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.
We rode the train into Chicago the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I love how my kids love on each other most when they're excited.
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.)
We did a little window shopping and Christmas-list-making on Michigan Avenue.
Peabody got the hang of escalators.
We swam in the fancy hotel pool.
Peabody didn't quite get the hang of playing possum. Hee hee.
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.
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.
Beautiful Millennium Park with a teenytiny Peabody in the foreground.
We played a pick-up game of Red Light, Green Light on the green at the park.
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.