thankful

Thanksgiving, according to Evangeline:

The Mayflower is a ship, like a pirate ship but NOT a pirate ship, and the Indians came over on it and created America. Now we eat turkey and hey, guess what? I know a SONG about turkeys, it goes like this: (insert lots of gobbling and incomprehensible words). When can I visit Santa?

Last night during her nightly prayer, she thanked God for Santa.

We have some work to do.

Sam and I have always held space for Thanksgiving week, in our home. It is one of the weeks we most look forward to, because it isn’t about giving or receiving presents or honoring one individual – it is about family, and nourishment, and being present together in our thankfulness for all that we have been given. We don’t rush out at 6 a.m. the following day or midnight or God forbid the day of Thanksgiving to start shopping for Christmas presents, as though Thanksgiving is a holiday to be skipped over entirely. We are so adamant about this that even Evangeline parrots us – “we do NOT shop on Thanksgiving Day!”

I’ve never understood this rush toward Christmas, which seems to happen earlier and earlier each year, as though Thanksgiving is about one meal sandwiched between the carnival that is Halloween and the gift-giving extravaganza that is Christmas.

So we’ve been working with Evangeline on the concept of being thankful. When we say our prayers each night she thanks God for certain things – she is generally quite thankful for her “warm, cozy bed” and her pajamas and her family and baby brother – these are all unprompted. She is also regularly thankful for magic and flowers – especially roses – and for pretty clothes and her toys. With the last two, I tried to guide her to reconsidering. “I don’t think clothes and toys are something we necessarily thank God for,” I said.

“Please momma. Please, please. Lots of kids don’t have toys and clothes and I want to say thank you,” she pleaded. She caught me off guard because of course, she is right. When I was growing up my mom regularly listened to my prayers and often told me what was and was not okay to pray for to such an extent that my dad finally had to intervene at one point.

“You’re going to wear the Christ right out of her, Mary,” he said. “Let the kid pray for what she wants to pray for!”

Evangeline has actually taken to prayer with a zealotry I never anticipated. No place is off limits to take a moment to pray, whether we are in a coffee shop or watching a television program or playing dress up. It’s a bit like being in a musical except we break into prayer instead of song. Growing up in a conservative Presbyterian church where it was generally assumed prayer was saved for bedtime and church, I have to admit this has shaken my ideas of public verses private behavior, but my desire to foster her faith so far overrides my awkwardness when we end up “saying a little prayer” in Starbucks.

This Thanksgiving week will be an especially wonderful one for us, because Duncan will be baptised on Sunday. I’ve been looking forward to this period of time for weeks now, from the slow trickle of family arriving to Thanksgiving Day itself to the small party we are throwing Saturday night to the covenant of Duncan’s baptism, so when I felt myself coming down with a cold on Sunday morning, my brain started in on its usual cycle of doom. What if I’m too sick to host properly? What if I don’t feel perfectly perfect all week? What if I can’t HAVE THINGS GO EXACTLY THE WAY I WANT THEM TOO???

I’m still sick. The sinuses on the left side of my face feel like they’ve been hallowed out with an ice cream scooper, and I’m pretty cranky about it. I need to rewrite my own narrative, put things in perspective.

I am thankful…that both sets of grandparents are able to travel to see us this year. All four of them are in their early seventies and I imagine we only have so many years left before the eight hour drive is too much for them, so I am thankful for this. Instead of feeling stressed out from hosting while not feeling well, I will let them help – they always want to help – and make sure they hang with the kids as much as possible. I am thankful I just have a cold, and not something debilitating or chronic. I am just generally thankful for my overall good health. And I am thankful for the opportunity of Duncan’s baptism – for God’s grace and unconditional love. This coming Sunday isn’t nearly as much about me as I’ve been making it – it is about Duncan and his relationship with Jesus – completely, one hundred percent not about me.

