Thursday, November 29, 2012

Finding Thanksgiving

You know how when you pictured your future life way back years ago, everything looked all dream-like and hazy and beautiful and perfect, and then on the winding way from then to now, you hit about a million huge pot-holes, and your heart broke, and you gave up on it all over and over again, and the picture faded and you couldn't make out details anymore? And you almost began to wonder if that picture you once gazed at and believed was your own actually belonged to somebody else, not you after all? So you sighed and steeled yourself and looked even further off, into a completely misty, deep grey distance to just barely make out a new picture, this one totally different from the first, that didn't feel like yours at all, but seemed like the inevitable outcome to you, from your off-road vantage point?

But then over time, blessing by blessing, the details of the picture began to emerge from the darkness, larger and closer and clearer and more beautiful and perfect (but always with a side of reality), and before long, you looked around you and realized, "I'm living it. I'm living a picture, and it's so good and right and touchable and alive and endowed with spirit and heart and Look at Me Now. I'm happy."

I used to think I'd experienced something unique in my lost tumble off and away from my dreams, but I'm learning over time that most people's life stories veer unexpectedly somehow, have once or twice or three times dipped or turned so sharply they've lost their breath, their hope, and thought they were on the wrong road altogether. But God, or life, or personhood, brings us up and around and out and clears the way again to hope and joy. It's a glorious thing. A human thing. A very thankful thing.

We're far from home, so we don't do Thanksgiving with family. This has been hard for me as I'm from a tradition of all the same people and all the same meals on that same essential white-clothed table with the steaming bowls and knocking knees and tinkling tea glasses. In recent years we've done the turkey and dressing and all of it, and sat, the four of us around the table, and been glad enough. Kids don't love that meal though, let's be honest. And it's just, I don't know, it's good, but I still feel like the doorbell should ring and two car loads should walk in bearing pans of yeast rolls and casseroles of beans-and-God-only-knows-what-else. I don't ever get all the way light or full without that doorbell, and maybe this is selfish of me but I just got tired and wanted to stop trying to make Thanksgiving "right."

So we thought we'd try something really different. Something that my soul wouldn't be able to compare to past Thanksgivings and come up short somehow.

Snuggling and looking out the train window.  Awww.
We rode the train into Chicago the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I love how my kids love on each other most when they're excited.

Checking out their city digs.
This picture perfectly captures how they react to new environments. They're checking out the hotel room we stayed in downtown. Every little detail thrilled her (except WHY DO THEY ONLY PROVIDE FLUFFY ROBES FOR THE ADULTS, MAMA? KIDS LIKE ROBES TOO, YOU KNOW!) But him? Skeptical and critical. He's such a grouchy little old man in these situations. (But a ridiculously cute one.)

Now arriving at little girl heaven.
We did a little window shopping and Christmas-list-making on Michigan Avenue.

He's figuring out escalators. She's helping.
Peabody got the hang of escalators.

Annnd the hotel pool is the best part of any trip.  :)
We swam in the fancy hotel pool.

Settled in for the night.  She is excellent at pretending to be asleep.  His possum skills need some work. ;)
Peabody didn't quite get the hang of playing possum. Hee hee.

Beautiful Thanksgiving day in Chicago.
We woke up to a gorgeous Thanksgiving Day on Michigan Avenue. I mean, seriously gorgeous. And after a room-service breakfast, we grabbed coffees-to-go and walked a few blocks down to watch Chicago's Thanksgiving Parade.

Chicago parade:  Pure awesomeness!

Marshall Field Bldg decked for the season.

Woody Woodpecker.  Again:   Kids -- no clue.  (Shakes head.). I have cultural educating to do.


As the parade drew to an end, we wandered toward Millennium Park enjoying the sights and feeling the vibrant pulse of the big city and the departing crowd.

I really love that long weekends away like this give Al and Peabody some time to bond. During normal weeks, Al's long commute to work and home keeps him away for over 12 hours a day, and the kids generally only see him for a few minutes at bedtime. It's been this way since Peabody was born, so he's very attached to me by default (and it's also natural at this stage). Watching my two boys together like this really filled me with gratitude for the break in routine.

Millennium Park
Beautiful Millennium Park with a teenytiny Peabody in the foreground.

Playing Red Light/Green Light at Millennium Park.  #latergram
We played a pick-up game of Red Light, Green Light on the green at the park.

Anticipaturkeys.  (I totally just made that up.)
My little "anticipaTurkeys." We had our Thanksgiving feast around lunchtime at a restaurant called Market House which always features a menu prepared with all local, organic foods from small family-owned farms. We enjoyed the meal, but this was one instance when I did have a little pang of wishing for old times. There's just something about those standard family recipes that even really good, fresh food prepared very well can't replace on a day like Thanksgiving. We're going to make our real, traditional turkey meal this weekend. I guess, in the end, it just demands doing.


After lunch, we just had a few more hours downtown before we hopped on the train and headed home. We wandered Michigan Avenue again and sat in a bustling Starbucks drinking coffee and peppermint cocoa, watching people come in and out in all sorts of interesting combinations. I made up stories in my mind about how these mothers and sons and uncles with cousins and best friend pairs and sullen-looking solo retail workers ended up seeking their caffeine fixes at a Starbucks on Thanksgiving afternoon. I looked into their faces and tried to see where they are on the road to their own dreams. I wonder if any of them watched this family of four -- the handsome, watchful Dad, the reflective, dreamy Mom, the two small, enthusiastic kids with the big eyes, all up for anything -- and made up a story about us. I wonder how close to the truth about us could a stranger come, from the outside looking in?

We're writing our story, the four of us. And it's a good one.

The founder of Chicago, Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable was both Black and French.  I'm just sayin'.


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  1. i like your story, lady. you write and live it well.

  2. AH! I love it! I WANT TO GO THERE. This looks absolutely magical. I love how you are embracing new adventures while giving voice to the pangs of missing the old traditions.

    Beautifully written, wonderfully captured.

    And I know more than ever that Peabody and AJ are cut from the same cloth. I can TOTALLY hear her saying that about the hotel robes. And she is TERRIBLE at playing possum. ;)

  3. Yes. This. Exactly.

    Look how beautiful life can be when we stop mourning what we used to imagine as perfect and instead wake up to the even better dream around us.

    Love this. Love you. (One of these years, we should do Thanksgiving together. Driving up to your driveway with yeast rolls in hands sounds like a dream.)

  4. Congratulations on making some new, wonderful memories. I bet your kids will never forget it. Thanks also for your honesty...the holidays always bring up memories and longings. In my case, I'm still travelling several hours to my mother's house, but now I'm doing the cooking since a stroke disabled her four years ago. It's a hard trip now for many reasons, and I would love to be able to stay at my own home...oh well, I know that God has a plan even in this, and I'm trying to be thankful. Thanks for sharing your beautifully written story.

  5. I really really enjoyed this story and the pictures of my fave city. I miss it SO much! LOVE riding the commuter train, so I might have to visit my daughter in Milwaukee again, just for another excuse to ride it again.
    Loving your family pics and how you edit everything to look so dreamy.
    WOW on the Chicago founder's info!!!
    Keep on writing and posting and all that. You do our hearts good. Many thanks!! <3
    I live in S. IL and my kids are grown up, married, moved out, doing their own holiday thing. So I went to my sis's for a big meal, but it just wasn't the same. Looking forward to the christmas hectic-fun when they all visit again!

  6. I love an adventurous Thanksgiving. I prefer them, actually. So glad you wrote this out! Loved living it with you in instagram and your words!