Posted by: Elizabeth Anne Mitchell | November 4, 2012

Gratitude

Fall colors, pear tree,

source: E. K. Carmel, from WANA commons

My ROW80 check-in is  at the bottom of this post, if you want only to look at that.

Shan Jeniah, a writer I have met through ROW80 is participating in Thankvember.  While I haven’t signed up, I have been thinking about gratitude. Going through some of my posts while combining my various blogs into one, I found this one still rang true.

The holiday season that ends the calendar year often focuses on family.  Many of the bloggers I read have recently posted about family and family celebrations during the holiday season.  I, too, am very grateful for my family, but I have very few traditions to draw upon.

My parents both had such Dickensian childhoods, it is nearly unbelievable that they grew up in the 20th century.  My father was supposed to be the daughter that arrived two years after his birth.  A fourth son, he was seen as completely superfluous.  My mother was the youngest daughter in her family; in the Southern tradition I thought went away by the end of the 19th century, she was marked to stay with her parents and care for them until their death.  To that end, she was taught early how to run the household, standing on an orange crate to cook and wash dishes at four years old.

My mother and father met on a blind date and married within a year.  Because my father was an Irish Catholic from Massachusetts and my mother a Southern Baptist from Georgia, both of their families summarily disowned them.  My mother’s family went so far as to obliterate her name from the family Bible.  Eventually, some members of both families had some contact with our family, but for most of them, it was limited in both time and warmth. It left a legacy of a real lack of warmth among my own siblings, which is something I realized only in contrast with other families.

Also, my parents seem to have very little tradition to call upon. My father has resisted all my questions about holiday family traditions; my mother has been only slightly more informative, saying that she often got nothing but an orange for Christmas. Because my mother then spun into her “you ungrateful children” speech at that point, I never asked for more details.  Given these deficits, my parents tried to give us children the American dream holidays.  We rarely had a turkey for Thanksgiving, due to the cost, but my father did relax that day.  Christmas Day was a bigger deal, with  presents under the tree for the four children.  I did notice we never had any other family around, like all my schoolmates did.

Due to this upbringing, I really didn’t bring any holiday traditions to my married life; in my first marriage, I played along with traditions I didn’t feel inside.  When I married my second husband, we worked to create traditions together, melding his traditions with my dream holidays. We went through the common tug-of-war between the families, whom to visit when, whom to eat with, whom to stay with if we had travelled.  The situation was complicated by my daughters having their own traditions, as well as another set of grandparents, aunts, and uncles to visit. Thankfully, it got much easier as the girls became older and made their own decisions about the scheduling, rather than being pulled so many different directions.  Even when they spent less time with us, I felt better knowing they were making the decisions.

Perhaps because of my background, family is very important to me.  I don’t tell them often enough how important they are to me.  Some of that reticence is due to my teenage sons, who flee emotion as if it were hydrofluoric acid, but sometimes I take all of them for granted.

I am grateful for my sons, who defied all medical opinion to exist, appearing after three doctors had told me I could not have children.  They helped me learn how to be a mother to alien creatures, who didn’t act at all like their sisters. Furthermore, I had met my daughters when they were 5 and 3, so 0-3 was uncharted territory.  My sons laid to rest any nature versus nurture discussions I had in my mind; their drive and fearlessness taught me how to take risks, while making my face pale with fear.

I am grateful for my daughters, who accepted me as a second mom, and weathered my learning to walk the tightrope, and how to be that second mom. Recently, one of my sons-in-law paid me one of the best compliments I’ve gotten.  He told me that the way I accepted and loved my youngest daughter showed her how to love and accept his two children.  He said she might not have married him had she not grown up with me. It brought me to tears when he told me, and it does so now.

And I am grateful for my husband, who puts up with my weird mental glitch, where I point right and say left, especially annoying when giving directions in the car; follow the hand, not the voice, is the trick.  He accepts my ADD as well as my Irish temper; he glories in my nerdiness, and thinks I’m still as interesting as I was when he met me so very long ago.

To all of you, thank you for keeping me sane, human, and open to the people around me.

writing pencil composition book, L.E. Carmichael WANA commons

source: L. E. Carmichael, WANA commons

ROW80: Not much to report here,  I feel like a cop, saying “Move along, people, nothing to see here.”  While there is a lot going on beneath the surface, I have very little on the surface that reflects the changes. I am learning and working hard in the blogging class; I have managed to keep up my sponsor duties; I have written scads and scads of words on the academic article and procedural documents at the day job (woo-hoo!)

I will return to the novel and blogging by the end of the year.  For now, please go encourage someone in the ROW80 group.  They are a great bunch, and can be found here.

