Growing up, Thanksgiving Day meant dinner at my maternal grandparents. Grandma’s house was always immaculately cleaned and decorated. The table was set with her fine china and she had the silver polished. Mom hoped for dressing, while I hoped it was the year for Grandma’s homemade noodles. On the best years, my aunt, uncle, and cousin were able to travel from Texas. Other years, we were joined by family friends and/or adopted Drury basketball players without a local family. After pie was served and the dishes were cleared, Dad and Grandpa watched football while David and I played. I have fond memories of sitting in the living room floor coloring or playing Yahtzee with my Grandma Thanksgiving evening. Later in the weekend, we often gathered with my other Grandma, aunts, uncles, and cousins. This gathering was more hectic as we had more cousins running around. Thanksgiving break, as a child, also typically involved our family attending basketball games. When we lived in Missouri, we cheered for the Panthers and, later, in Arkansas, we rooted for the Warriors or the Bears. I know that there were stresses during the Thanksgivings of my youth. Perhaps, my parents were concerned about finances, someone at the table was struggling with health, someone absent was missed, something was said to offend another, or a dish hadn’t turned out as desired. As hard as I try to recall those moments, I can’t. In a recent mindfulness exercise, I was prompted to think of the sounds of Thanksgiving. I thought of the stacking of dishes, laughter, and the squeak of sneakers on a basketball court. The sounds that I reflected upon, did not include arguing, sighing, or silence.
I’ve noticed that as I grow older, I often alternate between yearning to repeat the traditions of my childhood while simultaneously feeling burdened by external pressures to follow those same traditions. As I’ve asked people their plans for the holiday, I’ve noticed that so many people grumble and complain about travel, cooking, and family drama. Just a few years ago, I imagine I was one of the grumblers. We put so much pressure on ourselves to live up to the holidays presented in media or in our “windexed” memories. I’ve fallen victim to setting the Thanksgiving bar too high (dressing children in the perfect clothing only to discover cranberry sauce dribbled down, working diligently to recreate a perfect dish from Food Network only to discover that I am not Emeril, or hoping the family will all share a grateful attitude only to witness/participate in bickering or hurt feelings) and have gone to bed that night harboring bitterness, disappointment, or exhaustion. I’ve lived away from family and felt as though I was missing out and I’ve lived near family and wished I could have a day of solitude. Sometimes, the stress that accompanies holidays simply overshadows what we desire most.
Dad died just 3 weeks before last Thanksgiving. Despite it being the year for my gaggle to spend with Trey’s family, we knew we weren’t strong enough for a crowd and opted to stay close to home. Mom, David, and I agreed to not set ourselves up for the typical holiday pressure traps. We were not emotionally prepared. Much of my memories of last November are a blur. I know we did gather at my house to eat and play games. We have videos of my brother and Logan competing in the pie in the face game and pictures of Grandma with whipped cream on her nose. The kids laughed and for a couple of hours, our grief subsided. In preparation for this year, we planned a “Friendsgiving” as a way to begin new traditions while also ensuring that my Mom and brother aren’t alone next year when Trey and I resume alternating years with his family. Fortunately (and unfortunately) we have found that most of the people in our lives are connected with family and their own traditions, leaving our gathering to simply be our small crew. Shortly after realizing that Friendsgiving 2017 might be a bust, my grandmother fell ill and was admitted to the hospital. I don’t know what tomorrow brings and am honestly, battling familiar pangs of grief, bitterness, and dread. I want my kids to feel joy and enjoy time with family. I don’t want them to soak up the negative feelings the adults are experiencing. My kids have witnessed so many tears this past year and I want to protect them from more. I keep reminding myself that the sounds of their Thanksgivings will likely include the positives just as mine does. Being an adult is difficult. There appears to be an entire retail industry based on shirts and mugs with phrases about “adulting being hard” or “not wanting to adult today.” As we become more responsible, we also become more aware, more grounded, and more jaded. We have to be able to recognize heavy emotions and have to learn to manage stress in order to function. As parents, we carry so much of the emotional burden to prevent our children from laboring before they ought to.
In this season of expected gratitude, I am working overtime to see the many blessings around me and to express gratitude for what I’ve experienced and am experiencing. I am grateful for the Thanksgivings of my youth and the warm memories. I’m grateful for the Thanksgivings I spent as a young adult living away from my family that lead to me be a more independent woman and to recognize the value of friends that become family. I’m grateful for the Thanksgivings spent with the family I married into and the opportunities to learn new traditions and play a role in their developing memories. I’m grateful for the Thanksgivings with my husband and children as we create our own traditions. I’m grateful for what is yet to come because no matter how difficult a season of life may seem in the moment, there will surely come good memories, there will surely come laughter, and there will surely come new sounds of Thanksgiving.