Lessons learned

I learned a lot this Thanksgiving weekend. I learned what family means, I learned how to create memories with my children, I learned what it means to let go of what you thought was true but never really was. My daughters and I went to Baltimore to stay with my big little brother (he's the middle child, I'm the oldest) and his family. We were welcomed with open arms. My sister-in-law and I were both apprehensive about the week (they say family and fish go bad after 3 days, we were staying for 4) and we were both pleasantly surprised at how well the entire vacation went. The kids got along, the adults got along, we all helped out and we all enjoyed the company of each other.

My little little brother (the youngest of the 3) came in from California with his wife and daughter and we spent the days with them as well. Despite traveling many miles and being several hours jet lagged, we were able to enjoy having all of our children in one place, coming from across the country to land on my brother's doorstep, to be thankful for each other; to appreciate where we came from and where we are now; to be proud of each other for our accomplishment as adults, for the families and friends and lives that we created. We lost our mother when we were all too young, but we survived and we remain connected and we remain each other's biggest heroes and cheerleaders.

Thanksgiving itself brought extended family from states near and far and countries halfway around the world. I hadn't seen some of my relatives in years and some I had never met before, but we all joined together and we all reaffirmed the connection we had, because of our heritage and a shared family tree. I was overcome with emotion at being faced with relatives who have known me since I was an infant, who knew my mother, who stood in my parents' wedding. These aunts and uncles who remind me just how far I've come, from where I started, for where I am now. This love that we share that remains true and strong and is a bond that survives time and distance, so true, so comforting, so stable and lovely. I was so thankful for each of them, for the way I see them in my heart, for the way they hold me in theirs as well.

I also learned this Thanksgiving that some relationships will never be what I want or imagine. We can hope that our parents are different than they are, we can hope that they will live up to the image we have in our minds, we can pray that things will be different and things will change, but the reality is always there, just waiting to be accepted. This relationship of parent and child can be difficult and tenuous, but maybe it's in the accepting that our parents are not perfect that we can let go of the dreams that no longer serve us well. Maybe it's when we accept that we are adults ourselves, that we are parents ourselves, that we no longer need to hold on to what is not really there. Because the reality is that sometimes family fails us and wanting it to be different and wanting them to change and wanting them to be someone they are not and cannot be is simply a recipe for disappointment. I learned this Thanksgiving to let go of what I think should be and embrace instead, what I have in its place.

What I have is a family with a shared past that has led us all on different paths. I am proud of my brothers, who have lived through difficulty and found true love. These boys who have grown into such strong, dependable, honest, trustworthy, funny, silly, straightforward, loving, secure men and fathers; they are what my mother would have wanted them to be. What I have are relatives whom I may not see often but who remain a constant source of history and love. What I have are children who are with me to make memories that weave into the fabric of my life and theirs as well. My children and my brothers, my uncles and aunts, my cousins and my parents are all a part of this fabric that line the path of where I used to be and where I am today. The memories may fade but they still exist and it's the lessons that we learn from them that lead us into tomorrow.

This is the life.