I’ve lived abroad for essentially my entire adult life. Thanksgiving for me has gone from being the most fun family get together as a kid, running around my grandparents house playing with my cousins; to 5 star hotel buffets in Beijing where the food was right but the Philippine cover band singing Beatles songs was oddly off; to hosting it for a group of friends in a boozy house party setting; to eventually doing a more family friendly version with my grown-up friends in Beijing and our expanding families.
Needless to say, my thanksgiving traditions have been a bit colorful over the years, but I have always done something with some level of authenticity. And while living overseas provides great opportunities for many things, thanksgiving consistently proves to be one of the hardest times to be away from the US.
For one, its truly an American holiday only, and as such, you definitely don’t get time off for it abroad. This makes it hard to cook if you are doing your own thing, it also makes it nearly impossible to fly halfway around the world for this holiday. If you do, you would use up your vacation days and likely not be able to go home for Christmas. There are probably many reasons I get homesick at this time, but I think my friend Ted hit it on the head when he described it as “a holiday that almost everyone celebrates in the US, there are no pressures over gifts or religion, its just good family time.”
In what is my 10th thanksgiving away from home, I have to admit this is also my lamest. You think I would have been all over it, and with now living in Singapore and thus making it easier to get the right ingredients (compared to Beijing) it certainly would have been easier to pull off compared to previous years.
We were invited by some new American friends here to go to their house for thanksgiving, she loves to cook and I signed up to bring some of my best dishes too. Even better is they have a four year old and a two year old, and we were ecstatic for Niamh to get to spend some time with other kids. Win-Win! A couple days ago when she called to confirm the menu, I mentioned that I had a Pin the Tail on the Donkey Thanksgiving game for the kids (pin the pilgrim hat on the turkey to be exact!). She told me that she wasn’t sure the adults would be into that, and that it wasn’t really a party for the kids.
I was pretty shocked. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am consistently the parent that doesn’t bring our child along with us to things, assuming they are adult parties, only to arrive and find everyone else brought their kids besides us… and we then have to field a zillion “where’s Niamh” questions. I am that person, over and over again.
So you can imagine my surprise over hearing the kids wouldn’t be at thanksgiving. She then reminded me that her kids go to bed at 7:30 so they wouldn’t be around for the dinner anyway, but since Niamh is such a night-owl, I could go ahead and bring her. (off-topic, I am fascinated by parents who get their kids to go to bed so early AND sleep through the night. If I put Niamh down at 7:30 I’d be lucky if she made it to 2am).
Let me be clear, this lady is as nice as the day is long. She is absolutely lovely and this is not at all her leaving the kids out, she simply has 18 people coming for a sit down dinner. Factor in kids and that number would be 30. But not knowing that going in, I didn’t make other plans for thanksgiving with Niamh – and working full-time left me little time to plan something on the side.
I know she won’t remember, and I know we will have many more thanksgiving memories to create, but it still makes me sad deep down. And it makes me feel like a bad mom. I had the most amazing childhood, the most magical Christmases, the best memories at my grandparents house, etc. And I often fear that I am simply incapable of creating that same experience for my kid. I know, she is well traveled and is living an amazing life, but on some level, we want our kids to have what we did, and more.
I came home last night and saw Niamh before we went out to dinner with friends. I wanted to spend some time with her at least on Thanksgiving. I scooped her up in a bear hug and explained that today was thanksgiving.
“What are you thankful for?” I asked.
“Uh. Ohhh, I’m thankful I can stay home all day,” she said.
“That’s silly, you went to school today, do you mean you are thankful for when you get to stay home?”, I asked.
Well, that makes me a little sad that she so dislikes her school the thing she is most thankful for is days when she gets to stay home, like weekends and sick days. When pressed, she also told me she is thankful for our missing cat, and the dog.
“I’m thankful the Indians taught you to grow corn only so you could turn around an slaughter them with small pox blankets,” said my husband helpfully (who was NOT asked!).
My American friend Ted and I just rolled our eyes, before meeting some other friends for the most unconventional thanksgiving dinner to date – a local Singaporean seafood restaurant where we had black pepper crab, sambal shrimp and Hong Kong style fish.
And while I felt a bit sad, it made me think. Isn’t thanksgiving really about what you are thankful for? Sure, it doesn’t feel the same without the things we associate with it, like the stuffing, and turkey, and all the fixin’s. But really, a dinner with your favorite people in Singapore and hugs from your kid are actually enough.
It made me think about what I’m really thankful for, here’s my list:
- My family, all of them! This includes my husband, my fab in-laws, my awesome Mooma, everyone (especially my parents for giving me a great childhood, even if it sets the bar high)
- My daughter and how being her mom is more fun by the day
- My friends, near and far, who are so great I only wish we could all be in one place all the time
- My pets, who bring me a lot of love and affection (well, my cat does)
- My job, which I actually like, and pays the bills. What a winning combo!
- My jewelry line, which is still in the early phases but each baby step makes me proud
- My nanny, who makes my life as a working mom possible
- Our house, which we are fortunate to rent and makes living abroad feel more like a home
- my day-dreams, which push me to try new things and set new goals (like to write my book one day!)
So however you spent your holiday, I hope it was fabulous – even if unconventional!