It feels like 2011 didn’t leave me a lot to be thankful for, because I’m still sort of clawing my way out of the hole that Dad’s death left in my life. But in the spirit of looking beyond that, and also in recognizing that hole will always be there and I need to learn to accept it and maybe decorate it with some throw pillows rather than try to escape all the time, I’m going to reality-check myself about all the things that went right this year, for which I am forever grateful. Here, in no particular order:
– Health. This one’s boringly obvious, but I can’t exclude it. Even though we are all teetering on the brink of congestion, on the eve of hosting a Thanksgiving dinner we’ve been looking forward to for weeks, there is nothing really importantly wrong with any of us. THAT WE KNOW OF. (Sorry. Hypochondriac speaking.)
– My teeth. I may not like my teeth. But my anxiety dream of choice involves them being loose, coming out, crumbling en masse, etc., so every day that I wake up and that hasn’t happened to me feels like a gift.
– My knees. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll have them, since I’ve been trying to run more, and can’t seem to get past the 6.5-mile (and sometimes not even that far) mark without one of them complaining. I’m trying to be careful, stretch, taper down when I need to, but ultimately I think I just have to accept that I’m not built for distance and be grateful they can even take me that far. I have no idea now these marathoners do it without midlife skeleton replacements.
– Friends. All my girls have opened their arms to me and my kids when I need them. I still get teary when I think of them sending flowers to my mother after Dad died, and making sure they were represented at Dad’s funeral. (Jessica flying to Florida with my kids, just so I could be with them when I needed them most, is a gift I’m not sure I can ever properly repay. Because I’ve flown with them. I know.) People I’ve never met thought to donate to TACA in Dad’s name, all because they read GFY and knew I was grieving. I’ve been able to reconnect with some people, locally and afar, with whom I accidentally fell out of touch because life got in the way. I’ve met people we only knew through Twitter, and felt instantly bonded. Lauren moved to Atlanta; I’m thankful she had the guts and grace to take the leap when she needed to, and yet more thankful that we’re still as close as ever, because some friendships are better than geography. It’s so easy for me to get caught up in the daily grind of parenting, of trying to keep the kids from escaping into the street or shoving each other or licking the inside of the fireplace (who knew that was so appetizing…), that I often forget to step back and look at the people in my life who make it possible for me to do anything and stay sane. I forget to reach out to them sometimes. I forget to make them feel important, when they are everything. So I’m grateful they stick with me anyway.
– Diet Coke. I know, I know. But I get so sick of water, you guys. And it’s SO GOOD.
– Spoiled. Jess and I put our baby out into the world this year and it was received with a lot of warm hugs. Publishing a book was so much scarier than hitting “publish” on a blog post several times a day. It was personal in a wholly different way, and it was scary, and yeah, we got our share of “Man, I like their blog, but this book was disappointing/sucky/boring.” But I can deal with all of that because I’m proud of what we did. I know the personal issues I had to try and overcome in the writing of it, and I know how hard we worked, and I will never forget every single time I heard Kevin laugh out loud when he read it. Or the people, friends and Internet friends and strangers, who rallied behind us to let us (and Amazon, and Goodreads) know how much they liked it, and the people whose books we signed — including a copy of Don Quixote on the day we sold out the Menlo Park bookstore, or the photo of J.Lo, or somebody’s Kindle receipt. I’ll always remember the person who brought us a map of all the nearby locales where we could buy a restorative Diet Coke after the signing. So many good experiences came because we put this thing out there, and I’m so glad we did.
– My mom. She’s a master class on coping with grief gracefully. And now more than ever, I appreciate the security you feel when you know your parents are still with you — like it’s an extra layer of defense against life. Our kids will never know what it’s like to have a grandfather. God willing they will get to experience both their grandmothers for a long time, and I’m grateful for that, in part because I want family to be as important to them as it is to me.
– Toast. It’s really good, y’all. Especially with some of Catherine’s strawberry balsamic black pepper jam on it. Oh, that jam. It’s world peace in a jar.
– Homemade ice cream. Kevin got me a Cuisinart ice-cream maker for my birthday, and between the dairy-free cashew-based creams in Vice Creams (they are both scientifically and tastily amazing) and every recipe we’ve tried in the miraculous Jeni’s Splended Ice Creams book, I have been licking some bowls clean this year. The salt caramel one is amazing, but the real happy surprise was how good the banana with white-chocolate freckles was, considering I don’t love white chocolate (but when you caramelize it, as you do for this … it is a string of ecstatic expletives).
