Digesting Thanksgiving

I haven’t had a holiday off since 2007, so I was particularly grateful this year to be able to spend Thanksgiving with my family. I got to Sister & BIL 1’s house only 45 minutes later than I’d said I would on Wednesday afternoon. I consider anything under an hour past due to be a victory when it comes to jousting for travel space on Holiday Highway (please pay toll). And my arrival was greeted by very, very, very energetic Twin Nephs who immediately began tag-teaming me for attention from different sides of the table and sometimes the room. Oldest Neph’s new thing is to grab my head or face and direct my eyes where he wants them to go, while his twin prefers more genteel ways of getting my attention, like saying my name over and over and over and over and over and over and over. They adore me right now. I’m hoping they still do in about 50 years when I can no longer be trusted to control my bodily functions.

Twin Nephs are taking swimming lessons, so Sister 3 and I drove them to the pool where we met their mother, Sister 1, who came directly from work. BIL 1 stayed home to make dinner. Oldest Neph sort of freaked out, thinking we didn’t know where we were going (we did) and tearfully insisting, “We need to tuhn awound and ask my daddy!”, but Second Neph was chill. “Tuhn left heew,” he said.

Have I mentioned they’re a week from being four? And that I’m not sure he knows which way “left” is, but he was correct anyway?

Also, they call Chick-Fil-A “The Cow Store.” Which is that combination of adorable and hilarious that you only get at this age.

Watching their swim instructors pull them around in the water while they kicked their feet and kept their chins above water with the help of raised eyebrows was sweet and all, but the best moment came when Oldest Neph turned to Sister 1 as he sat on the side of the pool and declared that he had to go potty. Hmmmm. Five minutes left in the lesson. By the time she took him, it would be over. “Just wait a couple minutes, okay? You’re almost done.”

“But Mommy, I reewy haf to go!”

Ummm… “Just… hang on, okay?”

A minute went by.

“Mommy! I know!” said Oldest Neph with excitement. “I jus’ go in da pool!” He held out a hand like a Barker Beauty to demonstrate his intention.

“No!” said Mommy, and the two aunts.

“But Mommy, I fink iss a good idea!” And then he reached into his swim trunks to whip it out. Sister 1 flew off the bleachers while Sister 3 and I fell over laughing, which we were admonished for, but I mean come on, that’s freaking hysterical. She got to him just in time. Another half-second and there would have been a golden stream arching into the pool, and I would have peed my own pants.

Then there was dinner, with sangria. This is a problem for two reasons:

  1. I had told Sister and BIL 2 that I would be at their house by 9;
  2. when the wine starts flowing, Sister 1 gets a little too deep into her psychology training and there begins a conversation about family dynamics and inherited or internalized issues that one cannot escape from with any grace, or without Sister 1 getting offended.

Long story short, I was 90 minutes late to Sister and BIL 2’s house, where I was spending the night. Sister 2 was already in bed and unhappy with me, and I couldn’t blame her. She’s been through some stuff lately and it would have been nice if I had just gotten it together and showed up when I said I would. Sister fail. The second where it comes to her, actually, because I’m also way overdue on a gift I’m giving them that’s a bit of a project. She doesn’t want to seem pissy about how long it’s taking me to give them the gift, but she’s been waiting awhile for it because I flaked out.

Thanksgiving morning dawned with crisp air and sunshine. Jammies. Coffee. Parade from warmth of house and comfort of couch with bathroom nearby and free parking on street. Apologies to Sister 2 for being so late the night before. Quality time with Youngest Neph. At 20 months, he’s a tough nut to crack; I couldn’t get him to dance to the parade music even one time. Sister 2 cooked breakfast and we lounged around like a bunch of bums until early afternoon. By 2:00, I was off to visit my mother’s father, 93 and basically a shut-in because a freak brain stem stroke left him with a paralyzed epiglottis, so now he is fed through a tube in his stomach and has a hard time getting around.

“I haven’t eaten in two years,” he said to me during my visit. I figure most people don’t like to let him wallow, but the man lived through poverty, the Depression, five years in the Army during World War II in North Africa and London, the loss of his infant firstborn, his son’s tour in Vietnam, the breakups of two kids’ marriages, the wayyyy messed up lives of two grandchildren, my grandmother’s ten years of Alzheimer’s and then her death 11 years ago, and now he lives with my crazy aunt who talks to Saint Joseph aloud. So let him bitch that he can’t eat or drink anything.

It was a good talk, actually. We shared what we wonder to ourselves about – is there life on other planets? What do you think of the president? Do you remember this? He’s always been a student of history and I’ve inherited that curiosity, which I think is a special gift. And with my crazy aunt across the street at the neighbor’s for a midday meal he couldn’t have, I got time with him that wasn’t interrupted with stories about apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

(Note to self: look out for lightning strikes.)

