Dysfunctional Thanksgiving

It’s the day after Thanksigiving and I feel decidedly….ungrateful.

And for the life of me, I’m trying to get myself back to that place of gratitude, to look around me at my blessings and my gifts, of all the rambling statuses on Facebook that people posted yesterday about life and love and happiness….but I’m just not there.

This year, for the first time in I’m not exactly sure how long (at least six years, I went back through Thanksgiving after Thanksgiving in my head after I went to bed at 8:15pm), it was just the five of us for the holiday.  And I know I should be grateful just for that, because there was a distinct possibility that my eldest might not have made it back home this year.  He is now a real adult, fully employed and living in the DC area.  Luckily too, he has some friends from high school who also have settled in that area (what are the odds, right, this tiny little rural town northeast of NYC, with only a few hundred kids graduating each year, that he would have friends who are also in DC), so he had people to carpool home with Tuesday night.

And too, we started off the day right, with a trip to church, where my daughter was an altar server for the Thanksgiving service.  It brought to mind everything I love about living in this small town; the way one of my best girlfriends sat down in the pew beside me; the way the priest uses my name at Holy Communion because everyone knows everyone at our smallish church; the coffee and doughnuts afterward.   Our priest, a clearly flawed human who shares his struggles with us through his homilies, warned us about all of our travels we would be embarking on yesterday…both physical and emotional. Especially the emotional.   I’ll never again think priests don’t understand real people’s problems after listening to this guy.  I left church with a sense of peace and purpose, clicking off the menu items still to be taken care of, thinking ahead to a lovely afternoon of cooking and catching up with Z and drinking and eating.

But that illusion fell apart immediately when my husband made the turn into the grocery store on the way home from church.  I asked, incredulously (and probably not terribly politely), “What on Earth could we use at the store?  I’ve been shopping for three days?”  From the backseat my daughter and youngest son also expressed their disbelief.  “Hash browns,” my husband growled, the one household staple I keep forgetting at the store (probably because I’m not eating them since I’m trying to lose weight).  Crystallized in his two words were anger, frustration, and bitterness.

“Fine, well I’ll just run in and get them so we can be quick,” I said, noting the nearly empty parking lot; it wasn’t crowded, so it wouldn’t take long.  Then I could get back home and start cooking, including the surprise cherry pie I’d had to add to the menu because of the wrinkled face my husband had made when I mentioned the dessert I’d planned was Pumpkin Cheesecake.

All of a sudden I felt the car swerve and R made a big circle to leave the parking lot.  “Fine.  Forget it.  No one else wants them.  We’ll just go home, and no one gets hash browns tomorrow morning for breakfast.”  His jaw was set tight, his grip so firm on the steering wheel that I could see the whites of his knuckles.

I raised my voice, telling him he was ridiculous, to turn around, but no matter.  When R makes up his mind, that’s it.  He was done.  And he remained done, all day long.

He was silent when I informed him that the whole incident was for naught, because when I returned to the grocery later on, I discovered it closed.  We wouldn’t have been able to get the has browns anyway.  No matter.

He was silent when I asked him to check on the cherry pie I’d made expressly for him as it baked.  He was on his way to the bathroom from the sofa where he’d planted himself since the moment he’d arrived home from church, and wasn’t terribly interested.

He was silent as I bustled in the kitchen, battling with my mother’s cranberry sherbet (I won, but it was a long fought battle), sauteeing the onions and celery for my mother’s stuffing, creating the pesto out of herbs and carefully sliding it between the skin and the fat breast of turkey R brought home from the butcher, as I peeled and mashed the potatoes, as I slid into the oven the broccoli casserole from my great aunt’s recipe.

And because he was silent, so were the kids.  My daughter played on the computer in one room; my younger son watched TV in another.  My eldest shuttled between my husband in the front room and periodically checking on my progress in the kitchen, trying to break the tension by asking me about the thin citrus slices I used with the bird and asking R about the dismal performance of the Detroit Lions on the television.

It didn’t work that well.

And so, after every dish was washed (my grandmother’s china), after every leftover was put in a plastic tub and into the fridge, after the kids parked themselves on the sofa to watch this year’s playing of “Elf” on the big screen, I quietly wandered upstairs to bed.  It was 8:15.  I tried to remind myself to be grateful.  I tried to look around my bedroom filled with lovely furniture, my warm house, my full belly, my family downstairs enjoying the movie.  But it didn’t help.  Then I went back through the last few Thanksgivings in my head, trying to realize why they did not leave me with this same feeling of emptiness.  Last year, in Pittsburgh with my father.  Two years prior, here with R’s parents and sister.  Three years ago, again in Pittsburgh.  Four years ago, we were at his cousin’s.

