcissist and when her marriage ended, she demanded complete fealty to her without question. As she proceeded to sleep around with half the men (and a good number of high school boys) in town, every whim and indulgence was afforded to her at the expense of anyone whose life she touched. Especially her family. In just a year, she went from being the holiday dictator and this forced Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving at her house to my mom and dad and me spending the holiday with just ourselves. Cast out, as it were. She was good at talking shit about her ex-husband, and as a result, her boys lost their dad. And really, the whole rest of the family melted down too. Things have never improved.
My family is odd. We eat Thanksgiving dinner at 11am. Yes. You read that right. That is to say that’s how my folks do things. I do not. I’m still trying to find out my own way. As my life continues, post-divorce, I don’t really know what I do anymore. Usually I’m along for the ride. A third wheel with friends, or dragging the kids with me to dinner with the grandparents. And sometimes the police drop in if the baby-mama decides to call a welfare check in the middle of dinner (this has happened twice).
Because my family growing up was pretty much stuck with themselves, as the only kid around while all my other friends had the day off, I had to respect that they were all doing things with their own families. Which also meant they were having Thanksgiving Dinner at a time probably much later in the afternoon. If not the evening. Long story short, it was a lonely day.
When I was married, I did much of the cooking, including brining and babysitting a giant turkey in a 5 gallon bucket overnight (checking on it hourly to make sure it was at a temperature that wouldn’t kill us–because germs! *clutches pearls*) and for whatever reason we invited both sides of the family over. Because my former BIL always worked and my parents’ fixation with eating dinner before noon, we compromised and tried to hit the 1 o’clock mark so everyone could inhale the dinner we had worked our asses off to make and be out the door before it got dark. Like 8-9 hours to prepare (I’m not kidding–I would start cooking at 6am) and about twenty minutes to inhale.
In those days, every Thanksgiving came with its share of drama. Nieces and nephews, grandparents, our kids, freaking dogs all over the place–complete chaos. And once it was done and the piles of our nice china were collected (and for some reason I was the only one trusted to wash them all) the cleanup began. Then my ex-wife would attack the Black Friday sales on her own later that night while I stayed home with the kids. Or sometimes I would have to stand in line to get that PS3 or whatever other garbage nobody needed because it was on sale.
I never felt like I was a apart of the Holidays, other than what I was being used for to make them happen. In a way, I wasn’t much different than that turkey.
I went from a lonely Thanksgiving growing up to this clusterfuck of epic proportions. I went from wanting family around and then missing that connection to just wishing I could take a vacation someplace on my own. The other day, a friend of mine told me about how she just wants the big turkey and the family dinner and how in all the years she’s been married, she’s only been able to do that once. I can’t remember how many turkeys I’ve roasted over the years. I feel like we could benefit from a Freaky Friday on this one.
However, Thanksgiving became something else for me. A sore spot in my own life. And I wish I could say things have gotten any better. Well, I guess in some ways they have. Mostly my attitude.
The first Thanksgiving after I filed for divorce introduced my kids to the house where I had moved. They played on the playground behind my house, but they were still so spooky. I got them for half the day. My parents got to meet these new spooky kids who mistrusted everyone (because they were told to). I was so happy to have them back with me again after having not seen them for 24 days. But they had changed. And not in good ways. The holidays are hard for my kids. And for me, there has always been the push-pull of trying to placate everyone or make everyone happy. The peacemaker who knows no peace.
We have had to split Thanksgiving since then, making it a real pain in the butt holiday. It’s a weird, goofy schedule I have to look at every year. This year was different. My two oldest live with their mom. I haven’t seen them in years. My youngest is wrapped up in a court dispute right now, and wouldn’t you know it, the court made no provisions for birthdays, holidays, or Thanksgiving. So, I won’t even be hearing from him today. I’ve seen him in person twice in five months–that 24 days is nothing compared to this.
I miss my kids. I miss my family. Yet again, the will of one person has a ripple effect and history repeats itself. And who suffers? Who gets to see that this is “normal” for adults to do this?
So, today, I feel that solitude like I did back when I was growing up. I ate dinner at 11 this morning with my mom and dad. I was back home again by 12:30pm and knowing that everyone else was busy making dinner for their families, going over to friends, or just doing their thing, I took a nap for a couple hours. This year wasn’t the worst Thanksgiving though. Even if we were short a couple table settings for those who couldn’t be with us.
I had years where being surrounded by family made me feel more lonely than just being in a house and listening to music on my own or playing fetch with the dog. Those years made me want to scream and cry and walk out the door and never look back. But you know in our society, it is anathema to even speak like that. (Men don’t have real feelings).
Right now, I know my son is thinking about me. He’s a great kid, and stronger than any eleven year old ought to be.
As opposed to kicking rocks on my own as a kid, I’m just here in my own skin. I’m thinking of how I would like to build my own tradition. This year was such a weird, up in the air kind of thing, with court and all that I didn’t get to make plans. I’d love to do something different. Try lots of things that are different. Maybe instead of the traditional dinner and such, my thing will be to never have it be the same every year.
I am thankful for many things. Having a roof over my head. Getting to work towards my dream of writing full time. Reconnections. Grace and Patience from others. Having newfound faith in things working out with my son. Getting to live in such a beautiful place. Sharing time with my mom and dad. And of course Penny. Getting to learn new skills like carpentry and kimchi making. Establishing boundaries and enforcing them. The memories that keep me company of good times and great people. Finding strength to ask for help, and being a friend to others who are struggling sometimes. I’m thankful for my health. Thankful for having less debt than I ever have. Thankful for that cold blast of air that hits me in the face every morning I step outside. I’m thankful for surviving and now it’s time to show my thanks and start thriving.
So, while everyone is cooking like crazy, watching football, or slipping into a turkey coma, I’m going to put my butt in the chair and write.
Happy Thanksgiving! Always be thankful for what you have.