Category Archives: Thanksgiving

Giving Thanks

Change is hard for most people, some more than others. As an expat for the last 11 years I have been through my fair share of countries and changes. Recently my belly button contemplations have centred around when the change becomes the norm. When things that used to stand out and confuse, surprise, unsettle or just plain irk you, don’t any more.

When using an everyday greeting or words in another language that used to make your tongue twist in circles or make you cringe a little bit on the inside in case you were saying it wrong comes out feeling perfectly normal – to you and to the people you are using it with.  When you stop getting headaches from concentrating so hard from driving on the wrong side of the road and the turns you make across traffic are reflex rather than strategically planned maneuvers. When someone says ‘Wow, you really walk a lot in this city’ as they duck and weave following you along a crowded footpath that you used to find overwhelming and you forgot you ever did, like you also forgot you never used to press the close lift button in the elevator (recognizable by being the only button you are unable to see the symbols for). When checking the local paper for the upcoming power outages (should they feel the need to list them) is as natural as using terms that drive you crazy but you now feel the need to spread the crazy – see use of ‘just now’*. You get the idea.

To me giving thanks on Thanksgiving was always ‘too American’ to contemplate. I certainly was an interested and engaged participant the past two Thanksgivings we have been lived in the US, watching friends post on all forms of social media what they were thankful for, even those Americans (and Canadians who do it a month earlier) living overseas, but I always thought it was ‘for them’. Now on our third Thanksgiving in country while preparing some tasty traditional side dishes for our own Aussie / Austrian (the one with no kangaroos) Thanksgiving feast later in the day, I popped a cork and posted my own spontaneous thanks. It felt quite normal and probably something I will do from now on, wherever we live as we incorporate it into our multi-cultural lives and rituals. A nod to when the change became the norm.

thanksgiving

When was the last time you realised a change had become the norm?

*just now is one of the most used and most difficult terms to define in South Africa. It means, not immediately, but that could be a time between 5 minutes and 8 hours (or lets face it three weeks) . After the initial shock telling me that the repairman would be there ‘just now’  used to drive me crazy, almost as crazy as it drove my children and family when I used it with them.

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25.3 kgs

‘Your bag is overweight, I’m not going to charge you this time, but be more careful next time. It’s 25.3 kgs’
The Delta check-in lady using a stern tone.

‘Did ya do a lot of shopping while you were home?’
The assistant checker-in person joined in. The strong Aussie accent dressed in a Delta uniform somehow seemed out of place even though we were standing in Sydney airport. How quickly I have come to expect an American accent.

Tears welled up – I had no control over them.

‘No, its my Mum’s stuff, I came back for her funeral.’

Murmured apology from Team Delta, awkward moment, both suddenly looking closely at the computer screen. I felt I had to let them off.

‘Doesn’t everyone about to spend 13 hours in economy on a plane with no spare seats cry?’

Ha ha – good one, they could look up at me again and we finished our transaction in a more relaxed fashion.

Of course I didn’t come home for her funeral. I came home to do the unthinkable, to say goodbye. A carefully timed trip, cancelled once, designed to allow time with my mum but also not leaving my husband and kids alone too long in a new country with no support system in place.
Clinical, horrifying.

The kid’s anxiety of their mother leaving indefinitely, knowing when she came home it meant their beloved Mumma would no longer be in the same world where they could talk to her on the phone and  run past the computer when she was on Skype. Photos and memories would be it. Thankfully we have just had two months with her, the memories are fresh, I can’t think about six months or a year from now when they are not.

My husband had to juggle full time work and full time carer responsibility for an unknown quantity of time. His work requires up to fifty percent of his time traveling, on hold indefinitely.  A perhaps uniquely expat moment bringing the family unit under pressures it had not previously faced, not knowing how we were all going to get through, it seemed impossible.

We’ve made it so far, my husband was given a 7/10 and an 8/10 by the kids for his efforts. The six year old (7/10) booked herself into after school care because apparently I said she could before I left, that gave the nine year old (8/10) peace after the school bus trip home to do his homework and have his one hour screen time before the whirlwind returned.

It wasn’t a funeral, it was a ‘Celebration of Life’.  I wore a bright blue dress, there were pinks and blues and reds everywhere. The ‘Celebration’  was held at Glennifer Brae, a special location, the school my mum attended, taught at, where we lived in the cottage on the grounds when we were very little, later after the school shut and it became a venue for public functions we were married there.  Then the property passed to the Conservatorium of Music (Wollongong) and it was closed to public functions. There were special envoys to council, special permission had to be granted to hold a function there. For mum there was no other option, it was Glennifer Brae or bust. It was one of the last days and her close friend Cookie raced up the stairs to the bedroom to sit by her bed and tell her the good news, she smiled so hard, for an hour at least.

It was a beautiful afternoon, the sun shone, it was predicted to be cloudy and possible showers, someone must have had a word. There was no celebrant, our Mistress of Ceremonies was a close friend of mum’s with a perfect background and experience to set the tone and engage the crowd. There was a choir that sang a four part version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and later the Glennifer Brae (SCEGGS Wollongong) school song along with the impressive number of old girls in attendance. My brother and I got through our words without breaking down, my mum’s sister got through her own toast similarly unscathed. We celebrated her life with French champagne, as she wished it to be.

Two days later I was standing at the Delta counter heading back to Atlanta with a suitcase that was 25.3 kgs, 9kgs heavier than when I arrived. The sum total of ‘things’ I bought back that belonged to Mum is 9kgs.

Two nights later I am still awake at 2am trying to work out what actually happened. Today (since it is 2am) is Thanksgiving, our first in the USA, I am thankful to be home again with my family, but it doesn’t feel enough. I am hoping the haziness will pass with the jetlag. We’ll see.