We are back from our annual trip to spend Thanksgiving with my extended family in the ramshackle house at Lutheridge, the church camp where we gather. We have had as many as 19 family members, and there are very few places that have a house large enough to rent for Thanksgiving. But this house can handle us all, rambunctious children and adults who can't manage stairs, and all of us in between. Plus there's a kitchen, so we can prepare meals and don't have to navigate restaurants. So many wins!
The drive back yesterday was the worst we've ever had, despite it being Saturday, not Sunday. Lots of stop and go traffic--but not the stopped traffic that we had on our way up, when the traffic, already crawling from going from 3 lanes of traffic in Georgia to 2 lanes in South Carolina--to one lane, for road construction (or the parking of construction vehicles--grr).
But it's worth it--we wouldn't see my extended family at all, if we didn't make this effort. And I love seeing the children of my sister and cousins, as they move through and towards elementary school.
--the littlest one, who has just turned 3, talked to me at great length about what I needed to do when I got my doggie (do I have plans for a dog? No, but he does). First and foremost: I cannot leave the front door open, or my doggie will run away.
--We had this conversation at a regional park while walking to the dog park section. The people who were there with their dogs were very generous in allowing the kids in our group to pet and play with their dogs.
--We had lots of good football and soccer games. Part of me feels sad that these activities have taken the place of the plays that we used to put on and the "books" that we used to create.
--We did put on many magic shows--a play of sorts.
--But I'm glad that these children are active. We didn't have a lot of sitting and staring at screens.
--My spouse and I left our laptops at home. As my new boss said, "The work will be waiting for you when you get back."
--But that might give you a false sense that I was completely successful at staying present. I still dreamed about accreditation documents and my new job. I still found my thoughts drifting to the documents I will complete tomorrow. I was good at realizing that my thoughts had drifted away and summoning them back to Thanksgiving, but I was amazed at how often I had to do that.
--This year was strange in that the mountains were on fire--we had several days of smokiness, and not the good kind that comes from fireplaces and outdoor fire circles. The whole state of North Carolina is under a burn ban, so we couldn't have the outdoor campfire with s'mores that we often have.
--I love the conversations, the intentional ones, and the ones I overhear. My nephew talked very earnestly about how you cannot have enough soccer balls, how each one is distinct and important. My cousin's daughter said, "Like Mommy says about shoes!" It's not your typical Thanksgiving, not the kind of thing the Pilgrims would have discussed. But it's delightful.
--Of course, we had less delightful conversations, but perhaps more necessary. This year, we had to have lots of discussions about sharing. I am always fascinated by which stage of child development each child is in--but I am quick to admit that some stages are more enchanting than others. This year's snatching of toys and more aggressive play was not as enchanting.
--We are a family of diverse political opinions. We did have some political conversations, but we kept it civil. After all, we love each other. I'm not sure why the rest of the nation can't remember this essential lesson of Thanksgiving (and yes, I'm aware of how that metaphor doesn't work: Pilgrims and Native Americans come together to eat shortly before we slaughter each other).
--This is our fifth Thanksgiving after my grandmother's death. I had always worried that we might not make the effort to get together when she wasn't there to motivate us. But we have been more determined than ever. I have this vision of gathering into our elderly years, with a hope that the grown up little ones will be joining us with their little ones.