Thanksgiving isn’t my favorite holiday. Partly because I’m not a holiday person altogether and partly because family gatherings haven’t been easy since my parents’ divorce 17 years ago and my own divorce 12 years ago. When it comes to my son, even though we’ve had a solid co-parenting schedule for over a decade which predetermines with whom our he spends the holidays, every year has life aberrations. Indubitably every year my ex-husband thinks is his year and he reaches back a decade ago when he insists I kept our son two years in a row so now he gets to have his two years in a row and this should be the second year.
The years my son spends Thanksgiving with his dad, my family feels incomplete and celebrating without him feels like a betrayal. On the contrary, my daughter who spends every holiday with me (because I’m still married to her father) is not cynical like her mother and loves any holiday which comes with the excuse to make a craft pilgrim hat and partake of special turkey-shaped cookies.
There is no co-parenting solution for my own divorced parents. If I host Thanksgiving, who do I invite? Both my parents or just my father, his new wife and son alone? Both of course, but how will she get here because she can’t drive anymore. Sure, she does live three blocks from my father but he doesn’t like to drive her and I don’t enjoy putting him in the predicament. His second wife sits in the back seat next to her 11-year-old son while she graciously offers up the front seat to first wife, my mother. (Joy Luck Club reference.)
My husband’s family lives across the country which eliminates another possible multiple-family complication but because he is estranged from his family, Thanksgiving serves as a reminder that family is complicated and layered and densely filled with knots of history. It’s too bad we don’t have one of those sit-com family dinners where the worst thing which happens is you burn the turkey and end up getting Chinese food. With the abundance of great cooks in my family, it’s not the food we have difficulty with, it’s the family-ing.
Sometimes I think all American holidays feel phoney to me; I’m an imposter trying to fit into the culture. I don’t even eat turkey for goodness sakes.
My mother’s birthday is November 25th. This further complicates Thanksgiving on the years her birthday falls right on it. When I was a child and my parents were still together, my mother would host a birthday party Thanksgiving feast and we either ordered hundreds of dollars worth of Chinese food or else my mother cooked a Russian spread for days and we toasted America with turkey, potatoes, and vodka. One year my mother reunited with her friends from Russia; there were a dozen people coming from Philadelphia (we called them the Ruskie Philly Posse) and we had to rent chairs and tables (very American) to host all 50 people, who ended up getting wasted and meandering onto our backyard deck with cigarettes.
In seventh grade, my best friend invited me to go to the infamous Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Day Parade with her family. My parents would never have ventured into such a preposterous adventure but the 13-year-old me was game for a 5am wake up to get a freezing cold spot in the parade route. Never again; much better viewed (and drastically warmer) from my couch at home. Also: boring.
For years, my husband and I have been planning a hypothetical, epic Thanksgiving dinner where we would invite all the strange and interesting people we have met together over the last 12 years. We imagine putting them all together the way we would assemble a meal with all the leftover ingredients in the fridge before going on vacation. We’d invite all these displaced souls together to mutually fill everyone else’s void and see if the whole episode evolves into an explosion of comedy or disaster.
I do like gratitude.
I’m grateful to have the wherewithal to know I have to be grateful. I’m grateful for my pain-free breaths and my legs and arms and beating heart. I’m grateful for lungs which hold the oxygen I inhale and I’m grateful for water in my sink (well all sinks but my kitchen one for now). I’m grateful for two healthy children sleeping under the same roof as me. I’m grateful my husband still wants me passionately (and tells me so every day). I’m grateful for every fucking day I get to wake up. I’m grateful that there are only 38 days left of writing every day because even though I love it when I have to do something every day, I want a fucking break. I’m grateful for breaks. I’m grateful for second chances. I’m grateful for my parent’s support. I’m grateful for it all, I don’t take it for granted, and pray fate isn’t tempted to take it away.
I’m grateful for today, even if it is a stupid holiday.