The Cranky Yankee “Does” Gratitude

25 11 2010

For those of you that populate our Facebook-ed/ Tweeted/ Blogged world (of which I am clearly a member), it is fashionable for the month of November to embark on a “Thirty Days of Gratitude” journey. For some of my friends this has been a wonderful exercise, and really who could find fault with daily finding something for which to be grateful? Yet while I’ve enjoyed reading them, they do all start to blend together after a while, all those amazing spouses, angelic children, warm houses and food on the table. The exercise was in full swing today on a blog forum for progressive/liberal moms, where my fellow writers have christened me the “Cranky Yankee” because of my utter lack of sentimentalism and frequent eye-rolls. I’m the last person that most of my friends would expect to indulge in listing all my blessings, I’m far too cynical and sarcastic after all.

Well, yes I am. And for the past few years Thanksgiving has been one of those holidays that magnified my crankiness. It’s a cook’s holiday and I don’t cook. I’ve never roasted a turkey or hosted a holiday meal in my life. It’s a holiday that gathers extended families together and I didn’t have an extended family. All that togetherness just served to remind me of what was missing, and left me longing for the days when my mom’s gravy bubbled on the stove, my brother mashed the potatoes, my sister put the rolls in the oven and my dad worked on a few bourbon manhattans. I even found myself longing for the warm comfort of the Thanksgiving gatherings at my ex-mother in law’s, where Liza has spent every Thanksgiving of her 11 years. My Thanksgivings seemed destined to be haunted by the ghosts of my dead family members and the ruins of a failed marriage. Oh of course I had my Kelly for those years and of course that made all the difference. But even her job as a nurse kept her working most Thanksgivings which left me alone most of the day to take long walks, shed a tear or two and, like today, to write and to try to ignore all the lengthy gratitude posts about families and home cooked meals.

But not this year…this year I’m married. And with that marriage comes a list of things I’m thankful for a mile long. Oh don’t worry. Marriage didn’t turn me into a sentimental, over-indulgent sap and I have no intention of losing my edge or my sarcastic gift for wry observational humor. But marriage has changed me in ways I didn’t expect — grounded me, and calmed me. And as even the most hardened cynics are allowed an occasional foray into earnestness, for today, the Cranky Yankee is going to take a backseat to a thankful, thoughtful, Katie. And so, in no particular order, I present a little gratitude, with a side of humility, and a generous serving of amazement for:

• My brother Patrick, with his curly hair and 20 year-old suitcoats that used to belong to our dad, his inability to understand his cell phone, his loping walk, encyclopedic baseball trivia knowledge, converse sneakers, and a sense of humor that even today gives his kid sister something to look up to. The oldest and the youngest are all that’s left of the Youngs family and knowing he’s still there looking out for me, keeps me connected me to a past that is now shared only by him.

• The kind of technology that brings me a cup of hot chai from my Keurig, assigns “It’s Raining Men” as my best friends’ ringtone, brings me updates from friends I thought I’d lost along the way, magically records Great Performances on PBS, keeps my favorite music with me all day long, and lets me write from the comfy spot in the corner of our new sectional.

• My best friend Joe, who has the ability to turn even the saddest of occasions in to ones of laughter, to inspire me, encourage me and call me on my own foibles. To think of a life without Joe to talk to, eat with, text with, eat with, laugh with, eat with, gossip with, and eat with is inconceivable. The fact that he’s also the greatest godfather in the world is pure icing on the cake.

• Modern Family, and Glee for renewing my faith in television and bringing my little family together every Tuesday and Wednesday nights on the aforementioned sectional

• For our friend June, who opened her home and her heart to us on our wedding day with an astonishing generosity of spirit and the critical ability to remain calm and unfazed in the face of a gigantic tent in her garden, power outages, wine shortages, blaring music, and dozens of pairs of heels sinking into her beautiful lawn. As we prepare to join June later today for Thanksgiving dinner we are reminded how blessed we are to have her not just as our friend but as our family.

• For the Collins/Pendergast/Bray families who have welcomed me as the newest in-law and made me feel like a member of a family again. For new nephews and (finally!) nieces, and brothers and sisters-in law that make me laugh and who love me for loving their sister.

• For hefty doses of Stephen Sondheim, Jason Robert Brown, Stephen Schwartz, an occasional smattering of Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Webber and Rice that bring me together with my daughter each morning for epic car sing-a-longs.

• For my dearest friends, Dana, Katie, Margaret, Meghan, Maureen, Tara and Vicki, Susie and Peter, Lisa, Matt and Lisa, and Nathan and Chris who never fail to make my day brighter and whose presence and love on the biggest day of my life was the greatest gift I could have ever asked for.

• For my awesome new name that, after a year of dithering, seems so very very obvious to me now. This is the name I’m supposed to have for the life I’m supposed to lead.

• For new friends who take the chance to reach out and say ‘we like you, let’s make a friendship shall we?”

• For the Acting Loft and its teachers and directors who have given me and my daughter an artistic home again, and who challenge and support my daughter as she begins her journey as an actor.

• For Michael at Gibson’s Bookstore who, in spite of being even crankier than I, never fails to find the book I need, even if he sometimes mocks me for my choices.

• For Liza Minelli. Because really? What would life be like without the original Liza in it?

