When your Thanksgiving doesn’t look like a Norman Rockwell painting – and that’s OK

In 1943, Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms paintings appeared in the Saturday Evening Post. Out of it came perhaps his most well-known and beloved painting, Freedom from Want. Since then, one could argue and advertisers and social media would agree, it has become the American icon for what Thanksgiving should look like. An extended, multi-generational family around a large table delighting in the enormous turkey they are about to enjoy.

But what if that’s not what your Thanksgiving looks like?

We used to celebrate an all-American style Thanksgiving with all the family. It was my dear father-in-law’s favorite holiday and I’ll always remember how he relished eating his creamed herring in front of the grand kids and the sounds of their screams and gagging as he savored every spoonful.

But when the grandparents passed away, and our siblings started becoming grandparents themselves, and we all started living in different zip codes, different states, getting everyone together around the same table on the designated day became unrealistic and impossible. We get together when we can throughout the year; what day we gather doesn’t matter, as long as we gather. That leaves the fourth Thursday of November wide open for us and frankly, for the past several years, it’s been somewhat of a crap shoot.

Last Thanksgiving we had a special houseguest–the flu. Both of my daughters spent the day in their pajamas on the couch, smothered in quilts, surrounded by snotty tissues, binge watching Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. We didn’t leave the house. We didn’t even bother to set the table.  It was as low-key a day as you could get.  Honestly, it wasn’t bad.

I confess that we don’t even do a turkey anymore. We’re not anti-turkey, it’s just too much work for the 4 of us and we eat turkey all the time. One year I made spare ribs. This year, it’s a pot roast in the slow cooker, with a bag of onion soup mix dumped on top–this by request. Add my former sister-in-law’s famous mashed potatoes, some green beans (fresh not casseroled) and dessert (chocolate, not pumpkin) and we’re good.

And the thankfulness part? I’ve learned so much about this from Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are–and for that I am truly…thankful. I’ve learned that being thankful for “everything” is being thankful for “nothing.” I’ve learned to recognize the blessings in the little things as much as the big, the ordinary as much as the extra-ordinary. You need to look for it – everyday – and write it down. That’s how you make gratitude a habit that changes your whole look on life.

So yes, I’m thankful for the priviledge my husband and I have of raising two amazing daughters that were born to other parents. I’m thankful for our home, our jobs, our freedom. That’s easy gratitude. But I’m also thankful for the world’s laziest dogs rough-housing in the sunshine on the back deck. I’m thankful for a teenager who woke up this morning and announced “That was the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time.” I’m thankful for a husband who saved us hundreds of dollars going to the junk yard to get a replacement bumper and considered it an “adventure.” I’m thankful for the sunrise over the water on our morning commute to school and that we get to live in a lakeside community.

And I’m thankful for a pot roast in the crock pot and four chipped dinner plates that might, or might not, end up on the kitchen table tonight.

May your Thanksgiving Day, whatever it looks like, bring you peace, love, and an awareness of all of your blessings, no matter their size or shape.