Saying Thanks Requires Practice

On Thanksgiving, my family has a tradition of expressing gratitude. After the prayer and turkey have made their way around the table, we each take a turn to speak.  I wanted my words to be heartfelt. And witty. Not the usual “I’m thankful for my family” speech, something more specific.

Bang! Bang! My twin nieces used their forks to drum on their high chair trays. My sister, Amy, passed me the sweet potatoes. I dabbed a sample on Reece’s plate. She shoved her empty sippy cup in my direction. “Yes, yes,” I answered my other daughters; they could have Sierra Mist with dinner.

I was supposed to start the rotation of saying thanks, but I couldn’t think with all the commotion.  I was still recovering from the morning rush of packing up and driving forty minutes to my parents’ farm to be on time for dinner. The theme song from My Little Pony played in my head.  Ugh.  I needed to be thankful.  Now.

Ponies, TV, kids sitting still. I said, “I’m thankful for Netflix.”

I planned to say more. But Mom asked me to pass the salt. Melisandra wanted me to give her butter for her bun. Reece picked up her plate, turned it over, sending her Thanksgiving meal to the floor. My brother-in-law, Ron, asked my husband, Michael, about the Vikings game. I couldn’t think. I felt like a teacher standing in front of students passing notes and zapping rubber bands even when I am looking. I gave up.  I said, “I guess that’s it. Netflix. Melisandra, your turn.”

Melisandra, who’s eight, said she’s grateful for family and friends. Then, our four-year-old Corrigan said she likes music.

Mom finished chewing before starting her turn. “Hmmm, dunno,” she said. She paused to think. Even though we do this every year, like me, she hadn’t made a mental list of ideas. Being grateful requires time and attention. Getting specific requires practice. She said, “I guess I’m thankful for our health; that I get another day with my family. And … my grandkids.” She smiled across the table at the little ones.

We, six adults and two kids, followed Mom’s stare to Reece and the twin girls, all fifteen-months-old. They sat in their high chairs, covered by bibs and smears of sweet potatoes. They were darned cute, too.

Dad took his turn. He said he was thankful for hail insurance, since without it, they’d have nothing to show for the season. Dad didn’t stop there. He told us how terrible the corn looked all summer, how stressful it was to decide to harvest the crop or leave it, how there were meetings with insurance adjusters. Farming is not an easy profession. He wanted the family to understand, damn it.

Aren’t we supposed to be focusing on the positive?

I know better than to appear dismissive when my dad speaks.  I treaded carefully, steering the conversation to Michael’s turn. Like Mom and me, he paused to think. Maybe, just maybe, this year he will say the “I’m thankful for my wife” speech. I make suppers, wash his underwear, watch the kids so he can go out every Thursday night. Certainly, he had to be searching his brain for words to describe how wonderful I am. He said, “I’m grateful for beer and brewing beer in my basement.”

Great.  Thanks, honey.

Amy said she was thankful for healthy eating. Her book of baby recipes, for example, inspired her to feed her kids real oatmeal instead of instant. Without it, she said, “Who knows what I would’ve fed them.”

Ron, the last in our circle of gratitude, said he felt grateful for his resume and applying for jobs, since he has grown to dislike his life as a police officer. “The station hasn’t been the same since the new chief took over,” he said.

I complimented Mom’s sweet potatoes. The smoked turkey turned out moist, flavorful. The food tasted grand. Ron’s horrid tales of police work turned into a Q & A session. The domestic call turned ugly when the wife wailed and Ron had to pin the husband down to the kitchen floor; a German shepherd needed to be tied up. “Stupid people do stupid things,” he said. He’s burned out.

Ahem.  Aren’t we supposed to focus on the half-full, the sunshine, the silver lining?

Amy added that Ron could be going through a phase. He might get over it. Statistically speaking all police officers go through a “stupid people” phase when nearing fifteen years of service.

Sigh.

I focused on the stuffing and mashed potatoes and let the conversation go.

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