After a few days away–and off-line save for my iPhone–I’m back. For the past six years our extended family has spent Thanksgiving in the Shenandoah mountains of Virginia. My husband’s aunt rents a big house in a resort community, and then we all gather from distant points. Counting kids, there are 14 of us all under one roof.
Over time, certain traditions have evolved. We arrive on Wednesday, which is when the kids decorate sugar cookies with more frosting, sprinkles and decorating geegaws than should be legal. On Thanksgiving morning we take a hike in the woods. We eat our Thanksgiving feast and after dessert we have the family talent show. Everyone must do *something* and year to year repeats are not allowed except in certain cases. (C. was the the progenitor of this particular tradition.)
On Friday morning we go to the resort lodge for the gingerbread house workshop, an experience that has improved steadily over the years. Gone is the trauma of trying to construct a house out of graham cracker walls that buckle under the weight of not-stiff-enough icing. No, this year it’s sturdy, honest to goodness gingerbread walls and roof pieces that actually fit together. I joke that the workshop is really a psychological experiment in family dynamics. Picture a huge room crammed with tables and folding chairs, the floor covered in plastic sheeting, and three generations clustered around the gingerbread, bowls of icing and bags of assorted candy trimming. Some families clearly have engineering backgrounds. Others are artistic. Some hover and hector. Some are laidback and zen. Our family? Well, while we tip our hats to that family that figured out that you can make an icing bag out of the baggie that contains the candy, it is our family that scores the scarce boxes in which to take home the cumbersome creations. And M. is the first to abandon spoons and go for finger spackling the icing.
In the afternoon there’s a trip to the athletic center’s indoor pool and the thrill of taking a dip in the outdoor hot tubs–everyone, even the kids. When it snows, it’s extra exciting. Then it’s back to the house for leftovers, maybe a movie and on the final morning there’s one more hike. Interspersed throughout the three days is lots of talking for the grownups, and wrestling with younger cousins for the kids. From my perspective it can get rather intense. The week before I ask Husband Dear sarcastically, “Have you read the New York Times for the past three months? The New Yorker? Foreign Affairs? Are you up on the latest books and movies? Conversant with all the political, economic and environmental issues of the day? Because it’s that kind of family.
These have been the Thanksgiving traditions…except this year everything got all mixed up.
My husband’s cousin forgot the sugar cookies so the decorating got put off until the last morning. We went swimming on Thanksgiving morning…just me, my girls, their two cousins and their dads. Somehow the talent show never happened–everyone was too full and too tired. After the gingerbread workshop, the girls and their cousin and his dad went skiing–a first. The family hikes never happened.
By Friday night, C.–my overexcitability, transitions girl–was distraught. It was all wrong. None of the traditions had taken place–and no one seemed to care except her. It’s hard to figure out what exactly happened. Everyone just seemed to go their own way this year. She kept wanting me to insist that *everyone* do “X”…but it really wasn’t in my power. It’s not my family. Maybe it was the fact that the younger cousins are getting older and so their wishes are now more prominent in the mix. Perhaps some family members got fed up with the control issues simmering beneath the we-don’t-plan laissez-faire facade of others and decided to rebel. Who knows. Meanwhile, by Friday night good-natured M. was completely touched out–and put out that “her” quilt had been appropriated by someone else. She sought refuge in our bedroom with the History Channel.
So, a less than perfect Thanksgiving. But catching up with relatives it did allow me to reflect with thankfulness that things are going really well for C. She likes her school. She says it’s a good fit academically. The teachers are good, interesting, assign meaningful work. She’s making friends with other kids through her activities.
And that, in contrast to previous years, is something to be very thankful for.