The Day Before

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Today was one of those days that feels like it is full of festive promise and excitement. School let out early. We are all looking forward to a nice, long, four-day weekend. My husband and I spent most of the morning running last-minute errands, which should have been annoying but wasn’t. We laughed together and enjoyed the time we had. My daughter’s evening activities were cancelled. She and I took advantage of the early school release time to eat lunch together and catch a movie. This was my little surprise to her; I purchased the tickets earlier today while we were out running the rest of our errands. I think it was a nice surprise, and it was a lovely way to spend a casual, easy afternoon.

Mostly, I’ve been thinking about my childhood today. I don’t feel like I usually wax nostalgic about holidays. But there have been a lot of changes in my family this year. Perhaps that’s why I feel a bit more sentimental than I have in years past. I have been remembering the feeling of freedom that came with knowing there was time off from school. And there was always giddy excitement over waiting for our family gathering. My family was big on gathering for all of the holidays. Our get-togethers were full of funny stories and loud laughter, wild domino matches, and an endless array of mouth-watering desserts.

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I grew up in a teeny-tiny house. We lived out in the country, and our house had four room. Not four bedrooms — four rooms, total, including the single bathroom. It was a cozy way to grow up; to this day, I prefer small spaces and tiny houses. My husband doesn’t share this preference, so I’ve had to get used to the feeling of a larger space around me. But that warm coziness stays with me, planted firmly in my childhood memories.

My favorite part of a holiday was going to bed the night before, full of the anticipation of what was to come, and then waking up the next morning. There would be a few moments, just after waking, when the world still felt fuzzy and new and my brain struggled to wake up and figure out just what was different about this day. I would lie in my bed and listen to the sounds of the house around me. I would hear my mom in the kitchen, the squeak of the floor marking her passage as she moved from sink to stove to table and back again. Sometimes, I would hear her talking with my dad. I would feel the mumble of their voices wash over me, the words indistinct, but the sound of it giving me a warm feeling deep in my heart. Sometimes, I would hear my mother singing as she cooked. Usually hymns. She only sings if she thinks no one can hear her, and the sound of her voice, perfectly imperfect, was beautiful to my ears. The memory of it is still sweet. As I came more awake, I would become more aware of the smells. My mom is the most amazing cook. She would be making a feast in our little kitchen: turkey, stuffing, cranberry, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, buttermilk pie, pumpkin icebox pie, chocolate pie … and, I’m sure, several things I don’t remember at the moment. And the smells of those things cooking was like magic. It’s what love smells like: the scent and feeling of all the love my mother put into every moment of every dish. There is no better way to wake up than hearing your mama moving around in the kitchen and smelling the deliciousness of the meal that would come later in the day.

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In those moments, cuddled under my blankets against the chill in the house, listening to my mama work her magic in the kitchen, I felt happy. And safe. I knew who I was, and I knew, without a doubt, that I belonged somewhere. I BELONGED somewhere. As a kid,  you don’t realize what an amazing and wonderful thing this is: to know who you are and where you belong. This is the memory that stays with me the strongest. It is the memory that has come to me, again and again, today as I ran errands and sat down to figure out what I was going to take to our gathering tomorrow.

Tomorrow, my daughter will wake up in the morning. She will be huddled under her blankets. And she will hear me moving around in our kitchen, just down the stairs from her room. She will hear me walking the floor from stove to sink to table and back again. She will hear me talking to her father or to the dogs, because the dogs are always quick to help with kitchen tasks. Sometimes, I wish I was still a child. I wish that I could go back to those days when I was so sure of everything in my life, and when I felt safe, secure, and like I belonged somewhere. But I’m not a child. I’m the mama now. And tomorrow, I hope my own child hears the familiar sounds of home and holiday around her, and I hope they make her feel warm and safe. I hope she will know, in those moments, how very loved she is. I hope she will know that she belongs somewhere.

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Hide the Turkeys

I can’t believe it’s almost Thanksgiving. As I woke up this morning, this was the first thought in my head: “Thanksgiving is this Thursday. What. The. Heck?!?” I feel like we were in Texas visiting my family for the Summer just a couple of days ago. And school started, like, yesterday. So, yeah. I don’t understand where the time has gone. Or how it has passed by so quickly. It’s one of those weird things … Like, if you try to sit and figure it out, it will continually slip away from you, until you are left feeling confused and foggy about everything. Does that even make sense? I don’t know. It makes sense in my head, because that’s how I feel. I often feel as if I wander through life in a bit of a fog, eternally confused as to how I got to where I am and just where the heck I thought I was going. And, lately, I feel confused as to how life can change so drastically in such a short time. Maybe that’s just me.

