I am not a stranger to spending holidays away from my family.
My first Thanksgiving after going to college was too soon to merit a trip home, which was okay because I was busy using the long weekend to move out of the miserable dorms and into a new apartment, meeting new friends and feeling excited to be out of Chipman Hall prison.
There were the 18 months of holidays (2 thanksgivings) that I was living as a missionary in Manhattan. Those holidays I spent walking the cold but bright streets, talking to others without families to spend the day with about the message of The Savior. It was pretty hard to feel very bad for myself. I also knew that that moment of my life was quite temporary, and, come on, New York during the holidays, if you haven’t seen it you must.
Then I spent a very strange 4th of July at the US Embassy in New Delhi, India. There was an attempt at a firework show where I feared for my life. The pyrotechnics were both hilarious and frightening.
I have eaten a boney turkey (maybe I should call it an alleged turkey) and some mushed bananas (in lieu of mashed potatoes) on a warm Thanksgiving day in Tanzania. I shared the art of Jack-O-Lantern carving for Halloween with my TZ buddies that same year.
Experiences away from my normal shaped me and, while I always missed my family, I knew I would return to them and, in the mean time, I was so excited to be setting my eyes on whatever place I was in.
Which leads me to this year, this year felt different. Sad seemed to loom at my door a little heavier when I thought of Thanksgiving day. That familiar optimism that has accompanied me on adventure wasn’t showing up. I think it is because in my married life (5.5 years), I have not ever spent a holiday without my immediate or in-law family. It has been party after party, big family, lots of noise and chaos, comfort and ease, no longing for people missing. So much closeness has made me soft, I think.
Then there was also Benj, he’s never had a holiday away. When he was 14 days old we drove the 2 hrs so he could be smothered by cousins and aunts and uncles and see the beautiful lights of his grandmother’s tree and then drove another hour to his other grandparent’s to be smothered by more cousins and more aunts and uncles and grandmas and grandpas and even more sparkling Christmas trees. Benj knows about crowds and parties. I realize he is only 2 and it doesn’t make very much difference to him, but as a mother it has felt wrong to take him away from that.
I thought maybe we would just skip it, Thanksgiving that is, pretend it was a normal day and make some tacos or something. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it couldn’t be skipped. The only option for me besides going for it was crying in bed all day.
We received quite a few invitations to join other families for dinner. People here, they get it. I was not the only one having these feelings. People seemed to bond together. None of us can replace each other’s families but we can be there for each other. One family from our church opened up their home for whoever wanted to come, and they had over 70 people for dinner! I appreciated the regard that people gave us.
In the end I decided it was time to pull up my big girl pants, or boot straps, or whatever it is you pull, and do Thanksgiving right, no jumping onto anyone else’s meal but do it in my home, on my dishes, with my tiny little family. And you know what? I was fine. I was more than fine, I had a great day.
I bought the smallest turkey I could find (9 lbs) and pulled out my grandmother’s dishes. I googled “How to prepare a turkey” and figured it out. I asked my sister for her pie recipe and gave it a try (that one turned out horribly). The Cash Wise had everything we needed, even sold Oreo pudding for our Oreo pie (and that one turned out great).
Our movie theater didn’t show a kid’s movie in the morning, which is a tradition for us – go see a movie while the turkey roasts – so we went to the Redbox and got our own movie. Danny, Benj and I snuggled on the couch and ate chocolate doughnuts.
The dinner was done before Benj was awake from his nap and we thought we’d eat without him, seeing as he hates anything that isn’t Mac and Cheese. We tried to sit down, Danny looked very content to dive into our meal, but I quickly jumped from the table and woke him up. He did cry and refuse food and then turned the movie back on, but I just couldn’t have him sleeping through Thanksgiving dinner. That face, haaaaa.
Thanksgiving is a case in point of what I am learning here, how to adapt. I’m learning how to be a grown up, a co-leader of this family. My husband and I, it’s time for us to make our own traditions, our own memories. It was relatively easy as a young adult to temporarily be away. But now, we are not temporary. North Dakota is our home and our life. The baton has been passed from our mothers and fathers to us. Our parents did it so well, created an atmosphere of love and togetherness. It was so easy the last 5 years to just show up to their party. But, it is our turn. We are learning to do that it this unfamiliar place.
In my heart, on Thanksgiving Day, I felt love for my husband and love for my child. I felt empowered. I felt proud that I didn’t cry. My big guy and my little guy are so precious to me.Though there are many I miss, I cannot let that over shadow what I have.