When I was a young wife and mom I thought I’d be a proper grown-up when I had extra blankets in the closet like my grandma did. A quilt or two, maybe one of those fuzzy thermal ones, something to casually pull out when my guest needed warming.
My grandma was my model for everything good–she was sweet, and kind, and hugged me, and holidays at her house were the best when I was a kid. The noise, the food, the people scattered across couches and in the kitchen, and setting up platters and bowls of deliciousness on the dining room table. That hubbub was what I saw as the Perfect Holiday.
As my own children grew and had spouses and families of their own, those holidays together at my house or their houses were my drug of choice. All the craziness of making lists, buying ingredients, planning the meal, all that was worth it to get to the point where we were making jokes about my kitchen being only a two-butt kitchen as four bodies tried to fit and reach and stir in the small space. Any frustration was worth the decorated table and laughter and chattering voices asking for gravy.
Watching my kids and then grandkids grow, trying different recipes and always ending up with too many pies, that was my wife/mama/grandma jam.
When I ran away from home and became a divorced person, I hoped the family meals could go on in some way, some semblance of those times before. But the fractures in the family were too big, to the point we all would have needed lobotomies to be in the same room.
So I find myself in this curious re-defining stage. What does Thanksgiving look like? How about Christmas? Who can be together? Who can’t? Who am I when my house is no longer a hub? When I no longer have a house? Add in moves a state or a country away and it gets more complicated, not less.
My whole life I’ve lost myself in books, stories of other people’s lives. And movies–I love a movie with a happy ending, the broken, dysfunctional family that reunites and manages to find the central love that binds them together after all. There’s always a decent amount of snarky humor and minimum of one curmudgeon. Eventually there’s a food fight or a dance scene, and credits roll on one-big-happy-family.
I wanted that to be my life. I tried to make that my life. Tried to find a way to make the hard stuff, the big disagreements, the unreconcilable pain, into simply a difficult side story with a soundtrack that lets you know things will eventually be okay. Turns out there are some things that can’t be made adorable, no matter who plays them or how they’re written. Sometimes there’s no redemptive meal around the family table.
I’ve felt a bit lost in these years between the then and now. I’ve done a bit of licking my wounds, made a skittish appearance or two at the homes of my children. I’m looking for a rhythm, as I suppose they all are too. What’s the new normal? It keeps shifting.
I could have joined friends for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving as I have these past few years, but instead I asked my son if he’d like to get together to watch movies and eat Chinese food. Why not? I did make a pecan pie since that’s his favorite. He’s bringing his dog, and I’m looking forward to time with her. Plus this son of mine, he always makes me laugh. And he still always hugs me, even at 30.
I’ll arrange times to see everyone around Christmas, as individual families instead of the whole group. I’ll fly to stay with my daughter and son-in-law in Portland, Oregon, where I’ll half hope for and half against a possible snowy Christmas morning. I’ll talk to the rest of the kids and grandkids throughout the day in California and England.
It’s different but it’s the same. The jam looks different, but it’s still about the people. If the only thing I accomplish is giving those I love a picture of being loved and important, then the definition of family won’t be so different, even when it’s a different shape. Hopefully the definition of me will be something like my grandma was for me, the picture of comfort and love.
Enjoy your day, whatever you find yourself doing!