This was a Thanksgiving for our history books. It was our first holiday not at the house we've recreated traditions in for the past seven Thanksgivings and our first holiday spent living in my parents' basement. It's no secret I carry the torch of traditions high and proud around here and it's been hard to re-imagine how they might look this year without our home for the holidays. Last year, I started decorating for Christmas a week before Thanksgiving. I had garland perfectly measured for every mantle, shelf, and window ledge in our house, with labeled lights to match. Last year, we spent the Saturday after Christmas trudging through a charming tree farm, one of my favorite Christmas memories to date. Last year, we ate chili, laid out every one of our heirloom ornaments on the living room floor, and decorated our tree. Then, we camped out under the lights of the Christmas tree, watched Buddy the Elf, and tucked Cruz in his new Grinch flannel sheets before bed.
This year, the garland, lights, and ornaments are wrapped in plastic and tucked away in a storage unit. Cruz's Grinch flannel sheets don't fit on the bed he's sleeping in, and we can't quite fit a real tree in the space we're calling our own for the time being. At first, I had a hard time processing all of this and didn't quite know if I would enjoy the weekend quite as much without all the things that made it the way it used to be. But then, as always, I realize that thinking about things and actually living them out are two very different things. So often, we paint these pictures of how something is supposed to be and how it actually plays out is entirely different. It is in these moments that we find ourselves with two options. You either dwell on why it didn't go the way you expected it, or you let all the good that exists in the reality surprise the hell out of you.
And that is where I continually find myself right now. This weekend did not look or feel like past Thanksgiving weekends, but that didn't make it any less special for me or my kids. I am embracing the vulnerability of not having a home and having to rely on someone else. I am continually humbled by the sacrifices and changes my poor parents have had to experience by gaining four very busy, very active roommates. The way they go with the flow, attempt to bring some of our own, sometimes completely unrealistic normal to our lives, and the way they love our children has made me understand what it means to really put others in front of yourself. Our lives are a bit messy right now, but there's so much joy to be found in the mess.
So that's what this Thanksgiving became to me. Embracing our current and being so thankful for these people in our lives. It is through times of change that we stretch and learn the most about ourselves. And while normal and routine and comfort feels good, so does change. If we never experienced change, we would never grow.
Highlights from our Thanksgiving weekend...
// A Cruz and Mom date. I was feeling guilty and torn about working for the first part of my Thanksgiving break, and decided to sneak Cruz out a little early for some time with just him. We had lunch at Applebees, saw a matinee at the theater, and he helped me get all our Thanksgiving groceries before we picked up his sis from school. We shared a big bowl of popcorn, I snuggled with him during the movie, and he felt pretty important going back to daycare to pick up Mila. These special times with just him are important and necessary.
// Thursday started with breakfast, a simple tradition I've remembered and loved since I was a little girl. Dad always had the day off and Mom would always make something like cinnamon rolls and we'd get sticky fingers on Target ads as we'd tear about the newspaper that always arrived earlier on Thanksgiving Day. Then, we'd watch the Macy's Day parade, flip between channel 7 and channel 2 until Dad and I would head outside to hang the Christmas lights. The past few years, I've recreated this breakfast ritual, however, this year felt even more special to be back where this tradition started for me. I made cinnamon rolls, but this time, made them into turkeys for my own little turkeys to enjoy. We tore apart the Black Friday ads, but this year, gave Cruz a pen and told him to circle things he would love to see under the tree. It wasn't me as a little girl, but now my own little girl, eating clementines and trying to eat the Younkers ad. Dad even smiled and said, "Well, Ash, why don't we go hang up those Christmas lights," feeling the same nostalgia I was. It was special to be around the table together Thanksgiving morning and I'm already looking forward to feeling some of the same Christmas morning.
// Since we are less than an hour from either side of our family, we sometimes miss out on the traveling and sleeping away from home that so many experience during the holidays. This year, I loved having a taste of this. Taylor and Kate arrived mid-morning and we spent most of the day relaxing and prepping for Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma Hoodjer's house. I cooked with Mom in the kitchen and napped with Mila in a chair. I had coffee with Kate while the guys played cribbage and watched football. We squeezed around the table for a quick lunch, did our best to keep Mila out of the cat food and the toilet paper, and planned Christmas lists. The day dripped slowly and it felt nice to have nowhere to be.
// We spent the night at Grandma's and filled our plates with all the fixings that I love about Thanksgiving. This was especially fun this year because Mila is a big fan of table food. So while the three other hoodlums ate bologna for Thanksgiving, Mila devoured all the essentials - turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes, corn casserole, and cranberry salad. She's so much fun right now and was quite the ham (or turkey) that night. At one point, there she sat in the middle of the kitchen table, while most of us sat in chairs around her, providing a necessary barricade when she'd try to crawl off. She thoroughly enjoyed her spotlight, mimicking our patty-cakes and peekaboos, attempting to say her new favorite word, "kitty" every time a kitty would meander by, and turning on the charm for her Great Grandpa Merle, who is quite smitten with her. Then, we ended the night the way all great Thanksgiving dinners end. With pie, of course.
It was a good one, with much more to come.