Thursday, November 25, 2010

Regarding a Table Half Full

I know it's going to be hard to give thanks and be grateful this year at Thanksgiving. There has been so much loss this year, so much stripping away of the good in our lives.

And yet, I want to push myself to do this.  There is a strong streak of "glass-half-empty" in our family's psychological make up.  Especially prevalent in Ethan and my husband.  I can go that way myself, but also have a big kernel of optimism in my heart.  And I work to consciously feed it, nurture its growth.

One day I will blossom forth, a full blown optimist, contemplating the half-full glass before me.  For now, it's work.  Work that I willingly, willfully do because I want to set an example for our children whose eyes are ever upon us, observing, learning how to be.  From us.  Gulp.

I'm always nattering on to Ethan about how it's not how much you have in life that determines happiness, but how grateful you are for what you have, no matter how large or small that amount is.  I do believe this, really I do.  Even if it's more in my nature to kvetch than count my blessings.  And I so try to remind myself of this, constantly, and especially at this time.

Today, looking toward Thanksgiving I need to find what has held, has grown and thrived, not what has withered up, been washed away.  This year my husband and I have each lost a parent; my Father in March, his Mother in October.  The Thanksgiving table will be bereft of a whole generation this year, for while my Mother remains, she has begged off celebrating with us.

She is feeling too sad, too worn out to make herself rise to the occasion.  And the drive is long, and we are with my husband's family, not her own.   And so, though I briefly considered kidnapping her and forcing her to come along, I have decided to let her be.  My Mother is not eating alone, she will be with her friends in the assisted living community where she lives.  I have been told they make a nice festive meal there.

The table will feel simultaneously lighter and heavier.  Absent of old folks, full of sadness.  Not full of yet the next generation, my month-old twin grand-nephews.  Even though their grandmother is hosting the dinner, it felt too daunting to our niece to travel with such young twins.  I understand, remember well those first, heady, exhausting months.

The year Ethan and Jake were born they were older, four months already at their first Thanksgiving, and we only had to pop them in a cab and head crosstown to the Upper East Side.  And still, I have no memory of it, am guessing I barely ate, so busy would I have been tending to their every, many needs.

Thinking about glasses, half-empty and half-full, I am reminded of a crystallizing moment when the boys were still quite young, maybe 2, eating dinner side by side in their giant high chairs.

We used to bring simple toys to their tray tables to help us keep them entertained as they dined.  I had placed a stack of five cups on Ethan's tray, then lifted one off the top and put it in front of Jake.  Even though Ethan had four cups and Jacob only one, even though Ethan had four lovely colorful plastic cups to play with, he could not get over that Jacob had been given one.  He would not play with the four cups on his tray, he would only stare at and reach for the one on Jacob's tray.  And let me know in no uncertain terms that he. wanted. it. back.

Jacob, on the other hand was blithely unaware of the drama, didn't care that he had a paltry one to his brother's four cups, was deliriously happy playing with his cup while eating his supper.

I looked at my boys and sighed, took a zen snapshot of the moment and realized this was it, I was staring at the distilled essence of their ingrained personalities:

Ethan, always focused on the one thing he didn't have instead of enjoying the multitude of what he did.  Jacob, delighted with whatever the world happened to grace him with at the moment.

It immediately called to mind a tarot card, the 5 of cups.
The man is so focused on the 3 cups that have been spilled, lost, that he neither notices nor acknowledges the 2 still full cups standing behind him. The admonition of this card is to not be like this man, the lesson is to turn away from the spilled cups and to pick up the full.  This is the card of the pessimist, the eternally glass-half-empty attitude.

I did not want this moment to define Ethan, but could not deny how clearly he was embodying this archetype that day.  This would not be Jacob. He would be playing with those 2 cups like nobody's business.  This is something that I wish Jacob could teach Ethan.  Although you would not for all the world get Ethan to acknowledge he has anything to possibly learn from his autistic brother.

So this year, for my children's sake, I will try hard to not dwell on the sadness, the loss.  We all know that this is the first Thanksgiving without Jim, without Blanche.  I will raise a cup of red wine to my father. We will all be holding them in our hearts while we talk, eat, sit together, remember the past and look to the future.

Besides the new babies we have another beginning in our lives.  Barbara's son, our nephew Michael married the lovely Rachel this past May.  They will be there this afternoon, at his mother's house, a young couple on the start of their journey together.  They are the half-full cups at our table, as are our sons.

Today I will look to what connects us.  I will hold our sons, Ethan and Jacob, in my arms and my heart.  They are my glasses more than half-full, they are full-on, full up and brimming over.

I will ignore the fighting, the whingeing, the every annoyance, and hold to the laughter, the silly, joyful exuberance of their beings.  I will not yell or scold.  I will play, laugh, celebrate a house full of family, full of life.

And hopefully, if the occasion permits, I will take a commemorative sofa nap, in honor of my father, who could be found after every Thanksgiving meal, gracing the couch with his gently snoring presence.

And then I will get up and once more enter the fray, the messy swirl that is family, that is life.

Update: My mother changed her mind at the eleventh hour and joined us.  It was lovely and meaningful to have her with us and I was so glad she agreed to come, other than the hour and fifteen minutes it added to our travel time to pick her up (but well worth it).


  1. Loved that you brought in the tarot card reference. Reading your blog always gives me a thoughtful pause to my day...thank you!

  2. This is really beautiful. You should link it up tonight on my Saturday Sampling post.

    Also, a week ago, I linked this post (about missing those we love at the holidays). I think you might find a good idea there.

    Off to read the Autist to Artist post! :)

  3. Very beautiful and inspirational. Sorry for your losses but glad that your mother decided to join you. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  4. What a beautiful thought provoking post..
    I am forever the optimist but have been severely challenged this year and continue to need to fill my glass every day.
    I am a new visitor and follower via Java..

  5. My condolences on the passing of your father.

  6. I'm really struck by your insightful observations of your sons in this post - very moving and has me thinking about optimism and pessimism in my life and how present they are in my extended family.

    Glad your mom decided to join you!

    I'm looking forward to reading more posts...


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