By Shelley Murphy
Throughout the years, our family has celebrated Thanksgiving in many different places and many different ways. This year is no exception and the most unusual to date.
I know it’s that time of year to count my blessings, but experiencing my first holiday as an empty-nester challenges my math skills.
Last November my younger son spent his Thanksgiving vacation tethered to the computer, racing to meet approaching college application deadlines, pausing only to ask for the security code on my credit card.
He devoted his weeklong holiday to triple checking his applications and essays, his fingers pensively poised over the keyboard before pressing “send” and placing his fate into the inboxes of college admissions officers.
At the time, caught up myself in the college chaos, I didn’t stop to consider the far-reaching effects of his college submissions on future Thanksgivings.
This year the traditional task of dusting off my grandmother’s holiday china and dressing the turkey and the house in all things Thanksgiving feels empty, like my nest. I found my favorite decoration—the perennially popular painted turkey hand. After taking the construction paper card from its seasonal storage box I pressed the tiny handprint to mine in need of tangible proof that my college kids were once little boys living under our roof.
I feel fortunate that my freshman and senior sons attend a college close enough to make the trip home next week. Yet, like many parents, I’m facing the reality of our family being fractured over the holiday. For the first time in the history of our family of four, only three of us will be sharing leftovers.
This Thanksgiving my older son returns home for just a few hours instead of a few days. He’s opted to travel over his holiday break and join the masses taking to the skies. According to Airlines for America, an industry trade organization and advocacy group, he’ll be one of the 25.3 million passengers expected to fly during the holiday. The group also claims the average price of an airline ticket is $369—I’d like to know where they found that deal.
The past several years my son and his high school buddy, now a University of Michigan Wolverine, have tried to schedule a reunion on the Ann Arbor campus. With the clock ticking as graduation approaches for both boys in spring, it’s now or never. My son’s long-awaited trip curiously coincides with the collegiate rivalry football game between Michigan and Ohio State.
My son arrives home around noon on Thanksgiving and leaves for the airport about six hours later. With a nod to Erma Bombeck we’ll gobble dinner between football games: “Thanksgiving dinners take 18 hours to prepare. They are consumed in 12 minutes. Halftimes take 12 minutes. This is not coincidence.”
Thankfully, my younger son will spend his holiday at home.
For many college freshman traveling this Thanksgiving it’s the first time they are returning home for an extended period of time. My son falls into this category; he’s been home exactly one weekend since leaving in August for his college campus.
My son’s sure to spend his homecoming feasting on his favorite home-cooked foods, reuniting with returning high school friends and benefiting from coin-free laundry service.
Based on past experience, I’ll likely recognize the bittersweet changes in my freshman son: increasing independence, budding convictions and growing confidence. I’ll see my son’s subtle shift from the adolescent 18-year-old who left home a few months ago to the mature young man he’s becoming.
Giving it the old college try, I’m adjusting to our boys being young adults with their own busy lives. I realize our future Thanksgiving celebrations may change but hope our day will still focus on food, football and, most importantly, family.
This holiday as my grown boys return to the nest I’ll embrace our quality of time together instead of the quantity and give thanks they’ve flown home.
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband and two sons for the past 14 years. She’s a freelance writer and contributor to the SC Times since 2006.