I used to dread this time of the year. It was the beginning of reminders of everything that I had lost – family, my parents, some of my friends – and made me feel incredibly lonely as others went into detail about their holiday plans: the visitors they were receiving, the big dinners they were preparing, or funny little stories about the family holiday gift exchange. This year, though, the holidays have a new meaning for me. It isn’t the beginning of a downward cycle where I spend the entire holiday season wishing my parents were still alive and beating myself up because my daughter is growing up without having a huge extended family. There is no going to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, no big family Christmas celebration, and when it comes to holidays, it is always just the three of us. As irrational as this is, at one time, I thought this made meant I had failed as a mother. I realize that my parents dying was out of my control, but to not be able to give those types of childhood memories to Emily, well, that made me feel quite sad.
This year, though, things are different. I felt the tides change when I saw the first holiday commercial and I didn’t feel resentment towards the family of actors surrounding the holiday table. The commercials didn’t make me cringe. I didn’t excuse myself to my bedroom to cry. Instead of just going through the motions of preparing the house for the holidays, my head filled with ideas on what we could do to make the home festive. Emily drew designs. I brought out the remaining beads from Emily Gras. We got crazy with the glue gun. We watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Wizard of Oz. We talked about new traditions we wanted to start for our little family. I didn’t turn the radio off when Christmas music came on.
I think it is easy to get caught up on our list of things we don’t have and wish for. The holidays seem to punctuate these things with rows of exclamation marks and blinking neon signs. Whether it is a different house, a new car, a better wardrobe, a smaller waist, more money, a better job, or in my case, family, those wishes can sometimes control us. They can dictate whether we are going to be happy or sad, whether we are going to embrace life or simply exist, whether we offer kindness to others or simply reject all of those around us. I think sometimes it is easier to think about all those things we wish we were, wish we had, or regret letting go than it is to take a look around, breathe our lives in, and find the goodness that does exist, even when our wish lists are long and it seems like challenges meet us at every bend in the road.
I’ve decided that I’m done with list of wishful thinking and rows and columns of regret. This holiday season is going to be one of gratitude and one of paying love forward. The time to welcome the holiday and create our own traditions and to celebrate without longing, regret, and sadness is long overdue. The smile on my face this holiday season won’t be plastic and fake, painted on my face only for the benefit of my daughter. This holiday, the smile will be real, and it will come from having real joy.
So, on the eve of Thanksgiving, I sit and reflect on the everyday things – the things we often take for granted while traveling back in time to live in our pasts or traveling years into our futures.
I think about the smile of my daughter when she is very excited, the obstacles she has tackled, the incredible imagination and big ideas that live inside of her head, and the thoughtfulness, kindness and love that live inside of her heart. I am thankful.
I think of my mister taking a leap by changing occupations when Hurricane Isaac thought it would get the best of us, working early and long days, always offering me support and encouragement with fierce loyalty, and understanding all of my nerdy affections, even joining in on a few. I am thankful.
I think of my friends who understand me, laugh at my jokes even when they aren’t funny, and who look out for me. I am thankful.
And I think of New Orleans. The way you live and laugh .The way you sing and dance. The passion you hold. The way you accept and love and make things right. The very soul, that damn beautiful spark, that makes this place, this glorious place, the only place that ever felt like home. You’ve taught us so much, New Orleans. You’ve given us the place in this world we needed, the perfect place to bloom where we are planted and to grow. I am thankful.
Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.