A Hard One…

We have all had them.

Holidays where loved ones shunned us. Times when dear friends died. Just those shitty times that we thought were going to be wonderful, but somehow turned out quite differently.

Well, yeah. Nothing horrible happened this year. I mean, 12 years ago, my middle sister had a fatal car wreck outside Atlanta, so this year was pretty tame.

Still and all – perspective and all that aside: middle son went “back home” this Thanksgiving. Let me clarify: two months after he graduated, our family moved 1500 miles away from where he grew up and graduated high school. Since then, he has come home to what – for all intents and purposes – is not home. This Thanksgiving, his dearest friend had her debutante ball, and he was invited. Her family, who has always loved my son, invited his attendance at this important family occasion. How could I object?

He got to see his middle and high school friends. Be a part of his dearest friend’s family. See his old teachers and mentors. I’m not mad.

My eldest son and his girlfriend had a baby earlier this month. I have a granddaughter. This Thanksgiving they wanted to do a “new family” thing. I get that. I have been there. Establish your own turf – what and how you want to mark the holidays and the passing of time. How can I object?

Youngest son is still at home. So, I guess he’s stuck. We had a fantastic meal that we prepared together. We watched movies. We talked. We made Christmas plans. Nothing to object to.

The funny thing is: I have always been the person who wanted some version of Clark Griswold’s holidays. I want a house crammed with people and pets and food and drink. I have never had that. Two marriages. Three kids. One grandchild. What I have always thought I wanted has never happened. But…

… it was a Thanksgiving with one person (a great person, don’t get me wrong!), and was a hard one. Well, it was hard for a minute. Then, it was pretty great once I remembered to embrace what is.

1We all get it – right? No one owes us anything. And, often the whole grass-is-greener scenario is all too real. But, think about this: if this first holiday of the season wasn’t exactly what you wanted: it’s ok. If it was a hard one: it’s ok. Things didn’t turn out how you wanted? It will be ok.

This holiday season, I resolve to embrace what is. Enjoy every person who is there. Enjoy every minute of every candle, carol, and cookie.

My hope for everyone who reads this is that during this holiday season – regardless of your religious and cultural ties  – you are able to take time and have love for all of those in your life.

Let go of preconceived notions and unrealistic demands. Just be. Let the happiness of the season –  the happiness of being alive – envelop you in its graciousness.




Wherever You Are

I saw a small line with a small tent in front of Best Buy as I went to pick up my eldest son for the holiday yesterday. “Who on earth spends a day dedicated to family and food and gratitude in a tent on the cement outside a store?” I thought to myself.

Best Buy

rockwell thanksgivingThen I started pondering the different ways I have spent Thanksgiving over the years. Growing up, we had a traditional feast (turkey, yams, green bean casserole, cranberries – the whole nine yards). Mom had risen early to make the food. We kids watched the parade on TV, and there was football later in the day.  It was predictable and comforting. We ate midday in order to facilitate the making of turkey sandwiches in the evening. There was usually a fireplace roaring and Christmas specials on at night.

Since then, I have had Thanksgiving in Moscow: a meal  sponsored by some embassy people and their Russian counterparts (read: minor diplomats assigned to keep an eye on the Americans). There was a lot of vodka and champagne, and there was a man who really wanted to talk to me privately, preferably behind a locked door (no go). I have also witnessed the frying of a turkey in the yard in a big pot filled with imperial gallons of peanut oil. One year I was told that I didn’t need to help cook because I didn’t know “how they liked it.” Um, okay. Let me sit and drink wine then.

Other years have found us at a hotel Thanksgiving celebration: New Orleans and Augusta both offer excellent options in this category. Some times it has been just me and my sons; other times we have been part of a larger cast. We passed several years amiably with the whole family at my sister’s house, letting Whole Foods do the bulk of the cooking. One year was in a hospital. Those of you who have had injury or illness befall your beloved, you know that a Thanksgiving meal with hospital staff is both sobering and deeply meaningful.

All of this to say: although I know there are different traditions and ways to spend Thanksgiving, I have never once been tempted to camp out in front of any store. But maybe that’s what those families do: they camp out, get their stuff and have their celebration in their own way? Maybe there’s an art to this kind of shopping? Maybe there’s a fun to it that I can’t see as I drive by, judgmental thoughts in tow.

Pundits stand ready to tell you what’s “right” and “wrong” for everything-  from when to put up lights to when to shop to how to greet others over the holiday season. Traditional America will prescribe the right way to celebrate any holiday: turkey in November; sparkling trees and stockings in December; champagne and midnight kisses in January. For a moment yesterday, I was right there with them as I drove past Best Buy, but really while there’s nothing wrong with these traditions, the best times are when we do our own thing.

Last year we started making crab cakes for Thanksgiving, and I’ve never made yams (sorry, Mom!); a friend of mine makes a turkey shaped cake; some friends celebrated last week; still others will celebrate later this weekend (maybe they were in tents somewhere!).

