Far Away Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

Today I’m using an idea I got from reading Steven’s blog about spending Thanksgiving as an American overseas.

In the Fall of 2005, I studied abroad in The Netherlands through a program run by the University of California system. My destination was University College Utrecht in The Netherlands, which is an international university that, at the time, housed and educated roughly two-thirds Dutch students and the other third students from all over the world (of around a total of 750 students). My personal circle of friends included Americans, Dutchies, Australians, Germans, a Swede, and a few assorted others. It was one of the best, richest, most exciting experiences of my entire life.

For Thanksgiving, the UC program people put on a traditional holiday dinner for all the American students, who each got to bring a plus one. My boyfriend (now husband) was visiting me that week, and so he got to come and join in the merriment. For most others, that meant a non-American student got invited to their very first Thanksgiving dinner.

I honestly don’t remember much about the food at all, but the experience was so much more than what we were eating. At that point in the semester, we’d been away from home for four months. The days were growing short and cold, and many of us were starting to feel twinges of homesickness. Having the familiarity of tradition, familiar foods, and my boyfriend there by my side made me feel comforted and joyful.

I found a blurry picture I took of the food!

What I enjoyed most was the exchange of culture that took place. The non-Americans had so many questions about why we ate certain things and why this custom and compared it to their own. It was an invitation for me to stop and think about customs and traditions I had always taken for granted. To see myself, my country, my culture through the eyes of foreigners is an incredible experience. I highly recommend it.

When the dinner was over, we went outside for the short walk back to our units (dorms), and upon setting foot outside we found that it had started snowing. The Californians, me included, promptly lost their shit and started playing in it, not ready for the night to be over. It was a special dusting on top of a very special evening.

Frolicking in the snow!

Now that I think about it, that Thanksgiving feels similar to this year in that I’m separated from family. At least in 2005 it was by choice.

I’ve often stuck my nose up at the American tradition to celebrate gratitude by wallowing in excess. Doesn’t it make more sense that you’ll better appreciate what you have by going without? With that in mind, this year I’m making a special point to be grateful for my family and friends, especially those I haven’t seen in far too long. I’m not on the other side of the world this year, even though it often feels that way. Hopefully, we’ll be together again sooner rather than later.

Counting my blessings, and I’m hoping you have many to count as well.


Day 26

My Tangible Reminder

I have this little wooden sign on my mantle at home.

A few years ago, I found it inside one of our local Little Free Libraries and it spoke to me, so I grabbed it and brought it home.

I suffer from perfectionism, always have. Becoming a mom fanned those perfectionist flames and they took off like an uncontrollable brush fire. It used to be that I only had to worry about making myself perfect, inside and out, but once I was fully responsible for one and then two little goblins, all hell broke loose inside my perfectionist-flavored brain.

Dear lord there’s a lot of pressure to be the perfect mom, whatever that is. What worries me the most is how much I may have internalized all those perfect mom messages.

Make sure to breastfeed…

Put them in all the classes…swim, dance, Mandarin…and how to swim in Mandarin.

Make sure to shower! And put on pants!

Wear your baby all the time, don’t ever put them down.

Don’t let them have screen time until they’re two, otherwise their brains will turn to mush and Harvard won’t want them.

I continued my daily practice of positive self-talk to keep all those mothering shoulds at bay and to externalize them as much as possible.

When my kids were tiny, I had to start reminding myself almost daily about the good enough parenting model. All I had to do was reach the good enough threshold and my kids were gonna be fine. Heck, more than fine. Which meant I had to start cutting myself some serious slack. The thing was, I was never the type who would kill myself trying to physically get everything done all day every day, but I would instead mentally beat myself up for not getting it all done. For falling short. Of what, I ask? Says who, I wonder? I was learning how to forgive myself again and again and again…as many times as I needed. And I still need it. I already know, this will be my life’s work.

I picked up that little piece of wood because it serves as my daily reminder. It’s something that’s real, I can see it with my eyes and hold it in my hands, and it says: life is messy and that’s okay. you’re enough, you’ve done enough, now go love your kids.


