Traveling on Thanksgiving is out of tradition for our family. We typically have a small Thanksgiving at home and travel for Christmas. This years Christmas Uganda trip shook that notion up a bit and we found ourselves in a packed mini-van headed for sunny Charleston, SC. Last year we went to a local restaurant because sometimes I can’t fathom cooking the big sha-bang for 6 people… four of whom won’t even touch sweet potato casserole. Admitting that in the digital world is quite freeing.
But this year, this year was the real deal. My mom, obviously very excited to have the whole family home, went big. We had every side dish in the Thanksgiving repertoire. I think at one point I chopped something and maybe opened an oven. But outside of that I was a total bystander.
My culinary laziness was no-doubt brought on by strangely deep reflection on being home. You see, the day before, my mom and I had an epic fight. Like epic. (please don’t kill me, mom) It happened shortly after eating at Box Car Betty’s, which is delicious by the way. So we ate these perfectly, lightly breaded chicken sandwiches and got in the car to search for a local coffee place. You know, girl time. My mom, sister, grandma and I ready to caffeinate and chat it up. And then my mom had a little misunderstanding with something my sister and I said and then I criticized her driving and then I’m not totally certain how the downward spiral began but I requested (loudly) to be dropped off at the Chic-fil-a we were passing. Within moments I was standing in front of a second chicken sandwich joint with slightly less-crispy, less-perfect breading. I find that mildly entertaining.
I got picked up and texted my sister, she informed me that they only made it one parking lot over. It was like me unsuccessfully trying to run away and hide in a tree all over again. Suddenly I was 9 with a backpack full of My Little Ponies and a bag of chips.
I rode home with Calvin, while my mom rode home with my sister. I called my sister and asked her to put mom on the phone. I apologized for the fight. And then the words that felt hard to say and so true at the same time began to tumble out of my mouth. “Mom, we just don’t know how to communicate.” I moved out of my parents house at 18, went to college, went to graduate school, got married and moved even further away. My siblings stayed close. They know my parents in their adult life. I know my parents too… but in some ways when you aren’t in daily life with them things fit differently than they used to. I said a lot of these things to my mom. She’s sensitive. She’s different than I am. I push her sometimes, to feel and think about things differently. I think that maybe I should do less of that.
So back to feeling like a 9 year old runaway who only made it to the neighbors house. It feels really good to know that you can turn around and go home. My mom and I were quick to forgive. As we hung up the phone I said “I’ll see you in a couple minutes, let’s hug before Dad grabs us and makes us group hug, I hate that.” She gave me a small laugh and agreed.
I walked up the driveway and saw my mom’s speckled, red, tear-stained cheeks. And I was painfully aware of how dry my own eyes were. Being a mom is hard. Through the years I’ve watched my mom strive for perfection (for us, for her, for every holiday and event) and I’ve seen times that have fallen very short of perfect. I’ve seen her disappointment and her hopes and dreams. I’ve seen a life that has given and taken from her. And standing there, a daughter and a mom at the same time, I really started to “get” her. She’s not like me, I’m not like her. But I understand the crushing desire to be successful in life, to be magical for your children… to just get it right. And so many times it just isn’t right. My mom undoubtedly spent a considerable amount of time preparing for our visit. The Christmas decorations were out, each child had a special pillowcase on their cot, favorite foods were in the pantry, small glass bottle Cokes were chilled and waiting… the effort was large.
And while I want to say “Mom! Life was never meant to be perfect.” I just can’t. Because when we woke up on Thanksgiving morning and I saw my kids running around in their Papa’s big t-shirts and my mom struggling with the giant, gross raw turkey and my grandparents grinding up tart cranberries and sweet oranges, and my kids putting on aprons to help…. it was perfect.
It was her moment. The hectic, chaotic house filled with people who struggle to communicate and fight sometimes, and cry for each other. Our perfection is our imperfection. My only job that day was to soak it all in, all these people brought together by genetics and adoption. All choosing to stay in one piece together, for better and for worse.