Norman Rockwell Has Left The Building.
Oh Norm. Did you have to saddle us with this? Seriously? Perhaps there is a
Norman Rockwell Foundation set up to pay the therapy bills of American citizens.
Not to call BS on a dead guy who's not here to defend himself, but I'm calling BS on you, Norm.
Happy Thanksgiving week, everyone. I hope the handful of you who are going to be participating in anything at all similar to the scene above realize that you are the "One -Percenters" in the arena of holiday bliss. And you are probably disliked (outrightly, or under the cloak of sarcastic or envious congratulatory remarks) by the other ninety-nine percent of us.
We can thank Norman Rockwell and the delusional collective mind of American society for this scene, to which few families can measure up.
November of 2015, the November before my son Cole MOVED ON (I am using caps rather than my usual quotation marks, because I'm getting a bit bored with the latter and it's the holiday season and
I feel something with a stronger message is appropriate), I penned a short blog post entitled, "Due to a lack of interest, Thanksgiving has been cancelled." I loved that title. I recall being quite pleased with that title. It's a freaking great title. And more importantly, it was true. At the time, I was living with my two teenage sons, who were a handful, my daughter had recently graduated college and was living in a city two hours away...and the man I was dating was going to be with us.
For pretty much every year of my post-college adult life, I had attended or participated in or hosted a "traditional" family-centric Thanksgiving. Before and after my marriage. Before and after the arrival of our children. Before and after my husband's death.
And then, thirty-two holiday seasons later, I was flat-out-done. There was family-of-origin discord.
There was anger. There was resentment. Also...my kids and I had given up on the idea of a dining room table a year or so before, because it took up a lot of space, ended up being a landing strip for a multitude of things not remotely related to dining...and frankly, I relished our non-traditional-ness.
Based on these factors, and others, my kids and I agreed that it was time for an out-of-the-stuffy- stuffing-box Thanksgiving.
And by out of the box, we meant FUN!!!
We talked about something involving our outdoor (old-school charcoal) Weber grill, turkey parts, turkey dogs, toasted marshmallows to plunk into our sweet potatoes (roasted in foil, of course) and possibly some completely fun and white-trashy dessert involving Rice Krispies Treats in the shape of turkeys. An ode to my Girl Scout dropping-out incident...which involved a Girl Scout meeting and the lame cooking (Is it actually cooking? I think not.) of Rice Krispies Treats to earn a badge. Even at the tender age of nine or ten, I could smell BS when it was being thrust under my nose.
As I wrote up the menu, I had a new-found twinkle in my eye and a lilt in my step.
Now, the fact that so many people experience so little actual genuine FUN had on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas should be a big signal that something is amiss in the land of American Society.
Oh sure, people will post those photos on social media of their happy looking family moments...but usually, it's just a moment. Or maybe three moments. In a sea of hours of perhaps awkward or frustrating or traumatizing or boring or otherwise just plain old not-so-wonderful moments.
And as I said, there are those fortunate Holiday One-Percenters who actually count the months and days and hours until they can be reunited with family and I hope they truly realize how truly rare and fortunate they are. I had some holidays like that after I was married and had sweet little babies and adorable toddlers and charming children, and they truly were as close to Norman Rockwell's ideal as
I will probably ever get in this lifetime.
But really, why is that the yardstick?
Why are we trying to replicate something instead of, drumroll please...daring to create something new?
For the bulk of us...those in "non-traditional" families (I wonder how long it will be until there is no longer a traditional family that we can all can be measured against? I hope I am alive to see that day!), the single parent families, the divorced parent families, the widowed parent families...the gay and transgender parent families...the parents who have lost children to death or drugs or other horribly sad circumstances. The empty seats at the holiday table that make it impossible to digest your food. Or maybe you are single. And child-free. By choice, or by circumstance.
And then there are all of the other variables...the alcoholic family members, the mentally ill family members, the not very nice family members, the depressing family members, the politically outspoken and argument-starting family members, the child molester stepfather and the now-grown woman who, in the name of a family holiday, now sit across the table from one another as she chokes on her cranberry sauce and dreams of getting him alone with the carving knife (Note: this is not my personal experience, but I do know of women in unfathomable situations like this)...and then the garden variety plain old batshit crazy family members.
Do you have any idea how many Xanax and how much alcohol is consumed in the US of A by our
citizens during the month or so of "on-demand holiday happiness?" And not just because of our embarrassment of a president. Because of family-gathering-induced stress. (I'm too lazy right now to research stats, although it's exactly the kind of thing I usually love to do, which may tell you something about my own holiday mental state.) And besides that, do you know how much alcohol is consumed AT the majority of holiday family gatherings, just to keep people from losing their marbles?