– Duck Donuts. Well, mostly, I’m thankful my family still got to reunite in Duck, North Carolina, for a beach vacation. We needed it. We needed each other. And we really needed our now-annual fix of Duck Donuts, made to order and thus eaten warm, and available in a maple glaze that is like heaven. Krispy Kreme, you’re out. (Although I have to confess, they were never really in with me in the first place, but now they’re REALLY out.)
– Diapers. Nothing makes you appreciate diapers like potty training. Truth. And we haven’t even started in earnest yet. Can the dudes wear diapers until they’re six, please?
– Broccoli slaw. I hate broccoli. Like, a lot. But Alton Brown had this recipe for a slaw where you shave the broccoli with a mandoline, throw it in a bowl with some grape tomatoes and chopped pecans, and toss it with a lemony vinaigrette. It doesn’t even taste like broccoli; it’s just light and summery and delicious, and perfect in a sandwich wrap. So I found a way to eat a new vegetable. That’s a big deal for me. I hate eating my vegetables. Now if only I could embrace fruit.
– Eating. I’m only putting this on here because I realized how many of the above involve consuming food. Really, I’m just enjoying doing more cooking this year, even if it’s just a slaw here and there. And I’m really looking forward to doing it with the boys. Liam already likes me to pick him up and show him what I’m cooking, and they both enjoy trying to open the oven (which, mercifully, is way too heavy for me to worry about them succeeding anytime soon). If only they ate with the same enthusiasm they show for watching me prepare food.
– Maria. She’s been our nanny for two years now and she’s a huge reason our boys are so great. She’s also pretty much the only reason I get any work done, have thus made any money, and that I’m able to leave the house to do anything — gym, groceries, doctor, even movies — without panicking. A miracle.
– Directing. Kevin got to do it for network TV this past February, and that is a freaking awesome achievment.
– Parks and Rec. It’s the anti- 2 Broke Girls, which is an exhausting slog of mean-spiritedness tinged with casual racism (a phrase that should never even exist, let alone rewarded with a full-season pickup). You could argue GFY is mean, and I’d counter it — I think we poke fun but with an undercurrent of affection, for the most part — but I’d also say that if we’re occasionally mean it’s not with glee or relish, or even intent. But the marvel of Parks and Rec is that it manages to have ornery characters and lots of snarky banter without a hint of meanness. And it’s hilarious while doing it. I’m just glad this show exists, to prove it can be done, and give me a little reminder that humor doesn’t always have to come from snark.
– Moisturizer. My face has crinkled irretrievably this year — I can’t even look at my forehead without getting upset — so let’s just all say a thank-you to the stuff that is probably at least minimizing the damage of time’s inevitable march.
– Gymboree free play. Oh, how I am grateful for the hours my boys can spend there burning energy. Almost exclusively through playing basketball, which of course we also have at home so WTF dudes, but whatever — I will take it.
– “Hey baby.” My kids are getting more and more verbal, and with it come the most hilarious and rewarding little moments — like when I carried Liam out into the living room yesterday morning and he snuggled into my neck and patted my back and cooed, “Hey baaaaaby,” mimicking the tone I use when he’s not feeling well and I am stroking his back. And when I’ve been gone all day and I come home and Dylan lights up and bolts over for a hug, there is no better feeling in the day. Watching movies with them is a highlight: They anticipate drama with a genuinely worried “UH-OH ______” (fill in the blank with Buzz, truck, ball, Russell, balloon, dog, house… you name it). They can repeat lines before they come. They dance every time Randy Newman sings anything in Toy Story. Liam even likes to mimic everything Carl does in Up: He won’t watch it unless he has a potato masher he can use as a walker, he heaves himself into an armchair with a sign whenever Carl does, and he reads one of his books along with Ellie’s Adventure Book. They like to hug people, wave goodbye, blow kisses, feed everyone (a dubious honor), celebrate basketball shots and good golf putts, and they are generally really happy guys who make us laugh a zillion times with things so tiny as a facial expression and so great as a tickle fight. Parenting is really scary, and I worry all the time we’re not doing right enough by Dylan (he’s still not gaining weight, he’s behind on speech a little), but it really has been a tremendous gift, and it’s worth every thing we have given up doing because now they come first. And I guess that’s one of the big things I’m thankful for most — the existence of these people who constantly remind me that life is larger than just the things that affect me. I’m thankful to have them as reminders that I can and should do better, and be better, all the time. I’m grateful they keep me from wallowing and keep me honest.