Last night I surprised myself and got excited about Thanksgiving.
Like, really excited.
We didn’t do anything special or even different this year, but all of a sudden I found myself looking forward to cooking with my Mom and kids, playing board games, and hanging out. We ate, we drank, we told fart jokes. We drug the Christmas tree up from the basement and watched a cheesy holiday movie.
It was so good.
The truth is nothing happened this year that hasn’t happened in years past. This Thanksgiving just happened to fall during a happy time in our lives. Lee and I have been married for 20 Thanksgivings. Some years we’ve seen two meals in one day, requiring a mad dash from relative’s house to relative’s house. Some years we had to ditch plans because of sick kids or car trouble. Some years we ate well, some years we didn’t. Some Thanksgivings found us sharing a meal at a friend’s home, sometimes friends and family found their way to our table. This year it was just us, and I’m grateful for it.
What I’ve learned about gratitude since I’ve started this little project is that you don’t have to feel all the good stuff to know that it’s good stuff. Even though we went through some Hard Times I still made great memories with my kids, I still loved the moments of my life, and the turkey always tasted amazing.
You can experience gratitude even while walking through Hard Times.
So if you felt sad this Thanksgiving that’s okay. If you’re dealing with some anger don’t fight it (but be nice). Maybe you’re dealing with heavy loss and can’t feel much of anything. It’s okay. Feel your feelings no matter how cliche that little line is. You’ll be making memories regardless of how you feel.
Take our family’s Thanksgiving last year, for instance. Our family was still uncertain about everything from job situations, to friend situations. Our lives felt very up-in-the-air. I was still mourning my things being packed away in storage, and Lee was still trying to figure out the job situation.
My brother Erik had been living out of my parent’s house for about 7 months. His meds still were not right. He had transitioned from being a fairly docile, easy to to be with guy to an unpredictable time bomb. My mom and I were still dealing with a lingering cough leftover from a flu that had gone through our family, and we had both just gotten over a nasty UTI. The thought of cooking left us exhausted. We thought going to Natural Bridge State Park for our Thanksgiving meal would be an easy solution. Who doesn’t love a buffet?
We couldn’t make reservations, so we decided that after lunch would probably be a slower time. I felt a little worried when we had a hard time finding parking spaces. I felt very worried when I saw the number of people hanging out. I felt a little relief when I saw the platters of meat, cheese, and veggies for snacking while you waited for a table to become available.
The kids were mildly grumbly about the wait, though two had brought a book along. My parents are generally content to do whatever. I had food and strangers to converse with, two of my favorite things in life, so I had no issues.
Erik, though, was a different story.
Crowds have never been his thing and last year, when he was still riding the ‘find the right medication train’, was no exception. Anything could set him off crying, or yelling, or talking about violent things he believed happened to him. Fortunately he has a pretty serious speech impediment so strangers can generally only recognize every few words. Unfortunately, ‘knife’, ‘murder’, and ‘gun’ are all fairly easy for him to pronounce.
Because I’m the low-key one in the family, best equipped to deal with his brand of weird, Erik was my companion for the afternoon.
Actually, I think it’s because I don’t embarrass easily.
Erik experienced a novel’s worth of emotions in a 3 hour period. I think the only thing that got me through was knowing there was a massive pile of banana pudding waiting for me at the end.
Erik and I walked laps together, the whole while he recited middle school memories, flashes of CNN headline news, and made up events. It went like this:
Erik: When I was in middle school kids took my lunch money.
Kara: How about a happy memory?
E: Yeah. The police shoot people who are bad.
K: Just tell people Happy Thanksgiving, please. People are here to have fun.
E: Okay. Happy Thanksgiving! (in angry Archie Bunker voice)
K: (eye roll) I’m going to eat all the banana pudding when we get up there.
E: Yeah. Me too. (Short pause while he gathers his thoughts) If there’s a knife up there, though, you should take it. My mom said I’m not allowed to touch knives.
K: Maybe we should go outside…
Seriously. That’s how it went.
The first few laps people would try and talk to us, but after the third or fourth pass people knew to just keep their heads down and not make eye contact with the two nutters mumbling about being beaten up and banana pudding. My kids were simultaneously flustered and furious with their uncle. They were also hungry. Unlike me, however, the veggie and cheese trays did not satisfy their hungry tummies.
I’m not sure how long the wait was, but we finally made it to our table.
The first thing we do when we’re eating out with Erik is try and block him in. Unfortunately we were at a table in the center of the room, so not only was there no trapping him, but we were at center stage. To make matters trickier there was also a piano in the room. Musical instruments are like a magnet for Erik and he lacks impulse control and does not conform to social norms. We knew if he started playing we were done-for. He starts playing and people are like, “Oh, that nice gentleman who seems a little different is playing the piano. Let’s clap and really get him going so that his family is forced to deal with not just him but us, too.”
Maybe that’s not quite how it goes. If you see him playing piano out somewhere you can clap. I won’t be mad.
At any rate, we spent most of the meal bribing him to stay away from the piano, getting our youngest to not run laps around the dining area, and praying that only one drink would spill. When I was finally able to go up for desert all of the other cotton-headed-ninny-muggins celebrating Thanksgiving at the buffet had taken all of the banana pudding. Only the meringue was left. Who does that?
I confess that I thought, “This is my Thanksgiving?”
You know what, though? Looking back on last year makes me smile, even laugh. Mom and Dad didn’t even remember how weird it was. I look back and think, “That was a good Thanksgiving.” This year is different. This year Erik is much more settled, thanks to the miracle of medication and behavior therapists. My kids are happy and have friends, and we have a new community to lean on. Life is good this year, just like life was good last year. There were just different things going on in our lives.
Next year there will be other different things going on.
My point is we’ll be making memories regardless of what’s happening. Holidays just come, they don’t care what’s going on in our lives. Some of the memories of Thanksgivings past may make us smile, some may make us cry. The point of memories is just to remember and savor whatever stuff is swirling around in your life. It’s not about making the day perfect or special. You know, you take the good, you take the bad, and there you have the facts of life.
That’s an actual quote from the The Facts of Life theme song. I never knew how true and how poignant that song was until this moment.