When Thanksgiving is bittersweet

 "Bittersweet in the Rain" Jessica Gordon Ryan

"Bittersweet in the Rain"
Jessica Gordon Ryan

I didn't much love Thanksgiving as a child. To me it was the holiday that was sandwiched in between Halloween and Christmas. The other two holidays were for the children. This one was not. I didn't understand the concept of giving thanks. I was grateful of course, but most children are - or we were back then.

I attended a French school. The French didn't celebrate this day. They certainly didn't teach about the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. Unless cousins came over, or I went to my cousins, Thanksgiving was a quiet day at home, just my mother, my father and myself. It was not unlike a Sunday where everything shut down. Even in New York City. It was a quiet day at home, for the most part. Except I had to get dressed up and eat dinner at 4:00. And dinner was turkey which I didn't much care for. And stuffing, which I didn't much care for. Children, I don't think, have the same sort of love and relationships with food as adults do - even those of us as children who loved our food. I know my children now feel as I did when I was young.

When I was a teenager I started to get invitations to friends houses in the Hamptons and on Nantucket. I was happy to flee the nest and I'm sure my parents were happy to have some quiet adult time without me at home. During these Thanksgivings away, I got it. I got the whole notion of what Thanksgiving is all about. It's not about material possessions, it's not about presents and candy. It's about being surrounded by friends and family. It's about being with a group of people and laughter and all that comes with it. And I believe that food is often best when enjoyed with others. Somehow it tastes better when the experience is shared. I feel this way with a good wine too. I love a glass at the end of the day but I'm not going to uncork a really special bottle unless I have someone to share it with. And so these Thanksgivings, when I was with my friends and their friends and extended families, gave me a better understanding. I delighted in the noise and laughter. I loved the pre meal activities - running around on the beach, or skateboarding or riding bicycles for hours on end. And I loved the after meal activities - playing flashlight tag and games of touch football - to work off our full bellies. And then we'd return back inside, and maybe pick some more at the desserts, and collapse onto a couch or bean bag chair and watch movies and talk for hours and hours, late into the night. Thanksgiving at that point became something much more than a meal. The food was really the accessory to it all. 

Years later I would marry into a large family and Thanksgiving was often a mixed blessing. Delighted to be in the presence of my newly extended family, there were many years when I barely had time so scarf down my food - I had one then two then three little ones who somehow always needed my attention the moment I sat down. (Isn't this always the case?!) And for most of those years since I was tending to my own children, I would tend to the rest. This meant most of the meal away from the table. Again, it was not so much about the food, but the conversation of the masses.

And then I got a divorce and everything came full circle again. There are years I have my children and years that I do not. The years that I do not are bittersweet. 

Later this morning I will send my children off to spend the weekend with their father and their extended family. It won't be the first year I have done this. Or even the second. The first two were hard and I wonder if today will be as well. As soon as they are off I will head to spend the day with my parents. Once again it will be just the three of us. We haven't had Thanksgiving together like this since my childhood. 

It's just about 6:30 am and from where I sit on the couch I look out my large window, and now that the leaves are nearly all gone, I can see far out into the horizon. Long Island is in the distance and beyond that against a navy blue sky a thin but bold orange stripe marks the horizon. The sun will be up shortly and a new day will be upon us. My children will go their way and I will be on my own way. 

On this day we are supposed to be grateful for all that we are and all that we have. And I am and I do. But it's a bittersweet day that brings on all sorts of memories and emotions. It's not an easy day and not an easy season. This holiday, to me, is a bit of an oxymoron. I'm thankful for all that has come my way - the many wonderful new opportunities and experiences, and most importantly the new friendships that have been cultivated over the past few years. And I'm grateful to old friends, near and far, who've remained by my side. But it also reminds me of what I no longer have.

For many who have lost, the holidays can be difficult. For those who are divorced it is as well. For we have lost too. One cannot help but revisit old memories. Memories of my children when they were young have resurfaced over and over again these past few days They can be triggered by something as simple as the image of another little child, or a song that comes on the radio. Memories are powerful things. They can build us up and they can tear us down - and we mustn't let them do that. But I ask you all, to think of those around you. They may be sad, They may feel like they've lost. They may be grateful for what they have but they may not feel grateful. There are many around you who are struggling, Please don't try to discount their feelings and their pain. Please don't tell them they have their health. Or a roof over their head. Or their children. Please don't say this if you've never truly struggled and never truly had a loss. I'd like to ask you this, this Thanksgiving. Please be thankful and grateful, but also please be compassionate and understanding. As I wrote earlier  the food is the accessory to the day - it is the symbol of the day. It's not the meaning of the day.

With this thought I wish you all a wonderful, happy and safe Thanksgiving. May your tummies be full - but not too full!