My Big Fat Dysfunctional (not greek) Thanksgiving

I had always dreamed of a huge family gathering at Thanksgiving. And I was sure that at my age I would be the host and everyone would be flocking to my house that would be so warm and inviting and all Martha Stewarty.

I came from two families that had awesome family gatherings. My mom’s Italian family and dad’s Germanic family – both had big family gatherings with lots of extended cousins, uncles, aunts, etc. I loved those kinds of events. I somehow just assumed that I would be carrying on that tradition and my house would be that “place” to be.

So, it is a bit shocking and potentially depressing when at this Thanksgiving the only family I will be celebrating with this year is my oldest daughter. Where did that close knit family go? Where have all those extended family members gone to on both sides of the family? Well…people die, and people move, and families just slowly disintegrate when you let them.

You start realizing just how amazing some people were…and how much difference one person can actually make. When I look back I see that there were really only a few key people that would “make” those family gatherings happen. When those people died…family gatherings just kind of fell to the wayside and all these extended family members have completely fallen out of touch. I have no idea where most of them even are anymore.

The harder part for me though in some ways is the fact that I won’t be seeing either of my parents or brother, and my youngest daughter will be with her dad and his family. Mom moved to NC and is recovering from a mental breakdown and a horrendous case of pneumonia. Dad and stepmom are already in SC for the winter with my sweet dog Zeke. And my brother, who is one of my favorite people in the world texted me to see what I was doing for TG, but failed to follow through and actually extend in invitation. So it is just me and my big girl this year. I would have considered traveling, but now that I am a working girl, that isn’t really even an option.

OK. Now…can I be frank here. Yes…I have a very dysfunctional family. Do we all feel better now? I know – we have some level of dysfunction – I am no different. So…I am just getting that out there. Yes…the fact that I will actually not see any of my family during either Thanksgiving or Christmas is a bit odd. But a lot more people are getting in this situation as families are spreading out across the country and globe and getting together is just not as easy as it used to be when everyone lived in the same zip code or at least state. The part that makes it all harder to deal with is that I am single. Really. That is what it comes down here, folks…single parents on holidays with no family around…is kind of a hard pill to swallow.

Last year was one of the hardest holiday seasons because I was still reeling from the separation and pending divorce. So this year, I am redefining what holidays really are and mean. I am actually so thankful and happy to be right where I am. I don’t have to work, worry, fret and stress out about having any hard to please personalities over for a huge ordeal that I put hours and days of effort into that will be over in a matter of moments. I just get to show up, with my rice crispies pumpkin patch and laugh and enjoy some of my favorite people in the world.

I will miss my funny, sweet 2 year old, but will have plenty of the remainder of the weekend for her to completely wear me out. She is just so funny at this stage of life. How I love the age of two and how I want to just eat her whole sometimes. It is such a fleeting stage where you long to kiss nearly every inch of them. How do two year olds ALWAYS smell so good?

Looking through new eyes, I am no longer looking at all that I don’t have. Ok…in honesty – I am trying very hard to not look at what I don’t have. I do still ache and wish for someone special to be with during these times. But here is what I DO have: I get to wake up on Thanksgiving Day with both of my girls. We are all healthy. We get to spend a slow morning getting ready and hanging out and hopefully get some snuggling in. Then my little one is off to visit with her dad and family while my big girl and I get to go visit some great friends…play, hang out and eat probably more food than we should. Because I won’t have my 2 year old, I will have the opportunity to actually talk, and be engaged rather than only partially listening and mostly distracted.

We will get to share the fun little rice crispies pumpkins that we made the night before. These have become our own little tradition. I started making them a few years ago and they have become a favorite thing each year now. And the next morning my big girl and I will partake in the craziest shopping day of the entire year. We are going small – we will only hit the local Kohls. I will be armed with my discount cards, and a 2 hour time limit. Then we will come home with hopefully a much needed pair of shoes for her and a few other little things here and there. Then we get to be reunited with ‘Little Bit’ and the world will be right again.

If we are lucky we will find another set of friends to visit – or just spend the day being together…snuggling up with a good movie and some popcorn, playing outside if it is nice…and just playing life by ear. But it is all our choice! We don’t have to compromise or feign excitement over someone else’s idea of fun on these days. We won’t disappoint or let anyone down. We just get to be. That is a pretty great gift right there!

Though I would still love to have that bustling house some day…it is just not meant to be this year. Next year my oldest will be old enough to actually help out at a soup kitchen and has an interest in it, so maybe we will plan on spending some portion of the day doing something like that next year. But this year…we are going to spend one more year healing…loving…redefining what our new traditions will be, and being truly thankful for all that we DO have. Because I realize that even if it is so very different than I had hoped or expected, I am still very, very blessed.

Happy Thanksgiving to you – wherever you are, whomever you are with (or not) and whatever you are doing.

5 thoughts on “My Big Fat Dysfunctional (not greek) Thanksgiving

  1. Have a great Thanksgiving day, Lee. I would really love the kind of Thanksgiving you are having this year. Not having to worry about a lot of the disfunction and petty arguments that go on over the holidays is a relief sometimes. Just having the chance to kick back with the wife, kids and maybe a few chosen guests would be great. My wife’s family is from Australia, so for her it was just parents, kids, and then a few other invited guests ( her dad is a professor, so many times these were grad students without a place to go.) She remembers those times fondly. I think that is the kind of holiday I would like sometime. I hope you will be dropping in on some of your friends for Turkey Day or next year creating your own Martha Stewart feast for whoever may come (family or not). It is unfortunate though that in one generation, our culture has lost a lot of its social moorings. Career has become primary over rootedness in a place. People move all over the country cutting ties that have held families together for generations (I am guilty of this as well, but trying not to continue it). We are paying some pretty unhealthy tolls for our excessive individualism. I hope to at least pass some rootedness on to my kids.

    Jenny is working a 12 hour shift today and the kids have already gone to the grandparents, so I will be spending the day doing some work that I have avoided, but I really think I will enjoy the chance to do that while no one is around. It may not be the ideal T-day, but will be enjoyable this year. I may even go see a movie if I get time.

    Have a wonderful time today. God has blessed you greatly.


    • Thanks Dave. Your day sounds very unconventional and redefining too. Hope you got to at least spend some time doing a few things you really wanted to do. I am sure your wife misses those times…it is almost harder to have had something like that and then not had it, than to not had it all. But we all survived…now on to the big one…Christmas.

  2. This was just wonderful to read. Please know that if you are ever in need of the “Great Thanksgiving Feast” you are always welcome here. You may be the best example of a person who knows what she is feeling and saying it than any other person I know. What a great gift! Your girls are wonderful! I love how you appreciate them. Please come over for Christmas if you just want to have fun with friends and get home quickly! Thanks for reminding me of everything I have to be thankful for this year!

  3. Actually, your day sounded quite nice to me. Making traditions has always been challenging for us – day to day, minute to minute is our mode of operation. Never settling down to puposely create really wonderful lasting memories together. Taking the “whatever happens happens” attitude does not allow for special events… I love your pumpkin patch tradition that has evolved – what creative ideas you have!

    Revel in your opportunity to participate puposefully in life and start from scratch allowing traditions to evolve out of enjoyment and love!

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