Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A new kind of home for the holidays

Back in June, when we initially told my parents that we were considering a move to the U.K., the first thing that I said to my mother was "don't worry... we'll be home for Thanksgiving." I really did believe that then. It was easy to promise to return when we hadn't even left yet, before things like acclimating the kids to a new school and figuring out a whole new lifestyle and calculating the cost of airfare for 4 on a holiday weekend felt like real issues. I promised that we'd return for Thanksgiving many times in the following weeks of indecision and waiting and planning. But by the time we actually left, I'd stopped saying it. The closer we got to really making an international move, the more I knew in my heart that bopping back to the States for some turkey two months later wasn't likely to happen. And I was right. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday of the year, the one I always without fail spend with my family. And this year, I am in London.

There are a million reasons why we're not going home for the holiday, the most important of which is that it's simply too soon. If I went back to the States right now and saw all of my family and friends, I honestly think that I'd be very hard pressed to get on a plane and come back here. It's not that I'm not happy to be living in London or that I don't feel a little more at home here every day, because I am and I do. Truly. But it's not home yet. And the thought of going to a real home, a comforting place where everything is easy and familiar, fills me with such longing that I know it's probably not a good idea to do it just yet. It's too soon for me to visit without regret, too soon for me to return here at the end of our trip and feel like I've come home. Even if I did think that I could easily slide in and out of that world for a few days, now would be a lousy time to head overseas. Paul's got work, Julia has school, my parents will be here in a few weeks anyway... it's just not the right time.

Even though I've known for a while that we were going to be here for the 4th Thursday in November, I've been putting off planning for Thanksgiving for weeks. I knew that I wanted to celebrate the holiday in some way, but I couldn't envision anything that would feel right. I didn't want to invite people we hardly knew and add the pressure of hosting guests onto the strain of inevitable homesickness, but I didn't want the day to feel like any other, either. I didn't want to spend hours preparing a meal that only Paul and I would be likely to eat, but I didn't want to miss out on any of our holiday favorites, either. "We'll eat turkey, of course," I kept saying, but I wasn't actually putting any effort into procuring said turkey or figuring out how to fit it and a half dozen side dishes into my teeny tiny British oven. I simply didn't want to be in London for Thanksgiving, and so I simply opted not to think about it for as long as possible. (For future reference, things don't actually seem to resolve themselves too well with this approach.)

I ran out of time on my avoidance tactics this week. No magic carpet had arrived to swoop me into my parents' hearth and home and it was becoming increasingly clear that a turkey with all the trimmings would not be flying in on any such imaginary transport device either. I was on my own, and if I wanted Thanksgiving, I was giving to have to cobble something together myself. Thank God for online grocery shopping. My holiday order will arrive later this afternoon, complete with a turkey breast, an odd assortment of somewhat familiar pre-made dishes, and some ingredients that I think I can use to concoct reasonable facsimiles of other Thanksgiving favorites. Paul will go to work tomorrow and Julia will go to school, of course, but Evan and I will cook while they're gone, and after they get home, we will all sit down for a festive Thanksgiving meal. Later, when the kids are in bed, Paul and I hope to crack open a bottle of wine, hook up the Skype webcams and remotely participate in my family's annual Charades competition (prepare to lose this year, Dad). It will not be perfect. It will not be "right." But it will be an American Thanksgiving in London, and hopefully, it will be enough.

Yesterday, I suddenly realized that without American teachers to pound the Thanksgiving story into their heads for the past several weeks, my kids had no idea what the impending holiday was even about. Scrambling to rectify this, I inundated them with a confusing monologue all about pilgrims and turkey and giving thanks. I'm sure they both thought that Thanksgiving must just be another time than Mom gets a little crazy, and they were probably right. But they did get the idea of thankfulness pretty quickly, at least, and when I asked them what they were thankful for, they immediately regaled me with long lists of family and friends and a few odd toys that they especially love. Julia in particular made me smile as she listed her American and British friends in one intermingled list of people she was thankful for. "I have a LOT of friends now that we have the people back home and the people here, don't I?" she asked me.

She does indeed. We all do now. Being away from who and what we love at the holidays is hard, but opening ourselves up to a larger world than that which we've always known has its own rewards. I'm immensely thankful for this experience, difficult holidays and all. I'm thankful for the people on two different continents who have befriended me and supported me and seen me through this surprising, unexpected and adventurous year. I'm thankful for the family members back home who have forgiven us our failure to make good on our "home for Thanksgiving" promise and have done their best to include us in the celebration from a distance. I'm grateful for the family I do have here, for the amazing husband and wonderful children whose presence somehow makes this flat feel like home even though the world outside still feels unfamiliar and foreign. And all of that thankfulness sort of makes me start to feel like it must be Thanksgiving.

I have no ugly black cornucopia here, nor a creative sister-in-law to arrange it artistically. I don't even have a white tablecloth to spread over the table. I can eat as much of the green bean casserole as I like without fighting a certain Thanksgiving guest for it, but without the fried onions on top, who really cares? My food won't taste nearly as good, and my pies won't be nearly as beautiful. I'm probably going to be singing a solo this year if I insist on We Gather Together before the festive meal. Englebert Humperdink will play little more than a passing role in our holiday celebration. I won't have the sheer pleasure of waking up the day after Thanksgiving in a house overflowing with the people I love best in the world. And shit, I forgot the After Dinner Mints which no one ever has room for but everyone always eats 12 of anyway. But in a year when we have so very much more than we ever hoped or dreamed, to also have the memory of all of those things, and the certain knowledge that I will be able to return to them in future years is a luxury indeed. I know that in my heart. And I am very, very thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

5 Comments:

Anonymous Jonathan said...

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just be happy you don't need to travel! Big wind and rain storm in the Northeast should make this one fun.

We'll wave to Jersey for you!

7:22 PM  
Anonymous Mom said...

Your blog made me cry and laugh at the same time. I cannot tell you how many times we talked about you today as we prepared the feast--from speculating on how much applesauce will be left because Julia & Evan will not be here to eat the whole bowl, to wondering how you roasted the garlic last year for the mashed potatoes. Without Paul here I am not even making unadulterated stuffing. (That black cornucopia is a family heirloom. Now that I know how much you love it I will put it in my will for you...along with the plastic shalom.)
I absolutely plan to bring my new laptop to the table. (I LOVE my birthday present--Dad has asked if I plan to sleep with it...)You are very much here with us in spirit.
Two weeks from tonight Dad and I will get on a plane and fly to London. As much as I LOVE my laptop, what I really asked for as a 60th b-day gift was a trip to London to share this milestone with you.
I have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Dan & Jordan have been here to celebrate an early birthday, family and friends will be at my Thanksgiving table, and I will soon sit at your table in Hampstead. What more could I ask for?

10:30 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

As if your post didn't have me, the comment from your mom...

*sniff, sniff*

4:43 AM  
Blogger Kristy said...

What Jennifer said.

Rebecca, I know this is your favorite of holidays. And I hope that knowing that this morning at 11:11 am (4:11 pm, your time) that I'm thinking of you -- and am sure others are doing the same as well -- warms your heart *almost* as much as that turkey dinner.

Happy Thanksgiving!

4:12 PM  
Blogger Steph said...

Ditto on Jennifer and Kristy's comments. I'm thinking of you today, too. Happy Thanksgiving!

5:55 PM  

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