Finally, in a Rented, Red Mini Van

>> Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Shoot, I forgot to be thankful.

Not that I didn’t have a good time on Thanksgiving, but I simply forgot to sit down with lowered head and folded hands to actively give thanks. That’s probably because I was sitting at the kids’ table, and between fetching more milk, picking turkey bits off the floor, and reminding Lizzy not to pick her nose and Samantha not to say “poo-poo”, it just slipped my mind.

Then the rest of the evening, instead of being thankful, I found myself thinking boy, I’d like to have these floors, this kitchen, and that view. And worse, I found myself wondering what I’d sacrifice to have such a fine home. Would I wear a business suit and work in a corporate office? Wear thongs for a year? Sell dirty pictures of myself over the Internet? Not exactly in the spirit of Thanksgiving.

Michael’s cousin hosted Thanksgiving at her house this year in Chicago. She and her family live in a beautifully restored older home in a great neighborhood -- tree-lined streets, well-landscaped lawn -- the works. The temperature dropped the night before and stepping into their home was like walking into my favorite comforter, totally warm and inviting.

Let me put it this way, as you walk through the hallway to the kitchen, there is an old wooden table (I assume antique) against one wall. As my father-in-law said, “Traditionally, this is where the desserts are displayed.” Wow. You gotta love a home where there is a table designated for displaying desserts. Every time I walked through the hallway, I smelled freshly baked apples and cinnamon, warm cherries, and pumpkin.

Why are you hanging out in the hallway?

Oh, no reason.

Aside from the dessert table, what I really enjoyed (and miss) about Chicago is the abundance of family life; cousins and their children growing up together, sharing lives and stories. When Grandma and Grandpa moved to San Diego, our lives opened up. Extended family become a greater part of our daily/weekly lives. In a perfect world, our family life would extend even further and cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles would all live closer together.

Once again, Elizabeth reconnected with her buddy and second cousin, Alec. He’s the youngest of three boys. Every year I expect them to shun their young and distant female relatives, to exclude them from their play or be bothered by their ill-timed questions.

“Did you just get killed?” Elizabeth asks.

“Not yet.”

“What’s that?” she asks, pointing at the hand-held video game Garret is holding and interrupting his view temporarily.

“That’s my health and this shows how many lives I’ve got,” he says patiently.

“Well, I’m working on becoming a super hero so I can get into the TV and save people. Yep. That’s what I’m doing.”

But each year the boys play hide and seek with the girls, sit with them at the table, throw all the towels down the laundry shoot with them (so the next morning people are left naked, wet, and wondering what the...?), and teach the girls how to jump off the couch. No wonder the girls don’t want to leave! These guys are just great, thoughtful kids. And of course they’re boys.

“What are you guys doing down here?” I ask, walking down the steps to the basement and boys’ rec. room.

“Well, first they hide Mickey Mouse,” Mom says with a weary, resolved look on her face. “Then, whoever finds it whacks the hell out of it.” As if to demonstrate, Alec finds Mickey and proceeds to whack the hell out of it against a support beam. Any second I expect to see it’s head fly off in front of Samantha who, by now, has more than one finger in her mouth. (You can often gauge Samantha’s stress level by how many fingers she has in her mouth. One translates to normal, mild stress. When she gets up to ten fingers in there, better get her the hell out.)

At the time, Alec was wearing a Mickey Mouse T-shirt, so essentially it was Mickey beating Mickey. Classic. Where's a camera when you need one?


Dinner left me with this thought: I wish I had two stomachs. Because one wasn’t enough. I was full after a single hearty helping, but my tongue and my memory wanted more. I probably ate too many appetizers beforehand -- crackers with diced liver and sautéed onions. Who knew I would like that and not be able to get enough?!

Then, after dinner, a helicopter crashed into the living room.

Oh, no. Silly me. It was just the awesome surround sound and Hi-Def TV in the living room. This was the real home-theater experience. Everyone jumped and some of the women gasped. Eventually, I found a nice warm spot on the couch and sank down to watch Mission Impossible III. With sound like that, I had a sudden urge to hear stuff blow up, helicopters crash into bridges, and people fly through windows. Dude!

What? The kids? It’s time to go? But I don’t wanna!

But we did. We hugged. We gathered our coats. We cheerily entered the cold night air. On our way home we drove down an idyllic little main street with a mom and pop ice cream shop and lighted wreaths on the lamp posts. The girls shouted “Christmas!” as they passed decorated homes. Elizabeth briefly fell asleep and upon awakening, her first word was “Alec!” At Papa’s house, she revived and wanted seconds of chocolate pudding pie. Samantha wanted stories before snuggling in the big double bed.

But still, after all that, I forgot to be thankful.

The next morning we packed our bags and headed to the airport. I worried, which is what I do upon heading to the airport. Will the girls behave well? Will I get a decent meal? Did I remember to pack my migraine medicine? The camera? My birth control pills? As we drove, Elizabeth prattled on about this project and that project. Then she said,

“I want to start my life over again.”

As a normal adult with a fine, but imperfect life, my first thought was, I’m right there with you, kid. Who among us has not at some point wished for a do-over? A chance to do the right things. Make better choices. Say what we really wanted to say. But then I was horrified. Already Lizzy is dissatisfied? Already there are things she would do differently?

“Honey, why do you want to start your life over again?” we asked, concerned.

“Because I want to live it over again just the same and do all the same things.”

“Wait. You want to start it over because... because you like it so much?

“Yes!” she said happily.

And then, on a clear cold day as I drove my family to the airport in a rented, red mini van, I finally remembered to be thankful.

I hope each of you had a Happy Thanksgiving!

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