From there, I was off to my father’s brother and sister-in-law’s house for dinner. After the meal and dish duty, the women sat around the table gossiping musing about another relative’s new fiancée and her… um… firm ideas about life, their future, and how big her engagement ring should be. This relative has a tough history and he’s doing great now, so we’re all a little worried that he’s jumping the gun by jumping the broom, particularly with this bride-to-be. This conversation led to another, about the stupid Facebook fight that broke out a few days back, which led to a rehashing of things that weren’t at all enjoyable the first time they were hashed, but now included approximately 15 more people. Which led to another conversation, about past conflicts between an absent uncle and Sister 1, etc.

By the time I left my aunt and uncle’s house to begin the road trip home, I was full of turkey, stuffing, vegetables-in-name-only due to dousing in butter or cream sauce, and the greater understanding that all three of my sisters are dealing with some painful stuff, some of it relating to each other. Plus the residual effect of my own sister-fails (later to be talked through in a phone call), as well as the usual stuff that rolls around in my head when I visit my family. I drove home realizing that we are, right now, beginning to resemble those families who half-dread the holidays because of all the things left unsaid, the things that would have been better left as such, the undercurrents and the aches that we endure out of an attempt to be fair or forgiving or considerate of each other. That’s a hard thing to see happening when I’ve always cherished the fact that we weren’t like that. I got home after my long drive and had another glass of wine to wash down the lump in my throat.

We should be thankful every day, but it’s easy to forget, so I’m grateful for the chance to be mindful. My family is close and holidays are special – more so for me because I miss out on them half the time. I avoid second helpings and leftovers so I at least escape the guilt of gluttony, if not of the separateness that comes from not living close, not having kids, not being quite like the rest of the family. What I love about Thanksgiving (besides stuffing and green bean casserole – don’t judge me, it’s good) is that there are a lot of laughs together, even if there are some tears alone. There are few decorations and few heralds of the holiday, but there’s a lot of warmth. There is hope, and there are memories. There is the comfort of honoring the grandparents who started the whole tradition. And there is the beauty of trying to put painful things aside, for the sake of remembering that we are blessed.

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9 thoughts on “Digesting Thanksgiving

  1. Very lovely post about how families really are, not how they appear on TV. I was just musing about my Thanksgivings as a child, recalling the relatives that didn’t seem to like each other (like my mother’s Mom and my father’s) and wondering what family doings (or not doings) were behind their feelings. I’ll never know. We spent most of our adult married life as west coast transplants with friends and other peoples families, so we never got to experience the family “difficulties” you talk about, although they were certainly there in my family. It is indeed all part of what we celebrate when we celebrate family. We spent ours at my daughters house, up to our ears in grandkids. The best. Happy Thanksgiving …

    • Part of being an adult, I guess, is seeing the forest for the trees. Bummer. I was perfectly happy to be unaware. It’s particularly difficult that some of the conflict (as of now, it’s minor, but building) is between two of my sisters. Time will tell if it gets better or worse. My greatest joy this Thanksgiving was being with my nephews. Glad you got to spend it with your grandchildren!

  2. Amen. Be glad you’re anonymous so you can blog stuff like this about your family. It’s cheaper than therapy. I’m on the flip side of the coin with some awesome material and no where to post it.

    • Yup. That is one of a few reasons I stay anonymous. But don’t be fooled. It’s no replacement for therapy! I’m just less frustrated about writing. (Sucks to have something you want to write, but can’t.)

  3. My family history is filled with it’s share of in-fighting and not speaking to each other, etc., etc. There were times when I didn’t think things could get any worse…or likewise, any better. The best we can do is stay out of it, don’t take sides, don’t get sucked in, don’t accidentally fan the flames, don’t participate… Did I mention you shouldn’t let yourself get involved?

    But those times, no matter how horrible it got, eventually passed. Family ties won out, and fences were mended. Sometimes the paint doesn’t quite match up, but the fence is standing, so shut up and stop staring at the fence.

  4. Believe me, I have no intention of getting involved or taking sides. I think sometimes the observations are valuable. I don’t think the family is going to descend into hatred by any stretch. And everyone is speaking to everyone. Mostly.

    • Haha! That’s good! Various members of my family on my dad’s side went through periods of not speaking. It’s a real bummer. Hard to plan any kind of event, get together, etc. You end up picking sides just by virtue of who you can and can’t invite. So you just don’t do anything that involves more than the immediate family. Kind of defeats the joy of having a large family.

      I’m glad your family issues are relatively minor 🙂

  5. Your last line sums it all up so well. I don’t think anybody gets to have the Norman Rockwell picture holiday, because we’re all human and come complete with baggage. But good for you for remembering the truly important things. And good for you for spending some time with your grandpa.

    • But isn’t it funny when we gain the awareness that we don’t have the Norman Rockwell holiday? I’ve been aware of it in years past with “other” members of the family; that it is now my sisters is truly so sad to me. But – all is not lost, and I don’t think anything is permanent yet, either. As for my grandfather, he is a treasure. I have inherited much from him. Sisters 1 & 3, BIL 1 and Twin Nephs visited him, too – just at a different time of day. I’d been worried about being alone with him, since the epiglottal paralysis means he can’t drink anything and therefore can’t talk long… but it was a lovely time.

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