A Guide to Thanksgiving for the Emotionally Exhausted

Oh, holidays.  Depending on the season of your life, the holidays bring the very best or the very worst, don’t they?  You could probably safely go out on a limb and guess which side of the spectrum we found ourselves in leading up to Thanksgiving this year.  For the most part, I had done a pretty good job living in the happy(ish?) land of denial about the facts facing us this Thanksgiving, at least in the weeks preceding it.  For about the past year, we have been absolutely sure that by Thanksgiving, we would either be a) in Poland, or b) recently home with Baby W and thus having a unique holiday season.  Never, ever, ever … even in the Worst Case Scenario did it even enter my mind that we would have NOT EVEN LEFT YET by Thanksgiving.  And ya’ll.  That is saying something.  I am a high-stress, anxiety-prone, Worst Case Scenario Specialist.

And yet, there we were.

Less than a week to go until Thanksgiving and finally being forced to pry our eyes open and look the facts square in the face: It wasn’t going to happen.  Even my Worst Case Scenario protection had failed.  Before I could delve too deeply into looking at our options for Thanksgiving celebrations, I was mad (read: sobbing in anger, because in this phase of life all emotions come also with sobbing).

I love the holiday season.  When your birthday is four days before Christmas, you learn from an early age to LOVE this whole season, because you don’t have a birthday to fall back on in July and thus must get all your party on in the days between Thanksgiving and New Years, for it must last you another 11 months.

I was mad that some nameless something was taking that away from me this year.  No enjoying Alex’s family all weekend long during our Laird Thanksgiving/Birthday/Christmas hoopla, rolling on the floor with my nieces and staying up all night playing games with my siblings-in-law.  No fun in the hilarious pictures sent from my sisters in Ohio of my uncle deep-frying the turkey. Because even if we did those things, they would all just be huge glaring reminders that this Thanksgiving was supposed to be different.  I was supposed to be thankful for my son in my arms, not still half a world away.

To add another layer to The Emotions, I woke up early on the Monday before Thanksgiving to a text from my dear friend saying she had gone into the labor during the night and was about to meet her son.  I know I’ve mentioned before what a joy it has been to go through all the ups and downs of pre-mommyhood with one of my closest friends.  Sure, we were going about it in ways most people see as night and day different, but somehow it never really felt that different to us.  The joys, the stress, the emotions, the fears, the nesting … it was all remarkably similar, and was all happening to us at the same time.  The fact that her son was growing inside her and mine was growing in Poland was just the backdrop to all that was happening to both of us.

I used to think that we would be home with Baby W by now, and would take him with us to meet his new friend fresh from the oven at the hospital, and tell them years from now how their mamas prepared for their arrivals together, and how Baby W was there ready and waiting to meet Baby J.  As time passed and I accepted the truth that this wasn’t going to happen, I knew that meant we would be in Poland during the birth, and we would meet Baby J after his birth via Skype.  Once again, not even my Worst Case Scenario prepared me for the fact that we wouldn’t have Baby W in some form or another when Baby J was born.

And yet, there I was.

I was so, so, so happy when he arrived later that day and when I met him the next night.  Absolutely thrilled and ecstatic and in awe of that precious little boy and the miracle of his life and birth.  But adoption has taught me that the best and worst emotions often go hand in hand.  So, with a heart that was full of joy for my friend and the son in her arms, I somehow still managed to cry lots of tears of longing and self-pity for my empty arms, kicking myself all the while for letting even a part of me make that beautiful day about self-centered me.

In the end, all of our usual options for Thanksgiving celebrations weren’t options anyway.  Due to a variety of circumstances, Alex’s family all made other plans and would be out of state for the week.  My family is several states away in Ohio, and because we are saving up Alex’s vacation days for our trip, we couldn’t even take a day off to travel and spend it with them.  My self-pitying self also had a good cry over this fact, while also crying tears of relief that I wouldn’t have to spend a normal Thanksgiving around family pretending I was happy.  It’s complicated, guys.  Don’t ask me to explain The Emotions.

Despite all of this, the worst possible way to spend Thanksgiving that I could think of was sitting at home alone, not with family and not in Poland and most of all, not with Baby W.  Something about the thought was absolutely unbearable.  While we’re being all about full-disclosure, it’s possible I cried about the thought of that too.  Possibly.  Maybe.  Yes, definitely.

If I couldn’t have Plan A (Baby W), the only Plan B that sounded even slightly emotionally tolerable was going away somewhere alone together, away from the merriment and the crowds and the social-ness.  Somewhere where we could celebrate if we wanted, or be depressed if we wanted, without effecting or being effected by anyone else.  Yes, yes, I know that sounds all opposite of the spirit of Thanksgiving and family and fellowship, but there sometimes there is just only so much you can take.

This is why this Thanksgiving I was mostly thankful for the wonderful and generous couple from our church who once again let us retreat from the world to their gorgeous cabin in the woods where we stayed a few months ago.  At this time last year, their own daughter was in the same boat as us – slogging through the holidays while waiting on travel dates to bring home her son – so they know what this is like.  God, please bless them with a hundred thousand blessings.

It was exactly what we needed.  There was lots to celebrate, but room to grieve as well.

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My advice to anyone feeling a little too emotionally exhausted for the holidays this year?  Do what you can, but don’t force yourself to pretend everything is fine.  If you need to get away and celebrate in a totally different way than normal, that’s okay.  The blessing and curse of the holidays is that they are laced with traditions.  In happy seasons of life, traditions are a joy that remind us that things haven’t changed.  In difficult seasons of life, traditions can feel like a burden that remind us either that things haven’t changed, or that everything has changed.  If you are in that boat this year, consider taking a step back from the traditions and celebrate in a new, pressure-free way.  The most important people will understand and give you grace for that.  It’s okay that life is complicated and I think it is normal to feel like your wrapped up in the best and worst feelings.  Sometimes wrestling through the worst is what you need to see the beauty, even if it is a totally different kind of beauty than normal.


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