Thanksgiving was my favorite of all holidays when I was a kid. Being Mormon like most everyone I knew, my family would meet at the church closest to where my grandma lived, and we’d all show up with food and basketballs. All the women would be in the kitchen cooking, and all the men would be milling around talking about the year past and hopes for the new year ahead. All my zillion cousins and I would run around the gym with basketballs (although I don’t know why because we never really actually played basketball), and we’d be loud and hyper. It was the most fun I had with my extended family. It was a family reunion of sorts.
The one thing we didn’t do, which I’ve heard from most people I know their families did do, was to go around the table and each share one thing we’re grateful for. Probably because we actually had more like 10 or 11 tables set up, and there were just too many of us to do such a thing. I remember the prayer (always said by my uncle) was too long for my kid self, and the food was always AMAZING!
Afterward, we kids would move to play outside where it was crisp and cool, and leaves were everywhere for the playing in. Tag, Red Rover, Red-Light-Green-Light, and all the best big group of kid games.
A lot has changed since then. I haven’t experienced such a gathering with my extended family since my grandma passed. Now, It’s just my partner and myself. My own kids are grown. You never really realize just how much a person is the glue or has influence until they’re no longer with you.
As I reflect this year, I see that I am grateful for those memories and the opportunity to run and play so freely and share such an experience with cousins and grandparents. But, on the flip side of that coin, I’m also grateful that my life is now so far removed from that world. The things I loved most about it all are also the things I’m happy to no longer have in my life.
Like many, my family of origin was full of love — but also full of judgment. As a younger child, I felt we all gathered together only because we really wanted to be together. As I got older, I began to see and feel the pressure with which the adults would involve themselves. For us kids, it was all play with cousins we rarely saw, and that kept it light and fun. For the adults, however, it was a lot of thankless work spent with relatives they rarely saw – and for reasons, I was unaware of. Once old enough to be on the adult end of things and after leaving the church, my participation didn’t last long.
There’s a saying that blood is thicker than water and a strong belief by society that family should always come first. But, the thing is, our families of origin are not always the safest or healthiest places for us to be. And, seeing how most of us grow up and choose partners outside of our family of origin so that we can produce new families of origin, well … that whole blood is thicker than the water thing kinda goes out the window.
Since my adulthood, I’ve spent Thanksgiving with family, with friends, with coworkers, on vacation, and just sitting at home doing nothing but watch football and treat it like any other Thursday. The best ones of the list above have been, in a way, some of each. The determining factor that makes the day feel so good? I got to have a say and kept away from events entirely done out of obligation.
As an adult now, one of the biggest things I’m grateful for is my ability to choose where and with who I spend my time without guilt or shame. Oh, they still creep up, mind you, but they make their appearances so much less often than they used to.
So for this Thanksgiving holiday — I raise my glass to each of you and hope you feel support and love wherever you choose to spend your day. That you recognize you have value and your desires to be with or without certain people on this particular day or any other is honored and valid. And that what you find to be most thankful for — is YOU.
Dr. Laurie Bennett-Cook is a Clinical Sexologist and divides her time between Salt Lake City, Utah, and Palm Springs, California. She can be reached at DrLaurieBennettCook@gmail.com