Growing pains

Not to be a scrooge, but Thanksgiving makes me crabby. As I've mentioned, it's never been my favorite holiday but  because I enjoy giving thanks and feeling thankful, I try to find the love for Turkey Day each year. It's managed to elude me again, and maybe I'll simply give thanks for coming to peace with that.

Each year, as Thanksgiving comes to a close, I realize that while I've verbalized gratefulness and appreciation throughout the day, regrets are what are prominent and haunting in my mind. I don't have many, and I tend to be harder on myself than the average bear, but nonetheless, Thanksgiving always seems to act as a stimulant of the worst sort, dredging up emotions, analyses and self-questioning. Frankly, this is all quite exhausting and though it's now an unfortunate tradition, I still feel blindsided by it each time.

I believe this annual drag was first brought to my attention by one of my dearest college friends, MB. I'd never recognized the periodicity of my blues until he said, "but Emmy, this is always how you feel this time of year." And that's what good friends do; they help you know yourself even better while still loving you all the same (I am definitely thankful for MB and our now 18-year friendship)!

I don't know what prompts this malaise. Is it everyone so boisterously giving thanks around me that I feel as if something must be wrong with me? Surely that's part of it; with all that is good in my life, why don't I feel more gosh-darn thankful on Thanksgiving Day? But I do feel terribly grateful in general, so that can't be all. Is it that I've never much cared for the holiday but feel it's incumbent upon me to make it happy for my kids? Perhaps but I felt this way long before I was a mother. Is it the general holiday blah that many others seem to anticipate? I'm skeptical about that explanation because I absolutely love Christmas and have secretly been playing carols for about six weeks now.

Whatever the cause, the aftermath is what's hardest. I know I can be awfully self-critical, imposing standards on myself that might seem egregious. I don't do that consciously, at least I don't mean to. But I believe this underpins the let-down of this holiday for me. Instead of simply giving thanks, staying present in that moment (never a strong suit of mine), I ponder the times I've let myself or others down. When could I have been more patient? When could I have held my tongue? How do I, as a woman who so very much admires strength and voice in others, honor those elements of myself without feeling remorse for doing so?

As one who would describe myself as a late bloomer, I still struggle mightily to negotiate the differences between the girl I once was and the woman I have grown (am growing) into. I have a pretty clear sense of who I think I am and who I want to be, but getting and being there aren't always simple or comfortable. My mother once nicknamed me Eeyore because I wasn't an innate optimist and was moody. In college, I tried Exceedingly Happy on for size, and was then questioned about why I was so positive all the time. Go figure, the grass is always greener, eh?

Ultimately, most people reside somewhere on the bell curve in the middle though I have observed much effort to swing public personas to the immensely positive end of the spectrum. It's like the answers someone once told me marked a difference between Americans and Italians. When asked, "How are you?", Americans tend to say, "Fine!" while the Italians reply, "Awful," "Decent," "Good" and so forth. While I value authenticity to the nth degree, I sometimes find myself wondering what to do if others don't put the same stock in it. Do you conform and risk feeling somewhat isolated, or do you share and risk feeling off-putting and then isolated for a different reason?

I guess it's some of both, except with your closest friends and family, and maybe considering this helps distill my generalized ugh. Thanksgiving is a time when I'm with the very people I'm closest to yet because of our divergent experiences of The Day, I end up feeling that I've missed something, not appreciated enough, and then I start to question myself. And before I know it, a basic sense of ambivalence has snowballed into a sort of reckoning-with-self.

Food for thought as, with relief, I bid Thanksgiving adieu for another year.