This was the first year in a long time when it was just us.  Without other family members to change our family dynamic, we fell into our same patterns and arguments, fights and foibles.  It made what was supposed to be a special day just like every other day.  No amount of special food could save us from ourselves, the lack of appreciation and respect for the basics of who we are to each other.  It made me sad, empty and certainly unable to see all of the many other blessings around me.

Life could be worse, I know.  But I often wonder, is that the motto I really want to live by?


Confusion and Grief

I didn’t know her well.  But when I heard that an acquaintance of mine had a heart attack a few weeks ago, I was still stunned.  A peer, someone I’d volunteered with at the kids’ school, who’d attended our PTO meetings, who lived around the corner from me,  was Just Like Me had had a heart attack.   It was shocking; even in our early forties, my girlfriends and I feel pretty invincible.  Several of us still don’t have wills drawn up (myself included).  Those illnesses, those grown up trappings are for Old People.  Not people our age.  Not people like me.

The whispers got louder as the days passed.  Apparently G had lapsed into (or was put into a medically induced) coma after the heart attack, and had not come out of it.  The middle school PTO president quietly updated those of us on the board that it had been long, too long, for her to still be unconscious.  That there were glimmers of reactions to this test or that, slight changes in breathing when her children came to visit the hospital, but nothing concrete.  Nothing certain.  Nothing hopeful.

Subtle messages started being passed along via Facebook; friends including photos of themselves and G in their profile pictures.  Prayers asked for.  Prayers said.  But still the days passed, with no improvement.  I wondered aloud to friends, what was appropriate?  I wasn’t close friends with this woman; hardly knew her, really.  Still, I felt like I should be delivering a casserole or something.  That need, always, to feel like there is something that can be done, even where is nothing really to do.  It would be inappropriate to be one of those people who gloms onto tragedy like a life raft, needing that self validation of being useful, helpful.  Instead, I prayed.  Quietly, to myself, and with a few close friends.

Yesterday, the news came.  G had passed away.

And again, it struck me.  Even though it’s not my loss, my friend.  But still, the sadness is there, just the same.  How terrible, how awful.  Sympathy for her husband, her teenage children.  It’s the kind of thing you see in movies, the widower with the two kids.  But you never think it is real, that it could be real.  That it could happen to someone you know, who lives around the corner from you, whose voice you can still hear in your head because it was kind of distinctive, nasally and even a little unnerving.

But it does.  It happens.  Death happens, all of the time.  To good people and bad, to young and old, to deserving and not. It is always stunning, shocking, horrible, and awful.  But sometimes, just sometimes, it is even more so.



My New Usual

Well, I did it.

On September 12 I downloaded an app for my iPhone called “Couch 2 5K”.  I did it mostly because I saw a friend on Facebook posting to her page about it, and I thought, “Hey, if she can do it, I could probably do it.”  It’s a nine week training program that is supposed to take couch potatoes off the couch and turn them into runners.

I was skeptical.  Even though a good friend of mine did the program last year, and encouraged me that I would find myself really enjoying running, I did not believe her.  Truth be told, I was desperate.  Desperate for something to kick me into thinking that I had some semblance of control over my eating and my weight.  Because I was completely out of control.  I had gained 8 pounds from January to September, and I felt disgusted with myself.  Thoughts about food and being fat consumed my inner self talk much of the day.  I was miserable.  I hoped, somehow, that this last ditch effort would work.

I ran the first workout on my treadmill, too embarrassed to run outside.  My knees ached and I barely made it through the runs that were just one minute in duration.   But I promised myself that I would continue.  The second run wasn’t as bad as the first.  And somehow, I started to feel a little more confidence each time I clicked the app and went through a workout.

The program is supposed to bring you through nine weeks.  By Week 4 I was feeling stronger and more fit, and started compressing my workouts into six days instead of seven.  I shocked myself in week 5 by completing a 20 minute run on our local trail.  I was probably running slower than most people walk, but I was still running.  I knew at that point that somehow I would be successful with the program, and there was simply no turning back.

