When holidays hurt and changing up the tempo

It’s Thanksgiving Eve and unlike years past, there are no frenetic kitchen happenings at my house. Instead, I went out this morning and picked up a cinnamon-walnut coffee cake and pumpkin pie at the local bakery and called around looking for any restaurant that will be open on Thanksgiving Day. After a few tense moments, I was able to secure a reservation at the same place where we had Easter Dinner this year. That is the totality of my Thanksgiving preparations and I am quite fine with it.

My relationship with holidays has always been complicated, looking back on my childhood; I remember my mother and grandmother running ragged to create the perfect meal. By the time the food was ready to eat, we shoveled it in like inmates in the state penitentiary mess hall because we were half delirious from waiting all day to eat. Often my mother would be so tired after cooking a feast fit for royalty that she would grab a saucer of food, gobble it down and go to bed early.

Up until the time we moved to Maine, we celebrated the holidays with my parents unless I was scheduled to work (homeless shelters don’t close for the holiday). The upside being that as an adult, I knew the drill and prepared myself for the inevitable 8pm serving time so at least I was no longer half-starved by the time the food was served.  Yet despite my own adjustments, the family never made adjustments and most of the time, my mom was snoozing long before we left to go home.

Moving to Maine forced me to rethink my own relationship to the holidays, as it often was not feasible to fly back to either Chicago or Arizona where our families are located. So I became my mother, where the night before any major holiday, I could be found in the kitchen working fast and furiously. The morning of the holiday spent tethered to the kitchen and long story short, by the time we sat down to dinner, I frankly would have been just as happy to eat a bowl of cold cereal and call it a day. My irritation with cooking often spilled over to the other folks in the house and by the end of the meal, the bad vibes in the air were as equally as responsible for the indigestion as the food consumption.

My mother’s struggle with cancer took a nasty detour during the 2003 holiday season; in fact it was on Christmas Day that we learned her cancer had spread to her brain. It was the same day; I was hard at work trying to make good holiday memories with my then 12 year old son. That day ended with none of us finishing our meals as I had to make emergency preparations to head home to Chicago to help my Dad make hard decisions. My mother passed away not long after that and my father declared, he had had 33 years of good holidays and was done with them all. He has kept that promise every year since my mother’s passing. Last I heard, tomorrow he will grab a meal at Boston Market and watch TV.

Having kids, I have struggled with the holidays but several years ago my eldest told me he would rather we ate whatever and had a great holiday rather than the perfect meal steeped in emotional baggage. Kids are smart; I have mostly listened to him on this front. I am glad that I listened to him because at 21, this is a milestone year for him and for me (and his Dad). My son is celebrating Thanksgiving with his girlfriend’s family and then having friends over to his place. As a child of divorce, he has spent the past 19 holiday seasons having his time divided between his father and I and he is ready to live his life. Divorce aside, it comes to all kids, they grow up and want to live their own lives and create their own traditions. As a mother, my tears have been non-stop today but I also know that it took me years to assert my own will as far as where I wanted to spend my holidays and I am glad my son didn’t have to turn 30 before realizing he has a say.

With the holidays down to just me, the man and the girl child, even a scaled down traditional meal simply makes no sense. After many family discussions, we agreed to go out to Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant. In casually mentioning it, I have been met with a level of dismay that frankly has shocked me. But in a world where traditional family and traditional ways are going the way of the rotary phone, I am not sure why a small family choosing to opt out of the holiday hubbub is shocking in 2013.

The holidays are beautiful for many but they are also painful for many, it is an idea that we pay lip service to but struggle with when faced with an actual person who chooses to abstain for personal reasons. In reflecting on the theme of thanksgiving, I am reminded that I have kept a gratitude journal for the past two years. I journal daily. It is my daily reminder of what surrounds me and unlike Thanksgiving Day, it doesn’t hurt as much as the 3rd helping of candied yams. There are many ways of expressing gratitude and giving thanks and all are valid. Holidays can be as individual as the individuals who celebrate then. There is no right or wrong way to celebrate nor is celebrating a holiday created on myth and misery even obligatory.  So take a deep breath, step back and if you are in the US, may this last Thursday of November be whatever you need or want it to be for you and yours.

