Holidays and teenagers go together like pie and gravy, which is to say not well. One Thanksgiving, around age 13 or 14, they're participating enthusiastically, helping when asked and chatting it up with Grandma. The next year, they're chafing at having to stay through dessert, never mind sticking around to clear the table.
Although my teen years are long past, I vividly recall that feeling of claustrophobia, that yearning to be with friends over family. I can still feel the bracing cold of freedom when I finally escaped to my car with the broken heater, and took off to meet the people who knew me oh so much better than my family.
I know now that my family was no worse than anyone else's. But it didn't seem that way when we were all living under one, and then two, roofs, jockeying for our independence and working hard to make each other miserable. Back then my friends and I tried to one-up each other with holiday tales of dysfunctional parents and annoying siblings. I'm not bragging when I say that I usually won these competitions.
It never occurred to me that someday I would miss my family during the holidays and wish we didn't live so far apart. I certainly never imagined that I would ever celebrate a holiday without my dad. This Thanksgiving will be the eleventh since he died and I still feel his absence at every holiday table.
I also miss the friends from that era during the holidays, especially my friend Gaynor who died four years ago Thanksgiving week, of melanoma. She was the one I schemed with on the phone, trying to figure how to get the hell out of our respective houses and out into the real world of aimlessness and flirting.
This year my son was 13, and he eagerly joined in all the Thanksgiving festivities. I'm enjoying it while I can because I know this too shall pass. One year in the not-too-distant future he'll be working as hard as he can to get out the door before the turkey's packed up for next-day sandwiches. I'll make a stink because that's what moms do, but I'll let him go. Because I know someday he'll remember Thanksgiving with the family and know that his is no worse than anyone else's.
Originally published November 10, 2006