I completed the nine week program in eight weeks.  I’ve lost 9 lbs and increased my runs from one minute to thirty minutes without stopping.  I can now run nearly the whole 5K, and I know in a week or two, I will be able to.  My knees have stopped hurting, my ankle has stopped hurting, and now I can actually say that it feels good after I run.  I can’t even believe it.  I am doing this.  And it feels good.

I am more in control of my food intake now, and I don’t find myself consumed by negative thoughts about it.  I’d of course rather be losing weight more quickly, but I am pleased with how far I’ve come in just eight weeks.  I can’t wait to register for my first run and actually use this training for a real race.  It probably won’t be until December, but I’m OK with that.  I’ll keep going out on the trail or even on the road and work on improving my distance and speed.

I actually ran into a friend while out running on Saturday and he asked, “Is this your usual route?”

My usual route.  Oh my goodness.  Like a real person who actually does this all of the time.  Who runs.

I answered, “Yes.”

I did it.



No one believed the forecast.

When our weather forecasters started talking about snow in the forecast last Thursday, those of us in SW CT were incredulous.  Snow is virtually unheard of in October here.  Sure, I grew up in Michigan; I remember several Halloweeens spent with winter coats and flakes in the air.  Nothing significant, of course.  Nothing “plowable” as they say here.  But even so, the crazy forecasts of 6-12 inches of snow seemed impossible to believe.

As Saturday grew closer, the predictions became more dire.  Widespread power outages could happen.  I still didn’t want to believe it, but started to take some stock in the predictions.  I lined up a guy to plow the driveway, just in case (I can’t shovel our long driveway when there is more than 6 inches….it’s just too much….and R was scheduled to be out of town).  I ran out at 8am to gas up the car.  Just in case.  I hoped for the storm to start as rain, and then move onto snow.  The longer we had rain, the better off we would be.

The flakes started falling at 11 am.

Within thirty minutes, the huge, wet flakes were everywhere.  They coated everything within an hour and a half.  I could see the wet flakes weighing down everything:  the trees still full of leaves, the power lines to our house.  The pumpkins on our porch grew a blanket of white.  The kids and I played Monopoly and watched the lights flicker on and off.  I turned up the furnace just in case the power went out.

Which it did, at 3:30pm.

We watched anxiously as the flakes continued to fall, the wind picked up, and the darkness spread.  How bad would it be?  I heard sounds like gunfire outside; branches breaking and splitting and falling off of the many trees surrounding our home.  We went up the staircase at 7:30, bored in the dark, and snuggled under the blankets in search of warmth.

When the sun rose, we saw a foot of snow on the ground.  Branches were down everywhere.  Trees sagged on the power lines.  And there was still no power.

I cooked breakfast on our gas cooktop and waited.  I hooked up the corded phone to the landline and called to check in on friends.  Only one had power.  Everyone else was in the dark and cold.  The plow guy came and I unearthed our minivan from the piles outside.

Our cousins came to our home with the food from their rapidly warming refrigerator.  While the house was cold, the fridge was still too warm.  We were better off than they were; while we all had no power, we at least had hot water and the ability to cook due to our gas line.  They had neither.  We cooked together by candlelight in our coats.

By Monday morning the house had cooled to 50 degrees.  We took hot showers and wrapped up in three layers each and left the house in search of heat and power for our electronics.  One friend had both and graciously welcomed us into her home.  We spent the afternoon there, my cousin and I, feeling shell shocked and numb.  Predictions for our power outage reached over the 7 day mark. School cancelled until Wednesday, but no one believes that they’ll go back before next week.

Monday was Halloween; the town cancelled trick or treating.  We never carved our pumpkins.  But a few friends decided we should do something, so we made plans to meet at the local park with our kids dressed in the afternoon.  Word spread and nearly a hundred kids went from car to car, trying to find something to smile about in the midst of the dark and the cold.  We all smiled and traded stories of how we were all surviving.  The kids came home and we didn’t even bother to stop them from gobbling their loot.

I put three blankets on the bed last night and a winter hat too.  I worried that the children were too cold to sleep.  R packed by flashlight for his business trip and wondered if we should leave town until things got better.  We weren’t sure what to do.

I woke to a strange sound at 1am.  It was the television.

Power had returned.  Thank goodness.  The temperature was 48 degrees in our bedroom.

I am furiously doing laundry and drinking real coffee in the fear that power will disappear again.  Over 80 % of our tiny little town still is without power; we are the lucky ones.  58 hours without power is lucky.

It’s a strange, strange world right now.

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