Much of my reflection during this month has been initiated by my appearance and experiences surrounding how I perceive and am perceived. Tomorrow being Thanksgiving, I’d like to share a difference experience of my reflection. Perhaps it might give us a different lens with which to see those who join us in celebration.
Two years ago, my daughter and her then-boyfriend moved into the third floor of our home for a myriad of reasons. It was a big upheaval of their life together in Connecticut, where she’d gone to college and lived afterwards during grad school. Matt, who lived with her and originally from Connecticut, relocated to New Jersey also, uprooting his life and all that was familiar.
Five months after Matt and Cesca moved in, Thanksgiving rolled around. During that time, we’d sorted through the schedules of five adults living under one roof, devising cooking and cleaning routines that accommodated work and school for all of us so the bulk of housework didn’t fall to me. After all, after it was just Len and I (and Nash, of course) for three years. This was a major adjustment and we were feeling our way through it day to day.
Before they moved in, Cesca and Matt would visit on holidays, alternating with Matt’s family. I cooked, and had developed my own traditional menu over the years, which, like for so many of us, was a big part of coming home for the holidays. With Matt and Cesca living with us, this holiday was different. Matt liked to cook and wanting to share his family’s traditions, he offered to cook for Thanksgiving. I was happy to have him join in and relieved not to have the bulk of the work for the holiday.
Still, we have a relatively small kitchen which doesn’t lend itself to two people cooking different dishes at the same time. Len and I have tried it and we always get in each other’s way. It’s been better to have one assist the other, or else the place looks like it was hit by a tornado! So I got the turkey in the oven after Matt brined it, mixed the stuffing together to let the juices marinate for a few hours, and left the kitchen to Matt.
I tried to stay out of Matt’s way, not intruding on his process or ingredients. His side dishes were done when the turkey was settling and the stuffing cooked. We all sat to eat. What turned out to be Matt’s generous offering of cooking felt to him to fall short of our expectations. It didn’t, but no amount of reassurance could persuade him otherwise. We’d never eaten parsnips — our families didn’t grow up with much root veggies whereas Matt’s did. And honestly, while I don’t recall the other side dishes, I do recall Matt apologizing profusely because they were different than what we usually ate. It was obvious he felt bad about the whole thing, and I felt equally bad because what began as an offering on his part and a welcoming on my part ended up being a big misunderstanding.
It wasn’t until later that I was able to appreciate the true gift Matt had given me that Thanksgiving, and for the entirety of his stay. It saddens me that I never had the opportunity to talk with him about it, nor to thank him.
You see, Matt was the first guy to come into our family who became such a big part of us. We four are very close, having come through difficulties that made us closer than we’d ever anticipated. It’s not easy to fit into that tight knit of a dynamic. Much to Matt’s credit we loved him so much — and still do — that we welcomed him into our home to live with us. Matt is forever woven into our family’s tapestry.
What Matt gave me was the gift of knowing that no matter how I tried to fit in with my husband’s family, I would never be able to truly be a part of what they shared in the way that I’d hoped. I recognized how hard Matt was trying to ‘do’ for us, and to share his traditions. I tried to do this with Len’s family for nearly 30 years until finally giving up, feeling I’d failed miserably.
Until Matt lived with us, I didn’t understand that it wasn’t because I wasn’t loved or wasn’t good enough, or even that Len’s family intentionally meant to do the things that they did that made me feel I didn’t fit in or wasn’t acceptable. It was simply their history and way of being together that I would never be a part of. It just wasn’t in my DNA.
And it had nothing to do with me. I’d projected my insecurities onto my in-laws, not understanding that I was welcomed to share in the memories they were creating in that moment.
So Matt, tomorrow, I will raise my glass to toast you, grateful for what you taught me, and what you helped me to let go of. And grateful for how you continue to touch my life.
Copyright 2014 by Donna Cerame. All rights reserved.