How Our Most Disastrous Thanksgiving Turned Into One of Our Best Holidays Ever

The apartment was all packed up and ready to go.

The suitcases were all packed up and ready to go.

And then the baby felt a little too warm.

As I drove her to the doctor just to be sure it was nothing, I mentally rearranged my To Do list to include stopping at the pharmacy to find all the things to help her cold once we flew to Chicago for Thanksgiving the next morning. Anything we happened to have on hand was already taped up in a box somewhere. We had finally sold our apartment, and were taking an extra-long trip to visit family for the holiday. My husband and I were both the youngest children in our families growing up, and we love giving our kids the big, loud holidays we enjoyed during our childhoods. It had been a while since we were all together, and everyone was already waiting for us to arrive, ready to takes the kids off my hands, and preparing the many delicious foods I could not wait to put in my mouth.

The plan was that when we returned home from our extended trip, the moving trucks would be at our door to drive everything we owned to our new home. I had spent months planning every logistic down to the tiniest detail, and it was time for my much-deserved break. The last two years had been rough: I got pregnant just after my son turned one, and ended up being violently ill the whole pregnancy. Having two kids in under two years isn’t exactly the cake walk I had hoped for. Then I needed to both house-hunt with the kids in tow while keeping our place spotless for last-minute viewings (LOL forever!). Then I needed to pack everything pretty much on my own, since work was crazy for my husband. I was so close to getting the break I longed for. Sweet merciful marshmallows did I need a break.

Then the doctor looked in my daughter’s ears.

Though she had looked a little pathetic that morning with her sniffles, she hadn’t been complaining much, so I was surprised when he said she had a double ear infection and wasn’t clear to fly (or travel at all, really). He wanted her to remain close to ensure the medications cleared everything up, that it didn’t escalate.

Our baby was sicker than we had thought.

Our Thanksgiving was cancelled.

Our fun trip was cancelled.

Everything hit me in the car ride home, and I fought tears of frustration (why can’t we get plane ticket refunds if a doctor says we can’t fly?) and guilt (how could I not tell she was so sick?) and sadness (I am missing out on so much family fun and pieeeeee). Now it would be just the four of us alone in an apartment teeming with cardboard boxes and none of our daily comforts. I had already cleaned out the fridge, so we didn’t even have food!

I wasn’t feeling particularly thankful that moment.

But I could not dwell, because my daughter needed to be tended to and my toddler son needed to be played with and my husband needed to be told the news. When he heard how upset I was, he had a suggestion: Why not do our own Thanksgiving? It wouldn’t be the same, but it’d be something, right?

So I headed to the grocery store with the kids, popped them in the cart, and filled it up with all of our favorite foods. I looked up recipes in the cookbooks they had on display, grabbed my husband’s favorite pecan pie and my favorite cherry pie and ice cream for the kids. I found a little turkey and some herbs and lots of butter and potatoes and enough disposable cookware, cups, and cutlery to get us through the days leading up to our move. There were cheapo toys in the seasonal aisle, so I even picked up some distractions for the kids, too.

When we got home, I got to work in caring for my sick kid and entertaining my other kid and setting everything out for Thanksgiving the next day. After that, there were no other chores to do, what with everything being in boxes, so we just hung out together. Eventually my husband got home, and he joined in on the lounging.

On Thanksgiving day, we continued simply hanging out, living out of the suitcases we had packed for the ill-fated trip. I eventually got to cooking, and we cleared boxes from the table to set it up. I have a photo from that day of the four of us settled around way too much food, with all evidence of our home packed up around us. My daughter is bleary-eyed with sickness, my son is in dirty pajamas he had been wearing all day, my husband is missing his parents and sisters, and I’m clearly tired from all the cooking and a clingy sick baby, but the four of us look happy. We were thrown for a loop, none of us getting what we had wanted, yet we found ourselves completely content on our own (and I ended up getting that quiet break I had needed so badly, since there was nothing left for me to do but rest before the move). This was our very first holiday celebrated by just the four of us, despite our having been a family for a while by that point. It was quiet and different than anything we’d experienced before, but it made it perfectly clear that we had all we needed to be happy: each other. That made me feel more thankful than I had felt in a very long time, and that understanding of all I have – even in those quiets moments when there’s nothing left but the four of us – has stuck with me ever since.

Photo: Getty

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