Thanksgiving was one of my favorite holidays. As a pre-teenager through my early twenties, I remember my mother and father hosting a couple dozen people in our formal dining room on the upper west side. It’s funny how specific memories may fade but flavors remain–ricotta and sausage stuffing (we’re Italian), antipasto salad, my mother’s apple pie and my aunt’s pumpkin chiffon pie.
In 1997, when my father died weeks before Thanksgiving, I couldn’t even fathom celebrating a holiday ever again. But my mother and I relied on our family and we went to them and they took care of us. We broke bread and found things to be thankful for.
Fall 1999 I got married. By November 2000 I was expecting our first child. Exactly a week before Thanksgiving she was born. I couldn’t believe she was mine. She was the most perfect being…. lovely and healthy, tiny with wide, bright eyes. I was an anxious first-time mother. My only job: keep the baby alive. Every day I did this felt like a victory. Finally every sadness, every loss was righted…with her birth, my heart was healed and there was no doubt what I had to be thankful for.
About two years later I found I was pregnant again, this time with a boy, and I remember going to my grandmother’s house pregnant and with a toddler and my grandmother telling me: “This time next year you’ll have twice as much to be grateful for!”
In 2006, when my son and daughter were 3 and 5, respectively, we decided to divorce. Divorce is really hard. It’s hard on the divorcing parties, it’s hard on their extended families, but it’s hardest on the children (when there are children). I don’t talk much about my divorce, other than I had one, out of respect for those involved, but as this blog has evolved to include more personal reflection it’s become important to re-examine some of my initial “rules” from time-to-time while still respecting everyone’s privacy.
The first year we split up the holidays were surreal and sad. When I had my children I never imagined celebrating a holiday, let alone Thanksgiving without them… not perhaps until they were grown with families of their own, many, many years from now.
By Thanksgiving 2007, my life was phenomenally different. After a whirlwind courtship, I was remarried to my soulmate and that year we had the children with us. As is the case with all relationships, we made agreements and compromises about holidays and celebrations and Thanksgiving was celebrated at my in-laws, although my family always had a standing invitation to join.
2008 was different, my kids went with my ex… 2009 they split up, one with us and one with him… and from 2010-2012, for a variety of reasons, there wasn’t a Thanksgiving that I had both my children with me together. I stopped liking Thanksgiving. It was a reminder of my failure as a parent manifesting on the one holiday that was about family, togetherness, gratitude. And there was no way for anyone to truly understand this … not my husband who is so loving, caring and adoring and who also wanted to be a good son and brother, not my mother who didn’t have this added complexity in her relationship and certainly not my children who I would never burden with my conflict. I’ve always let this holiday be their decision, no pressure, no hurt feelings.
So today is Thanksgiving 2013 and both my son and daughter decided to join us this year. This is not a victory (no one is at war or competing), it’s a joy and one I am going to savor along with my meal… devouring it slowly and absorbing every second. I feel incredibly grateful that we are together and that there will be moments like this in the future–even if it’s not next year–I’m confident it will happen again, and that’s enough, for now. I can live in the moment today. I’m thankful for that too.
I’m thankful that I can be honest and real with my children. This morning I had the Thanksgiving Day Parade on the TV while drinking my coffee on the couch, my daughter sat down next to me and I started to get a little teary. She looked at me and I said: “It’s been a while since you were home for Thanksgiving… I’m so happy right now.” She gave me a knowing smile and said: “ya, I guess it has been a while.”