Day 25

Sit with the ache in your heart

This Thanksgiving marks the one year mark since I have seen my parents in person.

This is the longest I have ever – EVER – been away from them and it sucks.

Last year was the first year my husband and I decided to host Thanksgiving. In years past, we traveled to California from Oregon to spend Thanksgiving with both our families (my husband and I are from the same hometown, so going home means we get to see everyone in one trip) and we made it a point to stay as long as we could. Travel is expensive, and since having one and then two kids, it’s a huuuuge pain in the ass. If we were gonna go anywhere, we were gonna stay and make the trip super worthwhile.

We opted to host last year because my son had started kindergarten and we couldn’t take the 2 week trip without him missing school. We invited a bunch of family, knowing we were deviating from the norm and that most would probably have other plans already. My parents were the ones who chose to fly up and join us. We had a fun visit and a pretty chill Thanksgiving meal. My mom helped out by making her amazingly cheesy shredded potato casserole. I struggled to take a selfie of everyone sitting around the table, but somehow I managed. We had no idea it would be the last holiday we’d spend together for a very long time.

My parents had another visit planned around…I wanna say…April? We all mutually decided to cancel; it wasn’t worth the risk of anyone getting sick. My mom has a preexisting condition and so her health is at a higher risk than most. Also, both of them are over 65.

Ever since, we’ve been FaceTiming but y’all know that’s not the same. My son is able to write real letters now, and we do that from time to time too. My daughter would contribute her spirited artwork. There’s just no way to write enough or color enough to fit yourself into an envelope and mail all of you to where you need to be.

For me, this Thanksgiving will be one to grieve a benchmark of time spent apart. We’ll be grieving the loss of safety, normalcy, etc. I’ll also be giving thanks that, although apart, my family is all in good health. Our sacrifice, and the sacrifice of everyone around us, is for good reason. It’s so that we can all be together again in the future to celebrate and share our lives and swap germs and not take that closeness for granted ever again.

I know this lockdown is hard, probably one of the hardest things we’ll do as a global community in our generation, but resist the temptation to let down your guard and get too close to those not in your household this holiday season. Think about the long-term consequences. Think about how you’d feel if a social gathering landed a person you love in the hospital. The risk is not worth it. I encourage you to sit with the loss. Sit with the ache in your heart. I feel it too. The good news is that it won’t last forever.

This Thanksgiving, I’ll be thinking about my parents and making plans for the future. Because if everyone does their part, then we’ll all have a future to celebrate together.


Day 24

I Want Them to Remember

I want my kids to remember the little things.

I want my kids to remember that I carried a junky old towel to the park after it rained and I’d wipe down all three slides so they could play and not get their cute little butts soaking wet.

I want them to remember how, when they were each 2-3 years old, I’d lay out their clothes exactly how they’d go on their cute little bodies: pants front-side-up and shirts front-side-down.

I want them to remember how I’d set out a morning snack the night before weekend mornings, so they could munch on cereal and raisins while their daddy and I got to sleep in as long as we could.

I want my kids to remember how when I got home from the library I’d casually display new books on the coffee table and walk away, knowing they’d dive into them in their own time.

I want my daughter to remember me going through her preschool flashcards with her, and celebrating her learning victories with high fives and giggles.

I want my son to remember how I taught him to use a paintbrush, with soft brushstrokes that feel like feathers on the skin.

In reality, they may not remember any of these things. That’s okay, because I will.

Mostly, I just want them to remember feeling loved.


Day 23

The World Is Not Ending

I’ve realized I need to remind myself that the world is not ending.

Somewhere along the way, I figured all the stores are closed and school is closed, so I should be too.

This is it. Accept it. We don’t get nice things anymore.

But then I hear other people are going out.

Having experiences.

Seeing people.

Doing things.

Living their lives.

And then I remember. Huh. Maybe I should too?

Staying home is nice.

Safe.

Warm.

Comfy.

But is this what I want?

I’m so tired.

Weary.

Sad.

Numb.

But is this what I want?