Gratitude, schamtitude…(yeah, I made that up)

Today is Thanksgiving, a day in America where either you sit and rail against the atrocity of the day and the atrocities of this country and avoid the gorge-fest known as Thanksgiving Dinner. Or you are sitting around in pajama jeans because you are planning on eating like a human on death row, as if tomorrow all the food on the planet will suddenly disappear. November is also a month when people strive to express their gratitude for all that they have; an activity that I must admit has value.

Last night the college boy (that is my son for newcomers) posed a question that stayed with me all night and into the morning. Why is it that in order to express gratitude, we often do it at the expense of others? Trust me, I am guilty of this myself, after all it’s never “Gee, I am thankful for my house, food, blah-blah” Instead “Well at least I have a roof over my head, hell some people don’t even have that.” Yes, it is true that many on this planet are without basic necessities; it is an evil reality of the world we live in that many go without. Everyone over a certain age knows this on some level. Yet, must we only feel good about ourselves when we compare ourselves to others? I admit, I have no answers but it was something that made me think, so I pass it on to you.

Today is a day for me to just be, despite my grand plans to cook a feast, I outsourced the cooking to local chefs (giving thanks all the way for the financial resources that made that possible) who decided to offer pre-made dinners for the slackers amongst us. Funny thing is I like to cook, hell I love it, but truthfully I didn’t feel like cooking for this holiday. Hell, I hate cooking for most holidays, all the joy of the holiday is sucked out for me, when I spend 8 hours on my feet. In the past, I broke my back trying to create the perfect holiday, and I often ended up let down and in a mildly depressive state.

This year I started a personal gratitude project, where every day I write down 5 things that I am grateful for in my gratitude journal. There are days when I repeat things, days when the things I am grateful for are really silly (yes, I have been known to be grateful for not being constipated) and other days the things I am grateful for are huge. As this personal gratitude project winds down (not sure if I will continue it in 2013) and we enter a season when gratitude is the thing to do (Facebook daily gratitude anyone?). I realized that I felt less inclined to participate in a show of gratitude because for almost a year I have tried to live a life of gratitude. Gratitude in a strange way has become routine to me, therefore today is a day just like any other day except that my long lost brother is flying in this evening to join us. Considering that he was last here when the seven year old was a one year old, that is a big deal, but the rest of the day is just a day for us and based off what the man unit and college kid have said, we are just fine with that.

On that note, if you are having a blowout feast with multiple desserts, have one for me since in my slacker state; I have only made one pie. Enjoy the blessings of this day and if you are going shopping on Black Friday, stay safe and don’t get trampled.

Giving thanks

To say this has been a rough week would be an understatement. I have been going crazy with the new job and then yesterday a client decided to tell me that they can’t pay their most recent invoice which is roughly equal to my monthly mortgage plus my estimated expenses for the holiday this year. I’m going to keep it real here and say that it took everything to not go into stereotypical Black woman mode and start snapping and losing it when my client told me but thankfully I kept it together.

That said, I came home and was in a real funk about my finances, and life in general. However as I was baking pies today and getting ready for the holidays, it hit me that I have much to give thanks for. Yeah, it sucks to lose a chunk of money, on the other hand my boy is home, this chile is at least 6’3 maybe even 6’4. He is really towering over his lil Mama. Mini-me is doing great despite the fact she is driving us crazy asking about John McCain, she wants to know what happened to him. Gotta love kids.

No, my kids are all good, my marriage is sound, truthfully we are having some issues but nothing that we can’t work out. Everyone is healthy and we have our needs met, so all in all what more can I ask for?  Yeah, a new car would be nice as well as a shopping trip and spa visit but those are not necessities.

So on this Thanksgiving Eve when so many don’t even have their basic needs met, I feel blessed and feel the need to reflect on my bounty because I know really it could always be worse. My current line of work combined with years of working with the homeless in Chicago reminds me of how bad things can be.

 So I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and ask what are you most thankful for this holiday?