And, taking a cue from my daughter, I have to admit, I am thankful for magic, and for flowers. And, let’s be honest – I am thankful for pretty clothes, too.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

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fighting 100 years of history with a cinnamon broom

Our local Trader Joe’s is located right next to my gym, which makes it extremely convenient, particularly in colder weather, to combine a workout and grocery shopping. Yesterday I had to pick up the ground beef for our tacos I forgot the day prior, and while there I succombed to the purchase of yet another cinnamon-scented broom – this time, for our living room. Trader Joe’s cinnamon brooms are particularly pungent, I think, and I hope it, combined with my new vanilla-scented candle, will do their work in an admirable fashion.

Living in a century-old house has a lot of positive aspects. My house is significantly more well-constructed than the more modern homes my friends have purchased, and the craftsmanship is stunning. “Good bones” doesn’t do it justice. It has large, airy rooms and enough cracks that we never have to worry about carbon monoxide poisoning. The views from the second and third floors are lovely, all church steeples, chimneys and roofs of homes built in a similar style – very Mary Poppins. Even though it’s a tremendous work in progress, I love our home and all of its potential.

But the negatives. Oh, the negatives. The closets were constructed when women owned two dresses and one pair of shoes. If a new crack in the plaster occurs, decades-old coal dust pours out. The house is well-made and long-lasting, which means it has witnessed trends come and go, including the mid-twentieth century trend of covering up, with carpeting, curtains and block glass, all that is unique and original about the home, which is also how we bought it. But, more than coal dust older than my parents or continually adjusting our clothes to fit the space allotted, I routinely find myself at war with over one hundred years and countless layers of old-home smells.

The couple who owned the house prior to us ran a catering company out of the kitchen and both times we toured, she was preparing large batches of Italian-American cuisine – vats of veal parmesan, kettles of Italian wedding soup. The scents of garlic, onion and red sauce consumed the house and gave it a cozy feeling it otherwise lacked. A general mustiness still lingered, which we attributed to the old carpeting and curtains which we foolishly assumed would be a breeze to get rid of or replace. Essentially, the smells of the house echoed the smells of the old Italian-American neighborhood we were moving into and I am not someone who generally minds such smells.

What I didn’t take into consideration, of course, is what the house would smell like afterthe owners left – like an Italian restaurant, vacated, stale onion and oregano lingering in the cold air, allowing all the other smells to surface.

People, at some point, there was a cat. Now, I like cats – it’s more their litter I am adverse to but for the most part I think cats are lovely and I actually think a cat would complete our house – this house calls out for a cat – but this cat – he must have made it his life’s work to grind his litter with his paw into every conceivable corner of the house, for when it rains the smell of stale kitty litter seeps upward from the basement and from corners on the first floor and completely combats any fresh scent the rain brings with it. It has also become evident that at some point, maybe fifteen or twenty years ago, people smoked in the house, which also isn’t a surprise. What is a surprise is how it is only on really hot, humid days that the stale cigarette smoke emerges from a piece of carpeting we have yet to remove or one of the few curtains we haven’t replaced yet.

We haven’t helped matters, admittedly. Our dog sheds profusely no matter how often I make sure he’s trimmed and now we are as likely to catch a whiff of wet dog as we are the litter of some long-deceased cat. I’ve potty trained one toddler and I think we can all agree the smells that come along with that particular chore aren’t pleasant, and I have another child that requires owning a diaper pail. In the past, though, I would have thought the smells of a life dissipated with time. Now I realize that with every tumbleweed tuft of dog hair, every apple cake baked, each accident Evangeline had on her way to the potty and every pot of root vegetable stew I make, the scents of the life we have are seeping into the cracks in the plaster walls and the grooves in the hard wood floors, and will resurge for new owners, decades down the road, on days when the wind comes from the west, or on frigid polar vortex mornings. I imagine these people, relaxing on our front porch while I’m rocking away the hours in a nursing home, noticing on warm rainy evenings the unexpected smell of butter, browning – mingling with runaway scent of diaper changed decades ago. I imagine them sighing, understanding once and for all that no amount of cinnamon brooms and vanilla candles can rid a house of history.