Thanksgiving. The time for turkey, football and unbuttoning the top of your pants in front of the TV.
It’s the official kick-off for the holiday season. The time when you get together with your those you love for awkward family moments, just as our forefathers had with the Native Americans centuries ago.
It’s been a long time since I’ve spent Thanksgiving with both my siblings. It’s not that we don’t get along, but despite sharing some of the same genetics, we don’t have much in common. Some of that has to do with the age difference between us. My sister is twelve years older than I am, and my brother almost seven. It was not the type of dynamic to build strong sibling bonds.
The last time we all spent Thanksgiving together was a few decades ago. Our family crammed into my dad’s company car, a swanky Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, to join the thousands of other people taking the Tappan Zee bridge over to New Jersey.
The plan was to spend the day with my uncle and his family, but as anyone who has traveled around New York City, short drives on good days often turn into hours in a car. On a holiday with some inclement weather and you could be on a road trip of epic proportions. Add three siblings of varying age, and it is a wonder how my parents did not throw us over the bridge.
You see, as hard as this may be for you to believe, I was somewhat of a difficult child. I was whiny. I was an attention-seeker. I was a needler. And I certainly did not know when to keep my mouth shut. We were two hours into a car ride that should only take about 90 minutes and only halfway there. I was in full-out melt down mode.
I couldn’t keep my hands to myself. I was bored. I kept waking my sister up. I think I said a minimum of 272 times “Are we there yet?” Take your worst story about your kid, and then multiply that by seven and maybe you will get a child in the realm of how I was behaving.
It was a scene right out of a sitcom. My mom talked to me through clenched teeth saying things like: “Don’t make me pull this car over” or to my sister “I’ll slap that smirk right off your face.” As my brother kept to himself while listening to his walkman, he would slyly poke my ear or give me a charlie horse or pinch my arm. After my screams, my mom would give him the stare of death with a side of evil eye. This simultaneously occurred while she hit her imaginary brake in the passenger seat as we navigated stop and go traffic.
My father, who was a road warrior most Monday through Fridays in his sales job, was not used to this much “quality time” with his kids. Straight out of a Mad Men episode, he was a chain smoker who entertained his clients on the golf course with liquid lunches. I suspect being trapped in the car trying to get over the Hudson River with two smart-ass, complaining teens and a whiny kid constituted his worst nightmare. In fact, this trip may have been the impetus for his bleeding ulcer.
And just as we hit our breaking point with the trip — the moment where we all thought we were going crazy — my brother rolled down his window, stuck his brace face out of the car, and remarked to a passing limousine in his worst British accent: “Pardon me sir, can you pass the Grey Poupon?”
That did it. My entire family erupted in laughter. The tension left the car and the traffic opened up. I settled down and my sister stopped complaining that she wanted to be somewhere else. My brother stopped poking me. Even my mom relaxed. It ended up being a lovely day.
And that moment — that hilarious, ridiculous second in time — is forever etched in my memory. It is what Thanksgiving is all about.
And while Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for all we have, it’s also a reminder to remember where we come from, and what makes us who we are today. I live hundreds of miles away from my sister, and my brother is taking his own teenage son to look at colleges, so my family unit is spending the holiday at a water park in Wisconsin. We will eat a dinner just as the first settlers did — with a buffet located in the “Critter Corner.”
Now, as I travel with my three kids who have their own unique dynamic only being sixteen months apart, I have found myself talking through clenched teeth a few times as I answer my daughters about how long we have been on the road (20 minutes), or to stop touching their sister, or having to stop to go to the bathroom….again.
And I am transported to another time, when it was me in the back seat with my two siblings. I now know that these times, these moments, will be what my kids remember about their own childhoods. So, I laugh at some of their antics and tell them stories about their uncle and aunt, and I cherish all that Thanksgiving brings with it — the good, the bad and the whole lot of ugly complaining about road trips.
Because I know one day, not so far in the future, I’ll look at the empty back seat behind me, and wish someone was asking me how much longer.
But I know the answer will be: “Yes, dear child. We’re already there.”
Wishing you the happiest of Thanksgivings from Playdates on Fridays. May your holiday be filled with tasty food, merry drink, and yes, even awkward family moments that make for great memories. Just as our forefathers wanted.