Every day during the week leading up to Thanksgiving, Tommy asked me, “is it time to go to the grandparents’ house yet?”
He’s too little to understand the days of the week, so I’d just tell him how many more days there were to go until we left on our trip. But he was so excited that he’d forget the next morning, and ask me again.
One morning, when I told him there were still two more days to go and that he needed to be patient, he laughed a little bit and said, “I’m just so excited to go to the grandparents’ house!”
The thing was, we weren’t actually going to his grandparents’ house. We were going to the farm where my friend Josh grew up, the same place we went last year for Thanksgiving. Josh and his wife Becky are my dear friends and our kids love visiting Josh’s parents (“Gran” and “Pappy”) there. Tommy knows that when he comes to the farm, he won’t just get to run around with his friends and huddle around the fire while telling stories. He’ll also get to see “the grandparents” – even if they aren’t technically his grandparents.
The original plan was that my dad would come too, but he caught a cold the week before and needed some down time to recover without a million children around. I fretted about him being alone for Thanksgiving, but he assured me he was fine. I told some of my friends who were staying in DC for the holiday that he was going to be alone, just so they’d know, and he’d have someone to call if he needed something.
When I got to the farm, I texted him that I’d arrived. “How are you?” I asked.
“I am fine. Your friends are calling to make sure I get taken care of,” he replied.
That made me feel better, and I told him so. (As a side note, I don’t actually know all the people who did this, but thank you.) But I still worried a bit about him, so I texted him again a few hours later. “I am fine,” he said, “I am reading and listening to music. Have fun and quit worrying about me.”
Ah, my dad.
We had a great afternoon at the farm, exploring the property and running through the fields and at the end of the day, Josh put Tommy on his shoulders and headed to the house as the sun set. It was beautiful and reminded me of coming to the farm in other years, including when Shawn was alive and would do the same thing with our youngest boy.
On Thanksgiving, I called my dad again. “I’m fine,” he said before I could even ask. I laughed and we talked about that evening. He told me he was going to the house of some friends of mine, a place where he’d know a lot of people. “I got a lot of invitations,” he said. “I mean, I can cook for myself, so I don’t know what everyone is so worried about.”
“They know that,” I said, “but they just want to make sure you feel loved on Thanksgiving.” He conceded this point. Later that day, I got a text of my dad sitting at a table with over a dozen people. He looked happy.
I also called my aunt Nancy (“Nana”) and my aunt Terry, who were together at “Bunny’s.” (Bunny is Nancy’s daughter-in-law’s mother and Bunny is her grandma name.) Kids were running all around and everyone waved and smiled at the phone. “I can’t wait to go to Texas for Christmas!” Tommy said after we hung up to get ready for our dinner.
That evening, as we sat down to eat, I opened up the piece of paper I’d been given earlier in the day. On it was a name of a person at the table, and I was supposed to say why I was thankful for the name I’d drawn earlier that day. Josh gave a heartfelt toast to his father and Tommy tried to figure out how to appreciate his brother. When it was my turn, I said this:
I was thinking today about how my dad is back in DC, but he is not alone. He is with friends who have made him a part of their family for the day. And then I was thinking about Nana and Aunt Terry in Texas, and how they are over at Bunny’s house with all of your cousins and your cousins’ cousins and probably half of the rest of the neighborhood. And then I was thinking about how we are here, celebrating with our friends who have embraced us like family, and how lucky we are that we are so loved. All of this wouldn’t be possible without the person on my card, and that person is Gran.
Then we all gave a toast to Gran.
I felt later like the speech I gave wasn’t enough – like I couldn’t fully capture how much it meant to me that I was there. I guess that’s the nature of moments when we give thanks. It’s never enough, really.
Later, I thought back to the first night we were there. It was mild, and the kids were running around outside after dinner as the adults drank wine and talked at the table. Just about the time we started to wonder where they were, all five of them burst through the door, breathless.
“We saw all the stars!” Tommy screamed. The adults started asking about everything outside, and the kids answered excitedly.
“We could see the big dipper and the little dipper, too!” Claire reported.
Austin, red-faced, came and stood right next to me, and paused. “Mom,” he said, an awe-struck look in his eyes, “there were millions and millions of stars.”
The kids were glowing. Not from the air, though I could see their breath when they ran back outside. No, they were glowing from the feel of being in a place so different from their own home, and yet with the same warmth of home.
And I was so thankful to be there, in that moment, with them.