If I Have to Celebrate Thanksgiving…

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2015, our last Thanksgiving with Kenneth

In the spectrum of holidays, Thanksgiving ranks as a “meh” for me. I’m not thrilled about the inaccurate, white-washed sugar-coating of history. At my age, I just want to be told the truth in life, even if it hurts. No more George Washington and cherry tree stories. I’m tired of being lied to.

The reality is that I live in a country full of people who will flip each other off over road rage, will most likely pass somebody being bullied and not say a word, and a large percentage of our population believes immigrants are horrible people and voted for a President whose platform was to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.

But once a year, we celebrate Thanksgiving, a day to commemorate when IMMIGRANTS nicely and politely and perfectly dined with the Native Americans, once upon a time (of course it has to be sugar-coated, as are all great fairy tales). We decorate our homes with cornucopias and fall leaves, even in California, where there is no such thing as autumn. But illusions are the best part of being American. To celebrate our magnificent history, we gorge ourselves silly with food and add to our already-too-high BMI.

Yeah, I think the entire thing is weird.

Also, I’m a vegetarian. A traditional Thanksgiving menu makes me want to gag, so the holiday can’t even entice me with food.

With that said, I can’t really say no to a day with family. A day of sharing food and time. I wish there were more days like that. So, regardless of my opinion about it being the worst holiday of the year, I’ll be joining the masses and eating with my family–that is, the non-disgruntled family members who actually show up (*cough* life-has-been-cruel-to-them-middle-children-won’t-be-present *cough*). I’ll make a vegetarian pot pie for me and the kids while everyone else eats turkey, and we’ll eat pumpkin pie with whipped cream. My kids will run around like animals at the grandparents’ house and Grandpa will be ready for them to go home before it’s even time for the main dish.

The gratitude part of Thanksgiving is what kills me. All of a sudden everyone starts acting grateful. Some people stretch it out into a month of gratitude, especially with the rise of the internet memes and social media. But for most individuals it’s this one day.

One day.

They get real dramatic about it too as if we’re all suddenly trapped inside of a Lifetime movie. Cue the corny music.

I’m not sure how you can stuff a year’s worth of gratitude into one day.

I can’t complain about it though. Gratitude has been found to have positive effects on your brain. It’s actually a very healthy thing to practice.

For me, as a Buddhist, I try to practice gratitude all year. I keep a journal and write what I am grateful for each day. I attend weekly services so I can practice Buddhism with a sangha, to remind myself that there is something more to this life than my pain, and by practicing with others, I know that I am not alone in this journey. It’s not a one-and-done. It’s year-round, and it’s pretty darn hard. But it’s important. If you’re only focusing on the miserable parts of life, you will easily overlook everything that is going right.

And because I’m a weirdo, I try to stay afloat of all the horrific things that happens in life. You know, things like death, hunger, cancer, violence, natural disasters, financial woes, freak accidents, etc. If there’s a sad story to be read or heard, you better believe I’m on it. I find that other people’s pain brings me perspective, and as a result, gratitude for what I have. Life could always be better. But it could also be a heck of a lot worse. I try to never forget that. (Of course I have many days when I do forget my gratitude. Lots of days. But I try!)

I have a lot of things I’m NOT grateful for. Namely: single parenthood, widowhood, a short torso, not being born in Paris, ineptitude in learning languages, my lack of patience, and not being a soap opera writer.

Thankfully, I have a lot more that I am grateful for, so I wanted to write an ode to the highlights (not necessarily in order of priority). I apologize in advance if I forgot someone or something and come across as an ungrateful wench.

Ethan

His name means “strong,” and my firstborn is definitely a pillar of strength in the family. He almost always has a joyful disposition. He is eager to learn and try new things. He is full of new ideas. A few days ago I walked into his room and he was wearing a white lab coat and stringing together objects, doing one of his “experiments.” He helps me. He cares about my feelings. He loves his siblings. Ever since he came into my life as a 2 lb. 15 oz preemie hooked up to tubes, he carved a special place into my heart and has shown me by example what perseverance means. The nurses in the NICU would have 3 babies to take care of, and it was well-known that they would feed Ethan last, because he never complained. Never cried. He’s like that. He’s always willing to take one for the team. I am grateful for the best first son I could have ever asked for.

Eloise

My only daughter. Last night she held my hand as she fell asleep in the new glittery high heels that I bought her. She clicked them together a la The Wizard of Oz and closed her eyes with a smile. She is always watching me, waiting for me to lead by example.  She has the cutest, softest little dainty voice. Last week we were in Petco picking up Otto from the groomer’s. She went to look at the rodents, stopping at each glass tank, one-by-one.

“Hi, I’m Eloise. Nice to meet you, Cupcake!”

Then she moved on to the next.

“Nice to meet you, Glitter. I’m Eloise.”

Next one.

“I’m Eloise. Nice to meet you Sprinkles.”

