My Perspective of Thanksgiving, 2012

For the month of November, I have been watching as many of my Facebook friends have posted daily things in their life that they are grateful for (their family, their memories, their ability to communicate with people from all over the world), all leading up to my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. Why is this my favorite holiday? The most obvious reasons, of course: I love homemade meals, baked goods, and the idea of a celebration being based on gratitude. But most importantly, despite the dark ghost of Black Friday that hovers over this holiday like an evil villain of consumerism, I love the fact that Thanksgiving, in my opinion, is the only holiday in America that is NOT influenced by capitalism. Unlike Halloween (I learned this year, upon making a Halloween PowerPoint for my students in Spain, that the average American spends $72.50 on Halloween items, totaling $5 billion!), Fourth of July, or just about any other holiday where special decorations, clothing, or fireworks flood the stores, Thanksgiving is happily neglected by consumerism due to the impending need for stores to stock up on Christmas hopes (yes, if you thought Halloween was bad, we spend $704, or $50 billion, on Christmas!!!).

But I digress. I, like most of my friends, do see the true importance of Thanksgiving, the root of the word. Regardless of the shady, inaccurate history of this first American holiday, the ability to express the gratitude that we often forget in our day-to-day lives is not lost on me as Thanksgiving approaches.

This year, living abroad, I am more grateful than ever for what I have in my life. Coming to Spain meant sacrificing more than I ever imagined when, one year ago at about this time, I made the decision for us to take this journey. Giving up our home, the most perfect job I’d ever (and probably will ever) have, having to say goodbye to friends who we may not see much of ever again (as our return to the US will depend on where I find work), and being away from our family has been much more difficult than I could have fathomed as I dreamed of learning Spanish, traveling through Europe, and finally fulfilling a lifelong dream.

I woke early this morning, well before my alarm, before the busy street that runs along our apartment filled with the sounds of weekday traffic. I came into the hallway and started to work on the computer while I ate my breakfast, and soon I heard my two youngest daughters rise and quietly begin playing an imaginary game with the 6€ set of cars they bought with their Ratoncito Pérez (the Spanish version of the Tooth Fairy) money at the Chinese store. The sound of their voices creating characters, witnessing love and abandonment, Riona’s small chirps of laughter and Mythili’s authoritative recommendations about car placement and car-jargon dialogue, filled me with warmth.

Coming to Spain, for my girls, meant giving up nearly every toy they owned, nearly all of their books, and making do with what we could fit into their suitcases or afford to purchase upon arrival, which hasn’t been much. Just like I have learned a new perspective about everything related to culture, education, and language, they have learned a new perspective about how to play.

So this Thanksgiving, which is just a regular working day for me where I present my Thanksgiving PowerPoint to Spanish students who know little about the holiday, where I will spend my evening pedaling across town from house to house earning every euro I will need to buy food to put on our table, I am grateful for perspective. The perspective that would be the same had I stayed home, and which has changed exponentially with this experience. The perspective that allows me to be ever so grateful for what my country provides to its citizens while at the same time taking pleasure in the simplicity and family orientation of the Spanish culture. The perspective that gratitude, whether read in faraway posts or spread through heartstrings on a quiet Cartagenian morning, can follow me wherever I go, can be a part of who I am, and can make giving thanks on this day that much more meaningful.

December (2011) Daughters

Riona

you tiptoe across carpet
in froggy footed pajamas
the small smile on your cheeks
as you wait for your turn
under the tree.

your sisters pick out gifts
easily identifiable
and we ask you what Santa
brought for little Riona.

you keep your small sweet smile
your eyes focused on a small box
of green marshmallow Peeps.
your little hands pick it up
and without a word you nod.

i hold back tears.
in five years i have instilled nothing
in the pure and grateful heart
you came into this world with
overlooking the bicycle next to the tree
for a candy you don’t even like
and i remember just why we are here.

Mythili

you won’t sleep on long drives
as your sisters snooze away
you play games with your dolls
tell stories about adventures with Mama
and make song requests.

you have lyrics memorized
to songs i didn’t even realize
the words to myself

your favorite this month?
“If I Had a Million Dollars”
to which every last non-singing note
spills from your lips
in a harmony of artistry
from the back seat of the van.

Isabella

she only loves you.
her almost-two hands push me away
with her classic dirty look.

she can’t say your name yet
but grins when you help her dress
take her to the potty
put food on her plate.

your almost-nine hands
are the perfect match
for your young cousin
and you proudly announce to the world
what an amazing child you are.

Grateful Grin and All

the sun has set in cloudville, but
on the drive home the clouds clear,
a starlit sky to bring in Santa,
who sits up setting up a bicycle
and filling stockings with little girl joys.

the clock ticks on. he is
as silent as the sacred night
and i know (i know)
he will let my tears slide
into the passenger’s view
of the endless drive.

they awaken (not too early)
and my unassuming five-year-old
overlooks the bicycle beside the tree,
pointing instead, grateful grin and all,
to the green Christmas tree Peeps,
the simplest gift of gratitude
that i ache to gather in my arms.

(if i could love)
if i could have for one moment
the beautiful temperament
she came into the world with,
the sadness surrounding my heart
would melt away with the first bite
of overly sweetened marshmallow.

Gratitude

Be thankful that we live here
where we can say what we think
without repercussion from Big Brother
Be thankful that we have each other
to carry the weight when the world
is pressing heavily against us
Be thankful that we have a system
that has held us together for more
than two hundred years.

Be thankful that no one has been
able to take it away
because of our obstinate struggle
to keep it safe (whether it be
with the sword or the mighty pen).

Be thankful, because you never
know when you will have a reason
(a real, non-petty reason)
to lose your gratitude.