• For Mothertalkers, Banshees, and May Moms, the best cyber and real life friends a woman could ever want.

Ok so I lied. There is a bit of an order to this. If you’ve been reading this listing thinking “um, what about your wife and child Katie?” I’ve saved the very best for last.

• For my daughter Liza. My tempest in a teapot, my sensitive artist, my snuggle buddy, my sidekick, my fashion critic, my keeper of holiday traditions, my comedy partner, and on many days my mirror and truth teller. For the blink of an eye that she’s been in my life she’s changed it and changed me and I wake every day looking forward to what mountain she’ll climb next.

• For the state of New Hampshire for standing up for equality and giving me the freedom to marry the woman I love. And for every volunteer, elected official, and ordinary citizen that is working hard to make sure that freedom doesn’t get taken away.

• And finally, for my wife Kelly. For the way knowing I get to go home to her makes me giggle every night when I reach our exit off the highway, for the text messages that tell me she “lurves me,” for her willingness to cook every, single, dinner because she knows I can’t, for the way she turns off NHPR to let me listen to show tunes, for the way she has to have her Judge Judy time after work, for the adorable way her eyes sparkle behind her glasses, for the way she kisses me good bye each morning before leaving for work at 5:45, for her patient help with endless pages of long division homework, and for giving me a home and a future as the woman I was meant to be.

So there you have it. Tomorrow the Cranky Yankee will be back again I’m sure complaining about Black Friday crowds, post-turkey weight gain and middle-aged creaky bones and joints. But for today we’ll let her be, while we give thanks for all that we have and all that makes our worlds complete. Happy Thanksgiving.

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An Every Other Week Mother

24 09 2009

Thanksgiving week for most moms of nine year olds most likely includes a flurry of shopping and cooking. Perhaps board games with the family, visits from grandma, another trip to the movies for a second or third viewing of High School Musical 3, or decorating the house for the holidays. Most of my daughter’s friends have moms who are there every day of every week doing what moms do – whether they work outside the home or not — they are there in their lives every day of every week. Not my daughter. My daughter has an every-other-week mother.

Liza lives with her dad for a week at a time and then with me for a week at a time, changing houses after school every Monday. Don’t misunderstand. I am grateful beyond words that Liza is blessed with a father who packs lunches, and signs permission slips. Who can finesse a “ballet bun” in her hair on dance class days. Who takes her to the dentist and shopping for winter boots. I am grateful her stepmother provides a warm and loving home for her with the home-cooked meals that I seem incapable of producing, and craft projects and shopping trips that were truly designed to meet the mercurial whims of a tween girl. We are amicable and friendly – helping each other out when our work schedules intervene in the afterschool pickup/dance class drop off/ soccer game-to rehearsal carousel of Liza’s schedule. We have forged a new kind of family from our divorce. A family so strong that I hesitate at times to even call myself a “single mom” since I rarely if ever feel as though I am raising Liza on my own. I’m not. I’m just an Every Other Week Mother.

In high school and college I was awkward and shy. Fat and clumsy and completely baffled by the social mores of my peers I sequestered myself in the theater department where my social life consisted of the occassional cast party. But in my thirties and forties after surviving a divorce and coming out of the closet I found myself experiencing what one friend called my ‘second twenties’ On the weeks when Liza is living with her dad I find myself living a life I never lived in my all-too-serious youth. I go dancing at Women’s T dances in Ogunquit. I work a delightful second job in a friends bookstore where I’m not haunted by any major responsibilities other than correct change and ability to alphabetize. I sleep late on Sundays and read the paper over coffee with Kelly. I hit the gym at odd hours and eat meals of cheese and crackers instead of proper dinners. I send text messages to my new twenty-something friends from my “Company” cast and stay out until midnight on a work night. I put up the Christmas decorations alone with only the company of George Winston’s “December” on the cd player. I tell myself how great this is. This break. This quiet. This freedom. This….stillness of a house without Liza.

I find myself in two worlds, straddling the life lived by my childless or single friends and that lived by my friends with children. Some of my married friends with children say “I’m so jealous! I”d love a break from MY kids sometime. what fun you must have!” Others say “oh I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t go a week without my child. I can’t see HOW you can do it.” Yes. I do have fun. Yes. But every day and every night of those “off weeks” I feel a niggling in the back of my mind and an emptiness in my chest and I think “what is she doing now?” Does she miss me on those weeks when her life more typically resembles a traditional family? Does she wonder what I’m doing? How I am? Did she pass that test on state capitals? Did she practice her clarinet? Did she show her dad her loose tooth? How is her cough? How. Is. She? Every other Monday I tell her “you know you can call me ANYTIME right?” Yet the phone remains silent. I should be happy. This means she’s happy, she’s content and after all that’s what any mother wants for their child. Yet every day I hope for a call from her to show she needs me. Every day I battle with myself about calling her. More often than not when I do I call I’m often greeted with her relctant “what?” My calls intrude on a life she lives without me. A life I can not claim or encroach upon. I am unwanted and in that moment I feel like a lovestruck girl begging her crush to acknowledge her.

I’ve never been a great mother. At times I haven’t even been a good mother. But I’m her mother. An Every-Other-Week Mother. And I can only hope that, for Liza, that’s good enough.