Sometimes I don’t know what I want.

Oftentimes I change my mind.

Or my mind changes me.

Just remember, self: the world is not ending

And neither are you.


Day 22: Pepper Day!

Micro Story: Completely Destroyed

My Dear Psychos, I struggled to think of something to blog about today.

I went to https://cheerpeppers.wordpress.com/ to look for prompts and I wandered into this database for photos anyone can use on their sites. The photos reminded me of little prompts I sometimes get in my feed from HitRecord. Any of you heard of it? I’m a fan of Joseph Gordon Levitt, and this is an organization where he and others make art and crowdsource for contributions. What I like about it is that it’s accessible, it’s easy, and the prompts are so simple, especially the micro ones. Meaning, he often posts an intriguing photo and then asks his followers to post a story that’s exactly 6 words to match. A 6 word story?! I can do that. Anyone can.

Therefore, I searched for a photo that inspired me and wrote my own micro story. Observe:

Photo by Morgan Sessions on Unsplash

Everything she knew was completely destroyed.

And now I task you with doing the same. Comment below with your own 6 word story for this same photo.


Day 21

Sorry About What I Said When I Was Working Out

The weather has been cold and rainy lately and my energy level went way down. I wasn’t moving my body very much, and I’ve felt tired…but not a good tired. A yucky, blah, haven’t-used-my-body-so-I-feel-like-a-lump-tired.

So today I forced myself to put on my workout gear first thing. After breakfast, and after helping my son cut out 8465526289 paper geometric shapes for a school assignment, I put an exercise video up on the TV and got shit done.

And by got shit done, I mean I powered through amidst everyone and their mom trying to interrupt me with noise and feelings.

Instructor: C’mon ladies, let’s power through! Gimme more lift, and lift, and lift…

Me: Uuggghhhh lift…lift…keep lifting…

Daughter, who comes to sit down right next to me, almost touching: IMA DO YOGA TOO MOMMY! MOMMY WATCH! I’M DOING IT LOOOOOK!

Me, grunting: Y-yup. I see you. Good. job. Hey, could you scoot? I’d like some personal space.

Now side…to side…side…to side. C’mon!

Son: MOM! I’M STUCK! HOW DO I DOOOOOO THIIIIIS?!

Me: Figure it out, dude! Take a deep belly breath and try it again!

Son: BUT MOOOOOOOM!

Me: You got this, dude. I know you can do it all by yourself. This is my time right now.

Now crunch UP left, center, right, AND DOWN. Left! Center! Right! And down!

Daughter: Mommy, I’m tired. I want to be a ballerina INSTEAD!

Me: Cool. You do that. Fuck, I’m tired too.

Son: LOOK MOM I DID IT!!!!!

Me, without even looking: Great job, man! See I knew you could.

Now balance and lunge and pulse it and keep your core tight! Don’t stop now!

Me, (I turn to lunge and my daughter ballet-prances right into me, pushing me over as I lose my balance): Hey Little Miss, PLEASE give me some personal space, okay?

Daughter: OKAAAAY! She spin-dances away.

Now I want you to kick up and back but don’t sway those hips! You’ve got this ladies! Woo!

Me, huffing: You want us to do what?

Daughter, who shoots a nerf dart right past my torso: WEEEEEEE!

Me: Could you please stop shooting that in here? GO IN THE OTHER ROOM AND GIVE ME SOME SPACE!

Ten more reps, ladies! I can start to feel it now, I hope you can, too!

Me: Oh I can feel something, you chipper ass bitch.

Son: MOOOOM! I NEED HEEEELP!

Daughter: MOOOOM! WHEN ARE YOU GONNA BE DOOONE?!

The Cat, who walks underneath my body in a downward facing dog, looks up at my face: HOOOWL!!!!

Me: sonofabitch.


Day 20

You know I’m running out of ideas when I start writing poetry

Used up

empty

never enough

yet still pretty

in its emptiness

the little flecks

of ground-up energy

paint the sides

like sand left behind after a wave on the beach

nice while it was here

but now it’s gone

all too soon


Day 19

That’s What She Shed

My house is plenty big enough for 4 people and a cat under normal circumstances. But decidedly not during a pandemic.