And that’s how her universe works: sparkles, unicorns, and rainbows.

We’re currently competing over whose hair will grow the longest first. She thinks she will win, but I’ve got news for her.

I love this little girl and her big heart. She is so sweet and loving, and even though she screams like a banshee sometimes and is a little bit on the lazy side, she would give the shirt off her back for the family. I am grateful for my little best friend.

Peter Jack

Silly, headstrong, trouble, funny, loving–Peter is a multi-dimensional 2-year-old and the baby of the family who melts my heart and simultaneously gives me an increased heart rate on an hourly basis. He recently has become a Spider-Man fan, and he will only wear Spider-Man socks. It’s ridiculously cute. He walks around the house with foam swords stuffed in the back of his shirt, or down his pants, and swaggers around like John Wayne. He wrestles with the dog. He walks around with Ellie’s high heels. He sneaks into his siblings’ rooms and snatches toys without them looking. He loves to eat. He is ALWAYS the first to come running when I announce dinner time. He has the best manners in the house, never forgetting to say please and thank you. He tells me “I love you forever” at least 50 times a day, which is really just his way to smooth things over after all the crap he’s gotten into. Sometimes I wonder what our lives would have looked like without 3 kids. But Peter has purpose in this world. He takes the world by the horns and is unstoppable. Best of all, he has PERFECTED the eye roll and charming people. I am grateful for this squishy ball of trouble, even if he probably has shaved 10 years off of my life from the stress he regularly causes me.

Family & Friends

I am lucky that I have both parents who are alive and married. This means a lot, especially since my own children do not have a father. I do not take this fact lightly. My parents live 7 minutes away (I timed it), and the kids adore them, even if they call Grandpa “Grumpy” and Teta gives them too much junk food.

I have a sister and her husband, and in February I will have a nephew. Somewhere in the country, I imagine in some podunk town between corn fields, I have a brother and his wife.

I have several caring friends, some of whom I see often, and others not so often, but communicate with regularly. It’s nice to have people who have seen you over the years, from girlhood to adulthood to widowhood–people who have decades invested. And when I do see these people, it’s like we’ve never been separated, and it’s those special relationships that I know I probably need to cultivate more of, and invest more in. I am thankful for friends.

The beautiful thing is that sometimes we are missing family members, whether by choice or by circumstance, and somehow our hearts learn to mend themselves and move on, and we learn the truth–that family doesn’t have to be blood relations. We manage to fill in the voids with other people, and our lives become a smorgasbord of loved ones. I am thankful for blood relatives who choose to be in our lives and for friends who choose to be like family.

Maddy

My right-hand woman. The kids love her like she is family. She is ridiculously reliable, intelligent, and caring. She’s interesting. Basically, she walks around pretending to be an 18-year-old, but I’m convinced there was a misprint on her birth certificate. The world is a better place with creative and deep souls like Maddy, and she makes me optimistic that there are more souls similar to hers out in the world. I am thankful for Kenneth’s former student who we accidentally met, and who is now never allowed to escape from our crazy family.

My Housecleaners

These people come every week, same time, same reliability. They keep me sane. I can feel when Thursday approaches; I know that it is almost time. When I come home from work my house is sparkling clean. They work magic with the tidal wave of toys in my kids’ rooms. And best of all, they are a nice, upstanding family that works super hard. They deserve happy lives, and I am grateful for them. The only thing that would make me more grateful is if they came everyday.

My kids’ teachers

These teachers take care of my children day in and day out. I appreciate that they care for my children’s well-beings and learning. There are times when I don’t agree with something that the teacher does or says, but in the grand scheme of things I see how hard they work and how dedicated they are, and it’s a little difficult to argue with that. I am thankful they care for my children and that they make my kids feel safe and loved.

Orange County Buddhist Church

Kenneth introduced me to Buddhism when we used to go to service in a tiny temple in rural Sebastopol whenever we were visiting his son in Northern California. It was all foreign to me, and I didn’t bow or put my hands together or even touch the incense offering, not really knowing what to do with myself in a foreign place. But everyone was nice, and the words made sense, and afterward there was always a meal, which was pretty cool.

When we had our own family, I would often stay home with a baby while Kenneth took the other kids to service. By then Ethan was in dharma school, and I had committed to raising the kids Buddhist, but I still didn’t put my hands together or bow or participate in any of the actual traditions. I did start to read books, like Buddhism for Mothers.

When Kenneth died, I started taking the kids myself to dharma school, and also to the family service. At first it was just to keep up our family routine, but I quickly realized there was something more for me at the temple. I found myself drawn into the practice even more. During the adult study sessions, I would read essays with the sangha that dealt with death and some of the heavier parts of being human and it resonated. It just made sense in a way that Catholicism didn’t work for me. I’ve been to many masses in my lifetime. I was baptized Melkite Catholic and often went to church where services were in Arabic and about the only thing I liked was the bread dipped in wine. Sometimes we’d go to the Roman Catholic church and after all the repetitive, monotonous, up and down traditions of the service, the priest, who was an old Irish guy, would start talking about something real-life. That 10-15 minutes was the only thing I liked about mass. I remember asking my aunt/godmother: why don’t they make church more relevant to our lives?