I’m not sure I have felt extra thankful in recent months. I know I haven’t felt thankful in recent weeks. My aunt’s sudden death has taken a toll on my life, both externally and internally. I have felt sad, angry, confused, devastated … Just, all the feelings that I don’t want to feel. I don’t understand how my aunt — both of my aunts, actually — can not be here any longer. I don’t understand how the world can keep on turning when my heart is broken. And yet, it does keep on turning. Life just keeps on rolling right over us, no matter what. Sometimes, this is okay. Sometimes, it’s even a good thing. But sometimes, it leaves me feeling as if I’ve been ground down into dust by a giant steamroller. Lately, there have been a lot more steamroller moments than anything else. I know I need to get out of this funk. I know I need to get over it all and move on. Day to day, I’m generally all right. I go through the day and get things done. Things like laundry and cooking dinner and picking up my child and taking my child to after-school activities and feeding the dogs and walking. You know … “life”. I laugh. I feel love. I enjoy things. I feel happy when the sun hits my face and the sky is super blue. Underneath, I’m still sad. I can forget about it for a while, but it sneaks up on me. The sadness can come up and grab me when I least expect it. Or when something makes me think of my aunts. Or when I talk to my mom and hear the sadness in her voice, even though she tries to hide it. Or when I think about my beautiful cousins, who will have to get married and build families and live the rest of their lives without their mom. It’s so unfair.

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And yet, there are things for which I am thankful. I am alive. I have love. I am capable of giving love. I have a happy family and a good life. I have dogs. It’s impossible to have dogs and not realize how fantastic life is or what an adventure it is simply to live each and every day. I have a beautiful daughter. I still have both of my parents. They might be cranky and extra opinionated, but I love them. In so many ways, I am lucky and blessed. It’s easy to forget this in amongst all the every day irritations and annoyances of life. I often feel like it’s easier to focus on those niggling little annoyances. I think this is because they have a tendency to shove themselves into the forefront of every moment of the day, to the point where it’s impossible to ignore them. But the good things … the sweet things in life … Those can be harder to grab onto. You have to reach for them. You have to want to see them.

On Thursday, we will gather at the home of some dear friends. They are people who, over the years, have become more like family than just “friends”. I will look around at my family, at my friends-who-are-family, and at any new friends who will also be there, and I know it will be beautiful. It will feel like one of those moments that are made of the finest, thinnest glass, so that you have to handle it oh-so-gently to make sure it won’t shatter. It will feel like one of those moments I want to tuck away, so that I can keep it forever. So that I can pull it out the next time I’m feeling down and savor it all over again. And I will know: I am blessed. I am happy. I am thankful.

The Post of Thankfulness

And so, here we are … another Thanksgiving. Funny how it rolls around each year about this time, huh? I guess years and holidays and such have a way of doing that. The whole “cycle” thing. Sometimes, I feel like it all just rolls right over me with big, knobbly wheels — like the ones on those monster trucks that crush all the smaller cars.

Honestly, this hasn’t been the easiest year for me so far. And it’s not even over yet. It’s been emotionally draining and hectic and annoying and … I dunno. A whole lot of other adjectives that I really don’t have the energy to think of at this moment. The thing is, I’m not sure I feel all that thankful. Lately, I mostly feel pissed off — at myself, at my parents, at my body, at the universe, at God. This is bad because I am not one of those people who handles this level of “pissed off” well. There are some people who, when faced with a giant mess of crap-fest in their lives, suck it up … dig deep … tow the line … etc. Cliched sports sayings aside, the point is that these folks use their anger to find something better or more worthy within themselves. They use this energy to make a difference for themselves or for the world around them. They don’t let life get them down, but, instead, end up sending a big, fat “screw you!” into the face of the universe, coming out on the other side victorious — with high-fives all around. I admire these people. I mean, we all admire them, right?

But, I kind of hate them, too. Just a little.

Because I’m not one of those happy-go-lucky, plucky-courage types of people. When faced with a huge level of pissed off-ness, I tend to wallow. Wallow in my anger. Wallow in my despair. Wallow in my uncertainty. Wallow, wallow, wallow. It’s not pretty. Or fun.