My husband has been working from home since March, and he set up his workspace in our master bedroom. It’s really the only space in the house that makes sense for him to work and get anything done.

My son does his distance learning at the dining table in our open-plan ground floor. This also makes the most sense, as I need to be within earshot if he needs help.

My kids pretty much rule the entire ground floor during waking hours. They’re either doing school or pulling toys out of the playroom or running around screaming like banshees or using the TV so they’ll stay still and quiet for more than 10 seconds at a time.

Which means…I’ve lost any personal space in this house that I may have had at one time. Since we’ve been home for this pandemic, I’ve taken to using my son’s room for zoom yoga or privacy in the afternoons if I need to nap or read or sneak snacks or ugly cry in relative peace. I guess it beats hiding in the bathroom…but now that I think about it, at least I can lock the bathroom door. Sigh.

I’ve started fantasizing both in my head and to my husband about wanting a room all to myself in our next house, whenever that may happen.

Me: …you know, kinda like a She Shed, only it’d be a room in the house where I can paint. You could build it for me like Noah did in The Notebook!

H: I might grow a beard, but I’m not taking off my shirt. What’s a She Shed?

Me: You know! Like a man cave, only for the lady of the house. I need a room where I can paint or read or watch a movie that’s just mine.

H: Sounds doable.

Me: Yeah! I’d need a TV and storage for my crafts, and a couch and shelves for all my books. And a table to paint. It would be great to have like a little sink so I don’t have to leave to wash brushes and OOH A MINI FRIDGE FOR MY SNACKS. Maybe a microwave?

H: This doesn’t sound like a room anymore.

Me: Perhaps a tiny water closet with a toilet so then I wouldn’t have to leave the room AT ALL and INTERRUPT MY FLOW.

H: Let’s not talk about your flow.

Me: Doesn’t that sound NICE?!

H: …are you asking to move out?

Me: No!

H: …

Me: Well…maybe we should just look for a place with a detached guest suite, you know, just in case.

H: Just in case.

Me: And I’m gonna need a door that locks. Thanks!


Day 18

My Shot

My husband and I were watching the news and we saw the story on the new preliminary Covid vaccine that boasts almost 95% effectiveness. Also keep in mind that since the election I’ve been rewatching/listening to Hamilton and I’ve been inserting lyrics from the show into everyday life whenever they fit the situation at hand. You’d be surprised how often this is forced by me actually happens, to my delight.

Me: Oooh, with this news plus the election results, it’s finally the light at the end of the tunnel that’s gonna get me through this shitty winter.

H: Yup.

Me: I think the hardest part is that we’ll have to…(I start getting a sparkle in my eye)…wait for it, wait for it.

H: Ha, yes.

The news, discussing which emerging vaccine may be the best: The best vaccine is the one you get, so don’t wait around for a particular brand. The vaccine will be rolled out in stages, with healthcare workers the first in line…

Me: Ha, this reminds me of how they rolled out the vaccine in Contagion. I wonder if we’ll get cool wristbands?! Will there be a run on the pharmacies to get them? I wonder how crazy it’ll be! I picture myself at the front of the line with somebody trying to cut in front of me and I’m screaming, I’M NOT THROWING AWAY MY SHOT!

H, giving me the side-eye: I’m sure it will be fine. What I’m wondering is if the virus will mutate in the meantime, making these vaccines less effective.

Me: Ugh, that would suck. I’m sure if that were to happen, all the scientists and vaccine-producers would feel so helpless…help-leessssss!

H: …I suppose.

Me: And in the meantime, we’re still stuck social distancing and mask-wearing. Trying to stay alive til this horror show is past. Chick-a-plao!

H: …are you still singing over there?

Me: You know that until we have a vaccine I will never be satisfied!

H: I think you should talk less…smile more.

Me: Awesome, wow.


Shout-out to Lin Manuel, cuz this woman’s ready to be in the sequel.

Work.


Day 17