Life has changed in unanticipated ways these past two years. Apparently, I don’t do well with change. Wait…I take that back. I welcome change, if that change is for the best. Bring on something good. Bring on something challenging even, and as long as there is a positive goal at the end of hard work, I’m all for it. I am not stuck in my ways. I am not afraid of new things or new experiences. Unfortunately, though, the past two years have been full of changes that have brought loss and pain. The past two years have been, without a doubt, the worst years of my life.
As Thanksgiving approached, I felt myself become happily excited by the thought of having all of the kids home and under one roof for the first time in months. Something strange happened, though. Each time I happily anticipated the days of togetherness, I found myself undermining my happiness. I began to mentally “warn” myself to not expect too much. When I began to picture Hallmark moments, my mind quickly turned those moments into a Lifetime drama. I pictured conflict and moments full of tension. For the first time in my life, I was afraid of having my family gathered together all in one place. I had come to expect loss, pain, failure, and dashed hopes.
To top it all off, and add to my endless stress, I was hosting the Thanksgiving feast for the first time in probably a decade. We were expecting over 20 people for dinner, and somehow in the midst of preparing the food, I had to make arrangements for someone to pick up my mother and bring her to our home. Between cooking, cleaning, and desperately wanting to redecorate the entire house, I worried that something was going to go terrible wrong and ruin the boys’ visit. I wanted so much to have this be an enjoyable, special time for them.
I had taken several days of vacation so that I could be as relaxed as possible in getting everything ready for the boys’ homecoming and Thanksgiving dinner. For the first time in years, I spent time alone in my own house. I puttered around, organized, and cleaned. It was a lovely feeling to get to know my own home again one on one. While I enjoyed my quiet time at home, I also realized once again how lucky I am to have a job that I love so much. I missed the hustle and bustle of the office. I missed the purpose I feel in my workday.
The boys both had midterm exams early on Thanksgiving week. They would both be taking the train home, but would not be coming in at the same time. Andrew’s train was coming in late on Wednesday afternoon. Luke was disappointed that he had a late afternoon exam. He wouldn’t be arriving until 10:00 p.m. That was OK, because his girlfriend was travelling home, too, and her parents were going to pick them both up at the station.
On Tuesday evening, the girls were in bed, and T and I had finally settled down in the living room to relax for a few moments before going to bed. We both perked up when a car pulled into the driveway. We looked out the front window, but didn’t know who it was. T walked to the back door to welcome our guest, but no one came. We rushed back to the front window. Who was it? By now, the girls had come downstairs. All four of us stood looking out the window like a bunch of hillbillies! We saw people milling about the car. It was two men. Finally, the suspense won over, and we opened up the front door (which no one ever uses) and stepped out onto the porch. I’m not sure what we were thinking or assuming, but we just stood there….looking, not making a move toward the driveway. T, the girls, and I just stood there looking out into the darkness. Then, Lola bolted past all of us. “It’s Luke!” she yelled. Hallmark moment number one was watching her fling herself at her big brother. We all ran out. He ran towards us. It was noisy, happy, and full of laughter. Luke had surprised us. He had come home a day early. I called Andrew to tell him, and he said that he could hardly wait to get home. By the next evening, Andrew was home, and my family was all gathered around the table together once again. Happiness. It was real. Even after the past two years of hell, I was feeling crystal clear, pure joy.
Those days when all of the kids were back home were like none other I have experienced as a mother. This visit was different. We all seemed aware that these moments of family togetherness were now a rarity. What was once a common, everyday part of our lives, was no more. Luke lives in Milwaukee. Andrew lives in Chicago. They don’t just go to school in those places. It is where they live. They have signed leases. They won’t be coming back next summer. Home is now a place where they visit. Of course, it is still their “home,” but it is no longer where their lives take place. It’s where their memories are kept. It’s where we gather as a family. Although these facts were not spoken aloud, we all felt the change. A new season, new dynamics, more changes had occurred in our family.
Thanksgiving day was wonderful. I loved cooking, and T was a huge help. I loved having the house full of family. My mother was on good behavior. The kids’ significant others joined for the day, too. Emily’s boyfriend, who is absolutely wonderful, was also home from college. It was his first time meeting the extended family, and as expected, they all loved him, too.
The biggest pleasure of all was the day after Thanksgiving. While many people were hitting the Black Friday sales, we all headed out to the country. Ever since I was a little girl, I have attended “Julmarknad” (Christmas Market) in a tiny village near my town. I was shocked and filled with pleasure when boys both asked if we would still be going this year. We headed out the next day, Christmas music blasting. We feasted on Swedish rye bread and bought candy sticks in the general store. On the way home, we pulled over to the side of the narrow country road to give Emily’s boyfriend, who grew up in a city, a chance to pet a cow. It was a wonderful, wonderful day. Many times that day, I held tight to moments I knew were perfect.
I had not planned any of the kids’ time beyond Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t expect the boys to hang out at home during their visit. I had expected the usual comings and goings as they visited friends or invited people over. That was fine with me. I knew I would be happy just to visit with them during the times in between. That didn’t happen, though. They didn’t run around very much with friends. They didn’t invite their buddies over. For the most part, they were happy and content to be at home. It was a wonderful surprise. We sat up late and talked. We watched movies. We ate, and we napped. It was truly a wonderful visit. No, it wasn’t a Hallmark movie, but thankfully, it wasn’t a Lifetime drama, either. It was my life, and it was wonderful.