Family dynamics

GRAYING NEW YORK

BY MARCIA EPSTEIN

Every family has its own way of doing things, and the people in that family have to make many kinds of adjustments. I am the grandmother in a family of two daughters and four grandchildren, and none of us spend Thanksgiving together. Instead, for the past many years, I have gone with partner John’s sister to “our” Thanksgiving restaurant on Long Island, just the three of us. Why? Well, when my older daughter married her husband, they both apologized and told me that his family celebrates only one holiday a year — Thanksgiving.

My family celebrates birthdays, both adults’ and children’s. We are usually able to manage being together on those occasions. So I gave Thanksgiving to the in-laws with not a squawk on my part. My younger daughter and her family usually travel south to spend Thanksgiving with her in-laws or else celebrate with friends on Long Island. That’s OK also, as we, as I’ve said, get together often for birthdays and other occasions. And it really is all right. I like the restaurant we go to, and it’s a peaceful and stress-free day.

But sometimes it does feel sad, such as when my women’s group is discussing their holiday plans, which are all with family. Or my other friends are telling me of their plans, which are also all with family. Then I do get a pang or two. Don’t all the magazines and TV shows and newspapers show family members going to airports, trains, highways, to visit family for Thanksgiving? Isn’t that the American norm? A Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving is what we think of when we imagine the holiday.

But the truth is that there is no norm. That’s why there are so many organizations that offer Thanksgiving dinners to New Yorkers without families or any other place to go. Many churches and religious organizations know that lots of people will be alone and prepare Thanksgiving dinners for them. People who are alone also can volunteer to serve Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless or the lonely. And believe me, there are those who prefer not to have to deal with the roads and airports on this holiday, not to mention difficult families and uncomfortable situations. The city is so quiet and empty during the holiday; I’ve spoken to people who just love being alone and walking the streets, picking up a sandwich or even a dinner in a coffee shop while peacefully reading the newspaper.

In my case, well, it would be nice, though a bit stressful too, to spend the holidays with family. I’ve gotten to the age where the running and screaming of the kids can affect me, and the next day I am totally exhausted. But I know I am lucky also; I don’t need Thanksgiving to know that I will see my children and grandchildren again. On the day that my 6-year-old grandson suddenly looked up from his toys and said, “Grandma, did you ever have any children?”, I knew no big, raucous family get together could ever top that moment.

So yes, I was a little disappointed, but I was also fine with the lovely restaurant with the fireplace and the adult company. And there are no dishes to wash!