The best holidays are those that we enjoy with the people we love wherever we are – even if that’s in a tent.


Turkey Talk: Back by Popular Demand

(Note: This was published November 2013; some changes have been made to the original text.)

The smell of the turkey, the sound of TV football, the torture of small talk amongst family members.  Say what?  Yes, for many of us, as much as we love our family and as much as we want more time to spend with them, the small talk of family events can put us to sleep or get under our skin or grate on our nerves or send us running to the hills proclaiming that we will live alone in a cave forever.  It can be a challenge to connect meaningfully with those you see a couple of times a year, and sometimes even more so with those that you live with. Now you are facing spending a purposeful day or weekend of proclaimed FAMILY TIME.

Little ones play and share together more easily than adults do many times.  Teenagers and young adults run the gamut of helpful and cheerful to sulky and texty.   Adults range from pretentious and all-knowing to silent and judgmental.  We seem to be pretty good at talking with those who are at similar stages of life as we are, but shift the ages apart by fifteen or more years, and silence or resentment or confusion may take over.  Making intergenerational conversation can be rough.  Let me suggest a few things that might make connecting with each other easier.

Adults, avoid asking your teenage or young adult interlocutor about school, college plans, or majors right off the bat.  That’s all they are ever asked.  Start instead with what they have been reading, watching, or listening to.  Tell them about a cool TED talk you recently watched or a new hobby you are embarking on.  Ask them about their favorite bands or video games or political movements.

If you must talk school, ask them to tell you the funniest thing that happened in calculus class or about their most recent poetry analysis for world lit.  Start a real conversation. Remember, young people are people too.  They are not just automatons caught in the machine we call education. In creative writing class a few years ago a student wrote a poem about applying to college in which she lamented that the only question she was ever asked was “Where are you going to college?”  The response she wanted to give was, “Fuck you, where are you going to college?”  The repetition of the same themes is dull for everyone, and for the younger person, the answers to such questions can be filled with fear and angst.  Pretend the young people are real, then your time talking with them will be more satisfying for all involved.

Younger people:  engage your adult friends and family in conversation about something more than the weather.  Do not text or check your phone while talking to them.  Look them in the eye.  Don’t roll your eyes. Smile a little bit.  If they must ask questions about getting into college or majors, answer and redirect to more interesting or comforting topics.  Ask them what they are reading, their latest promotion at work, or the community groups they are involved in.  If you absolutely can’t stand one more “What are you going to major in?”  – make up some unexpected answers ahead of time, give the answer, and walk away.  Use different answers with different people.  Don’t worry, no one will call you out on it, and you’ll give them something to talk about until Christmas.

To wit:

What are you going to major in?                     Nuclear Biology

What are you going to major in?                     Literature of Little People

What are you going to major in?                     Sculpture with a Concentration in Nudes

What are you going to major in?                     Genetics of Prehistoric Reptiles

Where do you want to go to college?             Hawaii-Pacific

Where do you want to go to college?             College of Southern Idaho

Where do you want to go to college?             Talmudic College of Florida

Where do you want to go to college?             FU*

What are you doing to do with that major?    Think “Dexter.”

What are you doing to do with that major?    Move to Vladivostok for graduate studies

What are you doing to do with that major?    Laboratory experiments on mole rats

What are you doing to do with that major?    Move back home

Adults, please, please, please do not condescend when a young person tells you what they want to do.  Don’t tell them it is a mistake.  And, whether you think what they are doing is a mistake or not, ask questions.  The more questions you ask about a young person’s goals or plans or ideas, the more you will understand their generation and that precious individual.  Avoid phrases like, “There’s no money in that…” or  “We never really agreed with what your dad did, and well…”  “Are you sure?  You used to be so good at math…”  Listen actively to what those younger have to say.  Make suggestions if you must, but these are young people who need questions asked and a sounding board that doesn’t try to negate away their ideas.

artist cartoon

Why is it so very easy to listen to what eight year-olds want to be when they grow up?  We can listen to their most far-fetched ideas, “I want to be a jewelry maker who is a vet and own a business that gives out milkshakes to children.”  Fantastic!  Even the kids who have no idea, “Well, I want to collect garbage” get a positive response:  “Then, be the best garbage person you can be!”  But, if a twenty year-old has decided a four year degree is not for her and she’s going to do a twelve month program in physical therapy assisting, part-time while bartending, we scorn her for not finishing college.  What is that all about?  Think of the negativity of the nightly news, the economy, the world disasters – these are people who are trying to create and launch a life and a career amidst all of this.  Be positive.

There are so many wonderful human beings in the world; see them around your table this year.


(*Note:  FU is the abbreviation for Furman University.  All of these are real colleges and very fine institutions in their own rights.)