Or murdering someone related to them?
Many of us love our family of origin. A lot of times it is mainly because of the simple fact that they are our family of origin. And that's really an okay enough reason. Some people subscribe to the "family above all else" motto. I feel like family is just like anyone else...you don't hang out with them if they don't add joy to your life.
I never was able to fully articulate that or live by that rule...but now it is my mantra.
Personally, in the years post Drew, one of me and my children's best Thanksgivings was the year we bucked tradition, cut loose, said **** it and rented a bungalow at a resort in one of our favorite beach towns on Cape Cod and made reservations for their amazing candlelit dinner buffet.
We laughed. We snuggled. We walked. We talked. We played. We didn't miss tradition at all. We were too busy making a new one...and having what I believe may have actually feen FUN.
And I didn't even feel the slightest need to imbibe in drugs or alcohol. (Not that I would ever have done the drugs part. Although I had briefly considered it one year!!!).
I'm not writing this because I'm trying to unhinge our societal traditions. Ok well maybe I am, just a tad. What I'm really interested in doing is prodding us ALL to liberate ourselves from the shackles of
Norman Rockwell holiday ridiculousness. Or, as my mentor and guardian angel Erma Bombeck once so brilliantly and succinctly nailed it, "Family: The Ties that Bind. And Gag."
I'm not anti-family. I'm simply pro-JOY.
And if the two don't intersect, then perhaps it's time to let go of the guilt and set yourself free.
At the very least, try to shake things up a bit. With or without the express permission or delight of
I have said this before, and I'll keep saying it until I don't think it matters any longer (which will probably be never, so bear with me):
"The shortest path to liberation and enlightenment is experiencing first-hand heart-wrenching loss, grief and tragedy."
Or, to put it even more clearly,
Loss = Liberation.
If you allow yourself to feel the depths of your heartache and the depth of your own love for yourself then I have a secret surprise for you: the Grief Fairy is here to set your ass free!!!
Loss and tragedy, especially when it's sudden, teaches you life's brevity and how things can change at the drop of a hat. Or turkey leg. Or a carrot stick carved into the shape of a turkey leg or a whole freaking Tofurkey if you're not a carnivore.
We all deserve peace. And love. And peace. Did I say peace? And JOY, dammit. And our traditional families are not necessarily the place we are going to find those things.
And that's ok. And we're allowed to find whatever brings us a tidbit of happiness on any holiday.
We don't have to paste our faces into Norm's painting (lovely as it may be) in an attempt to conform to some societal expectation. Or Norm's fantasies. An expectation and fantasy that for the ninety-nine percent, generally only ups the usage of anti-depressants during November and December.
Maybe you want to eat turkey in Paris. Or munch on a turkey dog and drink champagne and eat it while cozied up on your couch, watching a really great Netflix movie! It's all perfect. Capital P.
This year, I will be cooking something that tastes luscious (because I am an intuitively luscious cook thanks to superior food-related inherited DNA) with the assistance of my son. The one who is on this earth. (I'm sure the other one will be in the kitchen with us, as well.) And I'm tickled about it. Maybe it will involve a turkey part. Maybe not. We are free spirits and have learned the hard way that we don't have to pretend to be the Norman Rockwell family.
Be real. Love your family. And love yourself, especially.
And do whatever brings you TRUE peace.
If that's eating stuffing flavored Pringles (wait...is that a thing?) in your tube socks and sexy undies or enjoying a Carvel ice cream cake shaped like a turkey for dinner...or hopping on a plane to Paris using all of the leftover points on your credit card, do it. And don't feel one bit of guilt.
I'm pretty sure even Norman Rockwell didn't have a Norman Rockwell holiday.
Sending you much love and strength and peace and joy...and most of all, a holiday that makes your heart glow with true happiness.
ps - I have had so much on my mind the past few weeks and have been going through some rather massive (and wonderful) personal changes. I have honestly not known what to write about. So I uncomfortably sat back and focused on my own needs and growth, until I had something to write.
I knew it would happen. And I love writing so much, it feels great to be hitting the "publish" button on this piece. I'll be in touch again VERY soon...because the changes in my life are not just in the air, but in my lap. And I'm feeling amazing. Life is a journey and I'm so happy to still be here, creating my path. :)
pps - As always, if you spot a typo or grammatical error of the truly heinous variety that would keep me awake at night, do not hesitate to notify me. Other than that, I'm not sweating the small stuff. ;)