At the Buddhist temple, it all feels relevant. And flexible. It’s almost like Kenneth knew that Buddhism was just what I needed to not only survive, but continue seeking a happy life. I am eternally grateful for Buddhism for helping me to cope with impermanence.

My House

The kids and I have a comfortable place that we own, 5 minutes from my work. Right now it is decorated for Christmas, and it makes me happy to pull into my driveway and admire my candy cane solar lights, and the cute little gingerbread men tree that I’ve put up already. We all have our own rooms and more than enough bathrooms. When we leave in the mornings, the kids often press their noses against the windows and say “good bye beautiful house!” It is the only house they want to live in, the house where their father grew up.

My Career and Workplace

I don’t ever really feel like I have a “job.” It never feels like a job. Going to work is part of my life, and I like knowing that the work that I do helps human beings–young students. Today, it is the middle of my Thanksgiving week off, and a student emailed me her college admissions essay. I don’t get paid to give students essay feedback during holiday weeks, but it’s not the money I’m after. I know that I have the potential to help a student to find their potential, and to seek opportunities that will open many doors for them in their lifetime. This is not something you can classify as a “job.” This is a calling.

I have colleagues who are easy to work with and hardworking. I like talking to them. I’m almost always surrounded by intelligent people.

I work in a small community where everyone seems to know everyone. I like it. No matter where I go–picking up dry cleaning, grocery shopping, getting a paper notarized–there they are. Students. Former students. Parents. And when our family suffered the loss of Kenneth, this little community was quick to help out.

My Writing

An eternal escape. Writing keeps me level. It keeps me reflective, creative, and focused. I don’t think my 1st grade teacher, who introduced writing to our class, would have any clue that he inspired a lifetime addiction for me.

Yesterday I was writing in Starbucks. A guy motioned for my attention. I reluctantly removed my ear buds. He then nervously said, “this is awkward, but you’re kind of cute.” I smiled, without missing a beat, thanked him, and then proceeded to put my headphones back on. I thought in my head “this young man has no idea how old I am.” I chose not to enlighten him, because that would have led to conversation, and I just wanted to continue writing.

Yes, finishing 2 articles was more important than talking to a guy. That’s how obsessed I am. I might need to shift the priorities in the future, but for right now, it is all I want. In a way I feel like marriage competed with my writing. I’d get questioned about why I needed to write AGAIN. I got asked why I wasn’t writing this much when we first met. There was a little bit of competition, when I was being more productive with my writing than he was, and sometimes competition can lead to resentment. Now, I don’t answer to anyone. I do what I want. I write when I want. I am grateful that amidst all of my other circumstances, I have this.

My Health

I regularly exercise. I eat well. I have no ailments.  I lug 40 lb Peter Jack on my back ALL OF THE TIME and it never bothers me. I make my health a priority, and I live a more energized life because of it. I am thankful that I am healthy and strong.

Also, thanks to Carrie for taking a year off and becoming the Tennis Queen, which is how I stumbled upon tennis. I had no idea that there might be a sport in the world that I would like. I just assumed that I hated all sports. My dad tried to teach me tennis as a kid, and it basically ended with him banishing me to the side of Savanna High School’s gym to hit balls by myself, and eventually I stopped going because I hated it. I never thought that at 35 I would start taking lessons, and that it would be so FUN and addictive. I am thankful that Carrie inspired me to try tennis and that she has enabled this addiction.

Traveling

I’ve got incredible wanderlust and have been fortunate enough to go many places. This past summer I went to Italy and Denmark for 3 weeks. The previous December and January we were in Japan for 2 weeks. I consider that a successful traveling year. I am grateful that I have been able to travel the world, and that I’ve been able to share that love (and addiction) with my children.

Where I was born

My cosmic roll of the dice hasn’t always been terrible. I did get to be born here, in the United States, and in California at that. I think about how I could have been born in slums of Calcutta, or in a Brazilian favela, or in–I shudder to think about it–a place like Alabama. I’m lucky. So, so, so incredibly lucky. Yeah, it is what it is in regards to our President and the dysfunction we have in politics, the poverty in our country, problems with special interests, and a lot of other serious things, but somehow I’ve managed to live a middle class existence. I’m not a rich Kardashian and I could always have more, but the odds were much more in favor of me having way less, and I escaped that fate, by no merit of my own. It just happened. I am grateful that not all of my luck is terrible.

And with that, I am done commemorating gratitude for Thanksgiving 2017, but I’ll be back at it with my gratitude journal tomorrow with the usual boring dose of daily thankfulness.

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