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Perfect families don’t really exist. For some reason, most of us seem to think they do. Ironically, it seems to be those farthest from having that ideal that believe it the most. But after nearly half a century on this earth, I am certain they don’t exist.

I grew up in a family that looked like a perfect family. We had our issues, but we got along. I was the youngest of the middle children with an oldest and youngest tacked on the ends. I was the one that generally blended in and tried not to be too much trouble. Apparently, middle children tend to do such things.

Holidays were a big deal in my family. My mother worked hard to make things memorable by continuing family traditions and adding in new ones here and there. Thanksgiving always included the turkey, pies and cranberry sauce. Christmas included stories of the Nativity, music about Jesus birth and baking cookies. Christmas eve included  special snacks, watching Christmas cartoons (which aired only once per year at the time) and opening one gift (pajamas). Christmas day we sat around the tree, upended stockings, opened presents. Then we had another, big dinner. Easter Sunday included baskets of candy, decorating and hiding eggs, new church clothes to represent our new life in Christ, a church service with a sermon about Jesus’ Resurrection and then, a big dinner. From what I saw on television and how my friends’ families operated, all this was the normal way things worked. I assumed there were few exceptions as I navigated the years of my childhood.

My adult years have given me a different perspective. I married young, expecting our holidays to be similar to the ones of my childhood. However, I found that my husband’s holiday memories were not as happy as mine. That fact and our tiny paychecks often made for minimal celebrations, if any. Still, we managed to join in the revelry at my parents’ home for some holidays.

In my early twenties, I saw divorce up close in a sibling’s life. Holidays became very difficult as we wondered whether their kids would be aloud by their mother to visit us. Since then, I’ve worked with single mothers and listened to their stories of no child support and no gifts or husbands having the kids this year and them spending the day alone.

Over the years, the face of American commerce began to change, as well. Work schedules clashed as retail establishments stayed open longer hours and more days of the week. As a hairstylist, I often worked most of the days leading up to and after Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. This made it difficult for us to drive the hours to visit family, so oftentimes it would just be the two of us–three, once our daughter arrived. I still made cookies and put up the tree, but many times the presents weren’t much.

When my husband started driving long haul, we spent many holidays apart because he was on the road earning a living. Our daughter and I were sometimes able to visit family, but it was often difficult for me when we did because we couldn’t afford to bring presents, which was an integral part of my childhood celebrations.

Last year, I spent Thanksgiving and Christmas on the road with my husband. Our daughter stayed in Savannah, Georgia where she was in her second year of college. It amazed me how many people were alone on those special days. The Christmas music played in the truck stops and there were decorations, turkey and pie to be had, but it was so different from the expectations and assumptions I had long ago.

As I write this, I’m in a hotel room because our truck broke down and they couldn’t start working on it until the weekend. Our company decided to put us in a different truck because ours had been in the shop a few times recently for the same problem. Since we couldn’t get into our new truck until today and the shop is closed, we can’t get the rest of our stuff moved from the old truck until tomorrow. So, we’ll be spending this Thanksgiving at the Ramada.

There was a time when my current circumstances would have been terribly painful for me emotionally. When certain elements had to be present to make a holiday acceptable to my psyche. But, as I’ve traveled through the ups and downs of life thus far, I’ve come to realize that the meaning behind our traditions is way more important than the traditions themselves no matter what we believe. Yes, I have some great memories of family gatherings from years gone by, and, yes, I do sometimes miss those days. But, even where I am right now, I have plenty to be thankful for. And, as the Christmas season progresses, I will be thanking God for sending His Son, Jesus, to be human like me. And, when Easter rolls around, I will be reminded yet again that, although He was perfect, He chose to give His life to satisfy God’s righteousness so I could know Him and live with Him forever. Turkey and cookies and new clothes can’t begin to compare to that truth.

And so, I may feel a bit down this season because I miss sitting around a big table at my parents’ house and I miss my daughter who is spending the season with a friend. But, I’ll be counting my blessings as I hang out with the love of my life and eat Thanksgiving pizza in a hotel room.

Happy Thanksgiving, readers. Drive safely out there 🙂

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