It’s Thanksgiving Eve as I write this, a time where if you live in the United States you are either in route to celebrate with family and friends. Or perhaps you are in the thick of meal preparation as you get ready to feast tomorrow or maybe you are checking your list so that come 5 am on Friday you can get ready to snag some deals on Black Friday and try to avoid becoming a casualty of shopping gone mad. Though for many of us myself included holidays are times of great ambivalence.
The truth is until recent years I absolutely hated holidays, yet aside from sharing that with the Spousal Unit I never told a living soul. After all nothing brings the mood down faster than telling people that for you holidays are like hell…trapped with people you love (you think) but who also drive you mad in a very real and painful manner.
Yet the older I get, I no longer feel compelled to speak falsehoods, to heal its imperative that I name things and clear it out of my system. Truth is growing up holidays even seemingly benign ones like Thanksgiving sucked aside from the food. I wish with all my heart that I had one of those close knit families that so many others speak of, where yes there are sticky moments but at the end of the day there is love and laughter.
Lately I find myself thinking about how very different childhood is for my children compared to what I had growing up. The single biggest difference is that they are peaceful, especially for the girl child who has really had no connection with my family. College boy shared some holiday time with my family but between shared custody and my moving to Maine when he was 10, while he has some memories most were the traditions that I worked at building when he was a young child.
See, I grew up in a family where a good time for all meant drinking…fact is I have nothing against drinking. The Spousal Unit and I lately have taken to sharing wine or a beer on a regular occasion but for us drinking does not define events and activities and drunkenness is most certainly to be avoided. Yet recently in looking at a scrap book from my childhood, I realized almost every picture that was centered on any type of holiday there are bottles of booze in the background. These photos were the visual proof that my memories were not flawed but that the yelling, screaming and occasional knife chases that I remembered happening on holidays were not in fact just false memories.
It’s hard to admit that, most certainly in a public forum but I suspect I am not the only one whose childhood was less than idyllic. Yet for many of us it’s hard to admit that in part because we feel it will reflect poorly on us…I mean what does it say about you if you came from such a dysfunctional family that the act of sharing a good time and meal was taken as a license for the adults in charge to get drunk, nasty and sometimes violent? Well the older I get it means simply that is where I came from but it does not define my present or my future.
I have often shared with friends that in many ways despite the litany of things I can bitch about as a Black woman living in Maine, moving 1100 miles away from my family of origin was probably the best thing I could do for my mental health. Moving to Maine meant I no longer had to show up at holiday meals out of a sense of familial obligation. It meant I was finally free to craft my own traditions and ways of doing things without fear of judgment.
Currently it means that we break bread on Thanksgiving with dear friends who have included us in their inner circle as part of their family traditions where our girls play for hours together and have since they were 1 and 2. It means good food that nourishes the body and good conversation that nourishes the soul. Oh the dinner at times has attracted it’s share of quirky characters but unlike what I was accustomed to for the first 30 years of my life, everyone will mind their manners. There will be no drunken brawls, no one cussing anyone out and so on.
So for anyone reading this who has struggled under the weight of holidays and dysfunctional families, don’t be afraid to carve out your own traditions, after all not all skinfolk in kinfolk. Sometimes we find kinship with people who share no blood ties to us and we are better for it.