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Responses

  1. What a lovely, lovely gratitude post, Elizabeth. I am touched and reminded of how much I have to be grateful for: husband, sons, roof over my head, etc. Especially in light of the tragedy and loss that so many are dealing with in the wake of Sandy. Thank you for sharing a little of your personal history.

    • Thank you, Lynette. I tend to think of all that I have at this time of year, and Sandy brought that realization to the fore as well. I appreciate your stopping by.

  2. This is a wonderfully beautiful post, Elizabeth, and captures so much emotion in just a few paragraphs. It makes me think of my own family, and how my parents’ and grandparents’ upbringings have shaped the childhood that I had. Thank you for sharing it with us!

    Re: goals, sometimes the work that is happening below the surface is more important than the actual writing itself… Or maybe what I mean to say is that it is only with the behind-the-scenes mental work that the novel can actually be written. So keep stewing, and keep up the good work with the day job and such.

    Have a wonderful week!

    • Thank you, Lena. I used to feel so damaged by my upbringing, but have finally come to realize that I am not constrained by it, and can change, even at my age!

      I appreciate your insight into the work that goes on below the surface. I tend to percolate in all my writing, academic as well as fiction; thanks for reminding me of that. I hope your triple-threat pursuits are going well. Thanks for coming by!

  3. A lovely post, Elizabeth. Gratitude really is about recognizing and appreciating what we have. During hard times, in particular, it helps to focus on what is going right, instead of what is going wrong. Thanks for sharing that. 🙂

    • Pauline, thank you. I have always tried to see the half-full, not the half-empty glass. A long time ago, a friend reminded me that we cannot change others, but only our response to them. It took a while, but I finally came to feel that as well. Thank you for coming by!

  4. I’ll repeat the word lovely because it’s so appropriate. I laugh when watching “Leave it to Beaver” re-runs. My upbringing was so far removed from June and Ward and Wally and the Beaver, and my parents so unhappy with their lives, it’s a stretch sometimes to be whole. Thanks so much for sharing. It makes this time of year warmer.

    • I felt the same watching “Leave it to Beaver,” DeeAnna. Those shows depicted fantasy worlds to me. It is difficult to grow up with unhappy parents; I feel for my parents, who had no childhood themselves, and such unhappy adulthoods. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I loved this post, Elizabeth, which gave us a glimpse into your life and family. I grew up with my mom, seeing my dad only occasionally, but we always had happy holiday traditions. If I may share an interesting tidbit. My paternal grandparents had this silver artificial Christmas tree, and there was this color wheel that rotated and turned the silver tree green, red, blue, and yellow. 🙂 Thinking of that tree always brings back warm memories.

    • Lauralynn, thank you for sharing that memory! We had a next-door neighbor who had one of those trees. I loved to go over there and watch the colors change. I feel for my parents, who had no traditions in their own homes, and were unhappy enough not to worry too much about providing them for their children.

      I have good memories of Easter more than Christmas. We always had a picture-taking session in one of the parks downtown, and we got a small box of English candies each year. I remember those days fondly, too.

  6. Learning counts, it can be hard work! That photo is beautiful. Take care, be good to yourself and thank you for sharing this special post.

    • Learning certainly is hard work for me, Cate. I’m glad you liked the photo; it really called out to me when I saw it. Take care of yourself as well; thank you for coming by.

  7. What a lovely post! Family taboos only make sense to the generation who forces them on the rest of the family. I made a great friend in first grade and we conspired to have a playdate. We found out that we were second cousins! We’d never met because our respective grandparents refused to talk to each other because of a disagreement years before.

    Thank you for sharing your story and how you overcame your own family’s troubles.

    • Thanks, Diana. Your story about your second cousin is so common, but so sad, too. The disagreements that sever families are often so arbitrary and small, as well. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and I thank you for coming by.

  8. This is a wonderful post Elizabeth. I understand what you mean about family traditions. My family is in a transitional period now – I missed last Christmas with living in China and this year my parents will now be divorced. It’s all change and I’m going to be away in New Zealand but it does make me begin to think about what traditions I would like to keep when I begin my own family in the future.
    And by the way, I also experience the “say right, point left” syndrome in the car too so I understand that! 😉

    • Bennett, I cannot tell you how happy I am to know that I am not the only person on the globe who points left and says right! For a while, my husband would have me say “wedding ring” or “college ring” so he knew which direction I meant. It made riding in the car with us interesting, I will say! 🙂

      It sounds as though this holiday season will be difficult for you. I wish you all the best. However, it is nice to be able to think through what traditions one wants to have, and how they express one’s feelings about the world.


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