A note from Lorie: I wrote this story twenty years ago! All of the details have changed. My kids are grown, married, and have kids of their own. My parents are deceased. I have been divorced for so long that it’s no longer an issue. In spite of all the changes in my life – even those brought on by the pandemic – the lesson learned from this story is 100% unchanged. It is rock-solid advice that I am proud to share all these years later.
Doing Splits at Thanksgiving
As I begin to think about a personal game plan for this year’s Thanksgiving, two memories pop into mind. The first one finds me at Miami University during new student orientation before the start of my middle child’s freshman year. As Shana and I sat among hundreds of parents and teenagers, my usually very confident daughter was suddenly overcome with fear about college. Thus, I found her grasping my hand – yes, in public, in front of all those other kids – as she whispered in my ear, “If I could be anywhere on earth right now, I’d be at your kitchen table having a traditional Sabbath dinner.”
The second memory finds me at a local elementary school as a substitute teacher for a group of third graders. No matter what I said or did, some upset eight-year-old would raise a hand to tell me that the regular teacher said or did it differently. Before long, I developed a mantra, countering every complaint with the words, “Be flexible!” By the end of the day, three of the little girls actually adjusted to my ways. Gymnasts all, they came up to my desk and dropped into splits as they joyously shouted, “Look, Ms. Eckert, we’re flexible!”
Cute stories, right? But they also teach a lesson, namely, that traditions can bring comfort unless we hold to them rigidly, at which time they can cause pain. Out of the mouths of babes we also see that joy is to be found in flexibility.
These are great lessons to keep in mind, especially at Thanksgiving when it is so easy to think that our celebration must look exactly like it did in years past in order for us to be content and happy. In reality, life is not a Norman Rockwell painting with the same family members gathered around the same table at the same home eating the same meal. Things change – especially the people, who pass on, move on, or divorce from the family – and the only constant is that if we allow ourselves to cry over these changes, we will be very sad during the holiday indeed. If, on the other hand, we take all that sameness out and just define a traditional Thanksgiving as “some people getting together for a meal on the fourth Thursday in November,” we put happiness within our reach.
Such a definition helps with all elements of the celebration – the who, the what, and the where. Obviously, if we’re not attached to the Rockwellian image, we can consider restaurants or the carryout feasts available at grocery stores. And if we’re flexible about defining family we can create a pseudo family from friends when our dear ones are away. Some may ask, “Where exactly are these friends to be found?” And I respond, “It is a fact and not an opinion that the world is full of lonely people waiting for an invitation.”
With this mindset, I have found comfort in two very different holiday settings since my divorce. For the twenty years of my marriage, I always cooked a Thanksgiving feast for my immediate family with my parents coming in from St. Louis to join us. I still do this in the odd numbered years that the shared parenting agreement grants me my kids. But in the even numbered years, when I must be without them, I go to St. Louis instead and invite my folks – and all relatives with no other plans – to join me at a local restaurant for a lavish buffet. I find that this version of tradition is equally heartwarming.
As wonderful as this game plan has been and as much as I’d like to stay stuck in it, life does not permit it. Shana called recently to say that if she could be anywhere on earth for Thanksgiving she’d be at my kitchen table but that she is unable to make it home from Chicago. My Scotty called with the same message from New York. Does this sadden me? Well, of course! But if I waste too much time crying over these empty chairs at my table I won’t be able to find others to fill them. And you know what? I intend to fill them. And I intend to have a wonderful holiday. And when all is said and done, I intend to reward myself with that joyous third grade accolade: “Look, Ms. Eckert is flexible!”
Thus, I do splits at Thanksgiving, remaining limber for the years to come.
If you like the way I wrote this story, you will like other things I have written. Please try my blog and/or my new book, Love, Loss, and Moving On. And if you are in the mood to shop, don’t forget to visit me on Etsy. Thank you!