We want the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Everytime I see this image it makes me feel nostalgic. I suppose that was the purpose Mr. Rockwell had in this infamous painting that has spanned the generations. For my parents and grandparents it was a reflection of their Thanksgiving feast. But is it a reality for today's American family? Most likely that would be a big, fat "NO!"

I always feel anxious when the holiday season rolls around and all the questioning begins. We'll then go down the path of trying to figure out who is going to be where, attempting to meet everyone's expectations, knowing there will be disappointment and usually feeling like I just want it to be over. Every year I say, "this year will be different" and yet it rarely is. These were never issues we had to address before I had my own family. My dad's family wasn't in the picture so they didn't have to be considered. My mom's parents lived 6 miles away and it was just expected that everyone would come to their house for every holiday. No questions asked. To do anything different would be grounds for being disowned. Or just the plain old silent treatment.

When I lived on the east coast for 10 years, there were glimpses of the Norman Rockwell holiday but it wasn't with grandma, grandpa and all the cousins. We spent a few Thanksgiving weekends with Trey's aunt and uncle who are now deceased. They lived on a little island with 10 other families--most of whom lived a long distance from their own relatives. This group started their own traditions and became each other's family. This was my first experience, and first holiday, without my own kin. They welcomed me as if I had always been there and I couldn't wait to return. Yet, I was hesitant to relay my excitement to my own family. I felt like I was being unfaithful because I enjoyed something that wasn't traditional.

Now that we've been back on the west coast, it would make sense to fall back into the traditions and expecations of my pre-married life. Only it's not 1975. Our extended family has extended with marriages and babies; divorces and deaths have made the logistics more complicated, and some have moved to other parts of the country. Life has happened. As a result, everyone has started doing their own thing. In fact, I think this is the first year that all of my siblings will be sitting at an entirely different table on Thursday. I know this is hard for my mom and not what she envisioned the future to look like. It's hard for me too. I have cousins coming from the east coast that I won't get to see because of logistics and other reasons and that makes me sad. We've never spent a Thanksgiving with Trey's extended family since we moved out here and that is disappointing. But if I hold on to tradition, I might miss out on the very blessings right in front of me.

As my kids get older, which seems to happen at lightning speed these days, I have had to let go of my own expectations and traditions. When I discovered that winter sports at the high school level require Saturday and Christmas break practices, I cringed. When Ben was invited to be in a soccer tournament that spanned Friday through Sunday of next weekend, 2 hours away, I wanted to hide the information from him. When Trey announced that the last two days of his training meant he would be gone Saturday and Sunday next weekend, I was on the verge of tears. This wasn't the Thanksgiving weekend I hoped for and had become accustomed to. That's when I read this great article in my latest issue of Reader's Digest titled "Sharing the Sweetness" which I have paraphrased here.

"On the 25th of December, my mother expects her children to be present and accounted for, exchanging gifts and eating turkey. When she pulls on that holiday sweater everybody better get festive. Of course I would be the first Jones sibling to go rogue. As the middle, artist child, I was going to do my own thing, make some new traditions--I would spend the holiday at an artist colony!

No one took the news very well. From the way my mother carried on, you would think I was divorcing the family. Still, I held my ground and made plans for my winter adventure in New Hampshire. The MacDowell colony was everything I could have wished for. About 25 to 30 artists were in attendance, an it was, as well, artsy as I had imagined. It felt like my life had become a quirky independent film.

By Christmas Eve, I had been at the colony for more than a week. The novelty of snowy New England was wearing off, but I would never admit it. Everyone around me was having too much fun.......This was the holiday I had always dreamed of. No plastic reindeer grazing the front lawn. No football games on TV. Not a Christmas sweater anywhere in sight. Then why was I so sad?

Finally, I called home on the pay phone in the common room. My dad answered but I could barely hear him for all the good time noise in the background. He turned down the volume on the Stevie Wonder album and told me that my mother was out shopping with my brothers. Now it was my turn to sulk. They were having a fine Christmas without me.

Despite a massive blizzard, a large package showed up near my door at the artist colony on Christmas morning. 'Tayari Jones' was written in my mother's beautiful handwriting. I pounced on that parcel like I was five years old. Inside was a gorgeous red velvet cake, my favorite, swaddled in about 50 yards of bubble wrap. 'Merry Christmas' read the simple card inside. 'We love you very much.'"

What I love about this story was the way the author's mother dealt with her disappointment in such a positive way. She embraced the reality of her daughter's choices and reminded her that she was loved in such a profound way. I hope that when the day comes where one or all of my sons announce they are breaking from tradition and our holidays look different, I will also be able to give my blessing in spite of my heartbreak.

I may never have the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving ever again but I'll always have the memories and the chance to make new ones.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

1 Comment »

One Response to “We want the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving”

Jeremy Saunders said...

Loved this post Dana. I too always want the Norman Rockwell thanksgiving, but we do what we can! I think you do a fine job of creating family moments and your sons will appreciate it!(If not now,later).
Happy Thanksgiving to you!