Let me explain.
My family can be a little awkward around each other. We only get together once a year. On Thanksgiving. Every two years for those who alternate with their in-laws.
This usually means some of us stroll in late and all of us take up our usual stations for the brief 3-4 hours we are together.
There is the kitchen crew. Sometimes folks in the other room wander into the kitchen crew area and grab pieces of turkey, then scurry out again.
There is the couch crew. These guys grab a seat and don’t move.
There is the “Grandpa asleep in the recliner” crew, er, individual.
There is the “you are my immediate family so I’ll talk to you in the corner all day since I see you every week and avoid eye contact with those who drive a few hours to get here” crew.
Then there is the “those are adults I don’t know very well so I’ll stay over here with my cousins” younger crew.
Regardless of the crew, my extended family tends to stay safely in one of those places. So when we arrive, none of us mingle very well. Then we eat. Then we leave. The entire process is fairly anti-climactic if you ask me.
Most years I end up feeling like Thanksgiving was a waste of time. If it involved spending the afternoon talking to my Grandfather I’d count it as a win but he’s partial to the recliner when the house is packed and noisy. And he can sleep, regardless of the sounds.
This year I decided it would be different. I decided I would be different. And it was one of the best Thanksgivings I can remember in a long time.
To begin with, I visited for five days instead of one. This meant time with my Grandfather, mom and two of my aunts. It also meant I didn’t have to entertain my kids and husband while trying to visit.
I helped prepare the 25 pound monstrosity of a turkey. Which meant I was able to laugh when a younger family member, in a sweet and noble attempt to remove it from the roaster, dropped the entire cooked carcass on the kitchen floor. It looked like blood splatter from a violent crime scene, only the liquid was all turkey juice and parts.
We picked up the battered fowl, cleaned the floor, and sliced her beautifully . And because my family is typically late, very few even know they ate a turkey from the floor (not that most of them would care; we like meat).
There was more drama later when my cousin’s teenage son thought it would be a good idea to pick up a baby mole who was blindly trying to find his/her way across the front sidewalk. Ignoring my “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, it will bite” offer of advice, he bent down only to find a small piece of skin tightly clenched in the mouth of said mole. The little sucker even held on for a brief second before being flung across the yard. A visit to the ER resulted in a good finger cleaning and a list of rabies symptoms to look for later.
The turkey and the mole were funny, but this isn’t why the holiday was such a good one.
THIS is why: I spoke to every single member of my family. You see, that never happens. For any of us.
How, you ask, was this amazing feat accomplished? It was simple: I told myself ahead of time that I was going to talk to every single member of my family. See how easy that was?
I learned a great deal running for office. Most of it wasn’t so great, but there was one thing I’ll carry with me the rest of my life. It involves how to work a room. When you work a room, you slowly maneuver through it, making eye contact, shaking hands, and sincerely looking at each person while listening to them. It’s amazing what can happen when we simply look at each other, listen, and say a few words.
The message isn’t so much what happens when we do this (although that can be good too)…for me it involved wanting to avoid the feelings and attitudes that result when we DON’T do this. Feeling like someone was snotty and ignored you. Feeling like someone didn’t care enough to say hello. Feeling like someone isn’t fun or interesting. Feeling abused because YOU were the one who drove all that way only to be ignored.
When you go out of your way to say hello to people you actually find that it feels good to connect. Here’s the thing. Maybe the other people are uncomfortable because they haven’t seen you in a year and they don’t know what to say. Maybe the other person is shy or not used to starting a conversation. Maybe you make the other person uncomfortable.
I don’t know the reasons. What I do know is this: I’m responsible for myself. I love my family. I want to enjoy the rare opportunities I have to see them. And I’m tired of ending up feeling that Thanksgiving was a waste of a day.
Once I had this little talk with myself it was easy to consciously reach out to every family member. I even think my Grandmother may have been happy with my actions… in spite of the dropped turkey.
Why am I sharing this now? Because another big family holiday is looming.
Before you hop in the car to join your families on Christmas Day (if you celebrate Christmas) take a few moments to say these things to yourself:
1. I’m going to work the room
2. I’m going to speak to every single person here
3. I’m going to have an awesome time
Do this and you might just find you fall in love with your family – either again or for the first time. Oh, and always be a duck, letting the bad roll off of you. Be it the negative family member who bemoans everything or a dropped turkey on the floor. What you take from the holiday is on your shoulders. Make the most of it