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Unexpected Gratitude

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Thanksgiving.  It is my favorite holiday.  For starters, it is relatively free of commercialism, despite a mild advertising push for such uniquely American totems as pilgrim-shaped egg timers and turkey centerpieces crafted from dyed carnations. 

As a side note, do you know Americans spent more on Halloween--$8 billion--than politicians did on the general election. which was $5.8 billion. I find this shocking, but I digress, (even as I resist the lure of the pilgrim-shaped egg timer).

Mashable article on Halloween spending
USAToday's article on 2012 Election spending

I love Thanksgiving because it is an opportunity to reflect upon and embrace the blessings in our lives:  our families and friends, our opportunities and advantages, and also to consider how we might be able to enrich the lives of those less fortunate. 

But when you are part of the modern American family, with divorce and remarriage (sometimes in the multiples) affecting the blended family matrix, Thanksgiving can also be a period of unfettered stress. 

Who had the kids last year?  For what part of the holiday weekend?  At what age do the kids get a say in where and how they celebrate?  When they are young, kids go where they are told and leave the negotiations to their parents, which is hard enough, but as the kids get older, it gets harder.  Not only do kids and teens begin to have vocal opinions about the how/what/where of holidays, but as we parents begin to realize our time with our children is limited, we get more emotional about the issue. 

In my household, for example, we are a newly blended family of six, my husband and I each having two teens from prior marriages.  Two of our teens leave for college in the fall, making this "the last Thanksgiving," at least as we have known them to date.

I care deeply about this holiday, so much that custody of my two children for Thanksgiving is codified in my divorce decree.  And pretty much every year for the last 18, since I moved to LA, I have eaten my turkey with a group of friends that I consider my family (even though we have no blood ties).  However, in years past, I have had my kids just for the day, ceding custody to my ex no later than the stroke of midnight.

So last year, my then fiancée, now husband, joined me in my ritual along with his daughter, as his son abandoned the holiday altogether and went snowboarding with friends.  Then we drove home, dropping my kids off with their father along the way.  This year, my husband's ex, feeling wistful about "the last Thanksgiving," wanted both of their kids.  But we, also feeling wistful, wanted to take the kids on a long weekend to Palm Springs after the festive meal.  Their son once again wanted to go snowboarding and opted out of the whole discussion.  My husband's ex-wife also has a 30-something year old son from the union she was in before she married my husband, but he was spending the holiday with his father's family. So their battle began on the remaining kid. 

And on my end, my ex, not happy with our travel plans, requested we bring the kids back by a specific time on the Sunday of the long weekend, to which I objected, not wanting to put pressure on ourselves to hurry home.  Of course, every battle between spouses, ex or current, carries the weight of every battle that has raged before it, so these discussion are never as simple as they might appear.

At the end of countless emails, phone conversations, recriminations, accusations and a few tears, my stepdaughter is having Thanksgiving dinner with her mother and then driving out to meet us in Palm Springs.  And I am keeping my kids through the holiday weekend, with my ex taking them for an extra night before we go.

So what am I grateful for this year?  That all those discussions are over.  Until next year of course.

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