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And so today, I have decided that I should be thankful. It is “Thanksgiving”, after all. A whole day that should be dedicated to the warm-fuzzy feeling of thankfulness. I think this is particularly important for me this year, because of the whole anger at the universe thing. So, when I got up this morning, I told myself I wasn’t going to be mad any more. I was going to be thankful, instead. I was going to find something — anything — about which I could feel happy and satisfied and blessed.

I thought it would be hard. I’m very out of practice with this, after all. But, you know what? It turned out that it really wasn’t difficult. Because I feel thankful for the little things. Today I spent time with good friends. I laughed. I watched my daughter ride a scooter. I heard her laughter carry on the chilly wind. I smelled the crisp, cold bite in the air — the promise of snow to come. I snuggled with a big, fluffy dog. And then came home to snuggle with my own (less fluffy, much more muddy) dogs. I made green bean casserole. I sat on the sofa next to my husband and felt loved. I ate pie. I saw a funny movie. I told jokes and stories. I shared old memories. I made new ones. I hugged my daughter. I watched her paint a nutcracker. I listened to squirrels scurry through the dry leaves. I took a walk.

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Sometimes, when you pile all the little things around you, you realize they’re not so little, after all. Those little things really are the big things. They are the things that give us the strength to get up in the morning — even if we feel we can’t face one more day. They are the things we carry with us, to light our way through the dark times in our hearts. They are the things that will linger after we are gone. They are the very fabric of our lives: love and hope and joy and laughter.

Yes, Universe, I am still mad at you. I don’t understand the way you work, or why things seem to come so easily to some people and not to others. I don’t think you are fair. I know you’re not fair. Yes, I am pissed off.

But I am also blessed. And thankful — so very, very thankful — for the big pile of little things in my life.

Thankfulness Is …

A warm t-shirt on a cold day …

Actually, I don’t know if thankfulness really is that, but it’s the first thing that popped into my head. So I wrote it down. I do that sometimes. I know I shouldn’t, but I still do. Yikes.

turkey for turkey-day!Anyhow, tomorrow is Thanksgiving!! Which, I am certain, you already figured out based on the terrible turkey drawing above. Can’t pull one over on you guys, can I? Alas, I don’t think drawing skill is one of the things for which I should be thankful. I would say I draw like a fifth-grader, but that might just be an insult to fifth-graders the world over.

It is absolutely unbelievable to me that November is already (almost) over … that Advent starts in just a few days … that my parents are coming to visit for Christmas in just three weeks (eeeek!) … or that Christmas is bearing down upon us all, bringing with it the oddly primal need to put up lights and outdoor decorations, the giddy joy of friends and family, and the hectic stress of trying to complete holiday mailing and shopping on time. Whew! I’m exhausted just typing all of that out loud.

I think Thanksgiving tends to get overlooked a bit in our society. We are all about making a buck, so it seems Christmas decorations follow right on the heels of Halloween ones. I suppose there’s not much money to be made from turkey-themed tchotkes. I guess I can understand this. After all, turkeys are not the most attractive or nicest birds in the barnyard.

I’ve always liked Thanksgiving. I like the idea of, just for a moment or two, getting off this crazy merry-go-round thing that is life, taking a breath, and remembering just how very much good fortune has come my way. I like the idea of a whole day that is devoted to family and friends. I’ve spent many happy Thanksgiving days and nights at my parents’ house, in the midst of aunts, uncles, and cousins, all of us laughing and telling crazy stories while we play dominoes and cards. So many memories get passed around each year, taken out and displayed with pride like the true treasures they are. It’s a wonderful time to reconnect with those you love. To remember just where you come from. To think, for a moment or two, about where you’re going and about what you might do once you get there. When I think of Thanksgivings of my past, the memories are warm, with sepia-toned edges, like precious photographs from my family’s albums.

This year, as in most years since we moved to Virginia, we will celebrate without our extended families. Just my hubby, the kiddo, and me. But we are blessed with wonderful friends who, over the years we have known each other, have become a second, surrogate family. And I know we will all sit down to the table together. We will all ooh and aaah over the wonderful bounty placed before us. We will tell stories and jokes, each of us trying to talk or laugh the loudest. We will all feel warm and treasured and loved. There will be old memories, and new ones, too. Because, even though some things change … other things — the important things — stay the same. I think that is the thing for which I am most thankful: today, tomorrow, and always.

Happy, happy Thanksgiving to all of you who celebrate this holiday. I hope tomorrow is everything you expect and nothing you don’t, and that it’s filled with laughter and the most wonderful memories of all. And, to those who don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, a wish from me to you that you will have peace, love, joy, and the warmth of your family and loved ones around you.