It is Wednesday afternoon. I am home from work early after a half-day at school. Newman and I drove straight to the grocery store at noon and stocked up while it was still uncrowded. Now we are home, and he is sleeping while I am settling into a corner of the couch to blog and somehow feel the quiet before the weekend ahead. Newman’s children are all home from college, and some of my family are coming to visit too. Anytime you mix family together, there is sure to be energy, and we are readying ourselves to try not to control or resist it but rather to enjoy the ride. Tomorrow I will run an early 5K race and then enjoy some alone time with Newman before celebrating with the kids on Friday and through the weekend. I’m not sad about not seeing them tomorrow; I’m glad that everyone will be happy where they are, and I am going to embrace the essence of gratitude for the day.
My family did not celebrate Thanksgiving in Ireland. Hallowe’en and Christmas were celebrated differently in my youth there too–much less commercialized and more about the religious roots of these “holy” days. They were great fun then and remain so now, but their flavor has changed. I certainly came late to the party in terms of the whirlwind of shopping and decorating that surrounds holidays in the States. I can appreciate it, but as I get older, I find myself wanting to minimize the shopping involved and go back to the essential formula of family+food+fun.
Thanksgiving seems to be truest to this formula as it still remains relatively free of much holiday paraphernalia, but I didn’t grow up having any serious sentimental attachments to the day. We moved to the States when I was thirteen, and since I’m one of the younger siblings in a large family, it was never entirely predictable who would be around for the holiday. We moved a lot in those first few years as my dad and mom struggled to make ends meet, so there wasn’t a specific house we were used to celebrating in. When I started dating Free’s dad at the young age of 20, I wasn’t that invested in the rituals of Thanksgiving simply because they were still pretty new and inconsistent to me. Coming from a part Native-American heritage, Free’s dad and his family introduced me to a whole new way to think about Thanksgiving, one that challenged and complicated the idyllic picture consumed by the masses.
Thanksgiving remained a pretty flexible and impersonal holiday for me in my twenties and early thirties as we traveled here and there, trading off whose family we would spend it with. I was a vegetarian for seven years in my twenties, so the holiday lost some of its allure that way, too. When I separated from my ex, it seemed easy to let him take Free for Thanksgiving as we negotiated who would get what holidays with her. For the last few years, she has spent the day with her dad and comes to me for the weekend.
While it would seem that I have lots of reasons not to care about Thanksgiving, I’m finding it has more significance to me now that I’m in my late thirties. I have celebrated enough Thanksgivings that I have built up a store of meaningful memories and associations. I look forward to it and ease into it, anticipating my mother’s divine stuffing, the mashed potatoes just like the ones I ate daily in my youth, and comforting swaths of leftovers for days. I love having a couple of days off work. I love that the stores are closed (at least here in Massachusetts, one of the few states that still bans stores from opening on this day). In my days with my ex-husband, I loved lying around lazily after dinner with his siblings and their children, watching old movies and relaxing together. We often told stories, some new and many rehashed one more time, and I loved feeling comfortable and connected. I know it will take some time, but I hope to eventually build this same sort of ease between me and Newman, our children, and our relatives. I love pulling out cards or a board-game and competing with children and grandparents alike. I love the late night glass of wine that accompanies one more snack before bed. I love watching generations mix and noticing into who is cooking and serving and cleaning, who is chatting and entertaining, and who sits down last, after everyone else has eaten. I love watching people revert to family roles and sometimes wrestle with changing notions of who they are and who they’ve become since they were here last. More recently, I love having some time alone with Newman on the day, to tune into each other and how far we’ve come since the year before. Thanksgiving has brought us some stress in years past, but the stress between us (as opposed to that around us) seems to ebb a little bit more each year.
Over the last few years, I’ve explored new traditions like apple-picking, the quintessential New England outing. I started visiting local farms and orchards after I had Free, and I have grown to love these activities. They remind me of how little it takes to find peace and joy, if we are truly dedicated to finding it. How satisfying it is to tune into nature and its vicissitudes, to the fruits of the season’s harvest, and to the gifts of this present moment–even with its strife. There will come a day, not so far from now, when our children will be grown and carving their own turkeys and rituals out for themselves. There will be riches to enjoy then too, but for now, we have this moment, this day, and so much to be thankful for.
On this day, I am thankful for the family members and friends who have proven their love and loyalty a thousand times in a thousand ways. I am thankful for their forgiveness when I am not my best self and for their inspiration when they share their best selves with me. I am thankful for the kindnesses of strangers and the vulnerabilities of those closest to me. I am thankful for my health, for my growing appreciation of it and my increasing desire to care for this body that has housed my spirit so well for so many years. I am thankful for the gifts I have to share and those who have encouraged them, nurtured them, and celebrated them (especially my blog-partners, this year, for their journey with me as I explored my writing voice). I am thankful for Mother Earth and Father Sky and rock walls and flowers and the color red and the roads I run on for reminding me every day that there is joy to be found all around, even in times of darkness and need.
I am so very, very thankful for my daughter, for how lovely and loving she is, and for how loved she is–by me, by her father, by all who join me in the work of caring for her. I am so very, very thankful for my mother, who continues to teach me how to keep rising and continues to show me that wisdom and peace are within reach for all of us. I am so very, very thankful for Newman, my love, for the reality of a man who is actually this wonderful and for the incredible luck of finding him and falling for him.
I am thankful for all this and for so much more. What are you thankful for?