Our Thanksgiving looked different this year. Usually we have at least a few households of our family gathering together, everyone pitching in to bring a dish and help clean up. But this year, celebrating with only our household, it was different. In the 24 hours surrounding Thanksgiving dinner, I found myself in the kitchen more than not: peeling sweet potatoes, boiling cranberries, sauteing vegetables for the cornbread stuffing.
This year it was the five of us making the dinner, and there were times I wondered “could we do without this dish?” if it meant I could get off my feet and go to bed.
But when we finally gathered for the meal, it was worth it. I heard my kids declaring which part of the meal they liked best. I heard them say it was the best meal of the year. And truly, there is nothing like a Thanksgiving dinner. All of the hours in the kitchen were worth it because that meal, like so many other family traditions, is a brick in my childrens’ foundation.
This Spring, it was quite unnerving to work in the medical field. I had the PPE I needed. I felt supported at work. But facing a virus that we didn’t know much about, trying to keep up with the news and changes at work as they consumed me, there were days I was just trying to hold it together.
On one of those days, I was walking around my neighborhood with my dogs when I heard the bells from my church almost a mile away. We haven’t been to church in person since COVID came around.
But the sound of those bells represented so much to me that I found myself stopping to listen to them, because they brought me peace. The bells are a brick in my own foundation.
As parents, we spend a lot of time and effort building a foundation for our kids. And some days, I might question whether any of it matters. But then I remember the first year my husband and I were dating, in 1997.
He had talked so fondly about the train his father placed around the Christmas tree each year. So I put a $350 train on layaway and spent 6 months paying it off so I could give him his own train that year. It’s the train that still goes around our tree. It’s the train my kids now love. It is a brick in our foundation.
I think of my daughter saying that she loves the smell of the heater in the front room of our house because it reminds her of the holidays. And how all three kids were incensed that we weren’t going to order Chinese food after decorating the house last year.
So as hard as it is to keep the traditions going this year, let’s keep trying. Some traditions will not happen this year. Some of us will need to build new traditions due to loss, or life circumstances, or strained family relations. Indeed, if you were not given a stable foundation in your own upbringing, you can stop the generational deficit and start building one for your own children.
When you don’t think you have the energy to make one more Shabbat dinner, or decorate the homemade Christmas cookies, or drag your kids to events they complain about, or drive to a relative’s house across the country, remember that you are building a foundation.
And every single brick we can put in our kids’ foundation matters. Family. Love. Support. Encouragement. Faith. Education. Treating people right.
I like the Cambridge Dictionary’s definition of foundation: “the structures below the surface of the ground that support a building.”
And I like the imagery of giving my children their foundation brick by brick by brick, until it supports them. Until it gives them the stability to keep building their lives on their own, in good times and bad, no matter what life throws at them.
As they venture out into the world and make their own lives, hopefully the work I’ve put into their foundation will hold them up. Hopefully, they will feel the steadiness of their foundation throughout their lives.
And, hopefully, there will be something like the sound of church bells, or a Christmas tree train, or the taste of a Thanksgiving dinner, that will ground them when their own lives seem to be falling apart.