What Should We Be Thankful For?

How do we remember who we are in this modern world? In this installment of “Love, Recorded,” Black Friday strikes, adoption rears its lonesome head, and yet Matt takes a moment in all the noise to give thanks. 

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It happens on Twitter, as most things these days. I tweet that we have nowhere to go on turkey day, and a writer friend invites us to her house, baby and all. I check several times to make sure this is okay with her family. Grace eats like, well, a baby. Watching this process can be alarming, though I have some personal hang-up, Cathreen and I have discovered, with eating habits. I remember my father chasing me around the table to eat my broccoli. I mean this literally. It left, figuratively, a bad taste in my mouth?

This friend is also a Korean adoptee. I heard from another adoptee recently that Thanksgiving is particularly hard. I am always finding out about hard days for adoptees. For me, there is no hard day in particular. There is a rock in my stomach that is always there, but also, is always there.

No family this year. Though fewer expectations perhaps could be a good thing.

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Often, when I think about Thanksgiving, I think about the moment in a Jhumpa Lahiri story where the narrator and her family sit down to dinner with a white family and someone toasts to “Thanksgiving with the Indians.” I’m sorry, the man says, but I never thought I’d get the chance to say that.

I wonder if Lahiri ever heard this joke in person.

My own experience with the holidays seems always in getting my hopes up. It’s a lot of pressure, that certain days should be better spent than others, just because someone/history, has said so. Especially when the circumstances—travel, awkwardness, a family that doesn’t drink—do little to increase the odds of enjoyment.

My wife and I seem to have our worst fights on holidays, birthdays, anniversaries. Maybe because our families live on different continents, and one of us is always more alone than the other. Or maybe I do have hard days, maybe I always feel more alone on days society sets aside for family, and this is another thing about adoption that I am in denial about.

I think it will be nice to spend a holiday with another adoptee. Maybe we need a holiday adoptees can celebrate together, something that has nothing to do with birth or culture or shopping or gifts or any of the other loaded words that go along with switching a baby from one family to another.

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Early afternoon, after trying to store up sleep for Black Friday, we pack Grace’s booster seat and backup formula and bottle and extra nipples and diapers and change of clothes and this and that into the car. We get on the road and Cathreen predicts Grace will fall asleep halfway there, i.e. with not enough time left for a full nap. Grace likes to look out the window, while listening to a song about looking out the window. I’ve removed the headrest from the front passenger seat so she can see where we are going. Cathreen rides in the back with her.

Grace falls asleep halfway there. We are getting to know our child.

My friend lives in a beautiful house on a hill. Her aunt is visiting from out of town, and she asks how we know each other. I know it sounds strange to say, “the internet,” but I say it. Grace is shy and tired at first and then attaches herself to the other kids, and eventually to my friend. By the end of the night, she will be in my friend’s lap. Cathreen will ask whether I feel weird about this, but I don’t. I love that we have a few minutes free from the gravity of our child, where for a little while we can hold each other and appreciate the beautiful girl we’re raising. It is different when she is sucking you into her orbit and you can’t break free long enough to see her for who she is. Those photos of the Earth from space—it’s like that; you forget you even live on a planet in an enormous universe, when you are surrounded by the noise of surviving.

The food is amazing, but I don’t get to eat much until it is fairly cold. Grace wants to explore. I follow her around this beautiful house until my wife has finished eating. Eventually, my friend leads her two kids and mine on a parade, a trick I file away. Grace carts around various stuffed toys that used to belong to my friend’s now-teenage daughter. How remarkably well-adjusted this daughter is. I can’t help bringing it up—the hope this gives us, that one can raise a child to be something other than the monsters we see on television.

We leave with leftovers and all of the old toys. A good day. Which of course we must ruin with shopping.

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I have never done Black Friday before. I didn’t even know it was called Black Friday until last year, when Cathreen took the baby (then 4 months old) at midnight with my mother. I was trying to “finish” revising a novel that is still a project. This Thanksgiving we drive home in time to hit the Target near our house, but when we pull into the lot, it isn’t open yet. There’s a line outside. It seems Massachusetts doesn’t allow retail to open on Thanksgiving, so the sale can’t start until 1 am. This is surprising twice over, that we will have to keep the baby up all night, and that there is a line down the block five hours early.

We go home and I watch the Patriots win—another small gift—and then we pack up the baby stuff again and I feel my hopes ever rising. I try to focus on needs. We need Christmas gifts, and also a vacuum, a toaster. We are not going to shop.

Near midnight, we drive to Burlington, to Kohl’s, which my mother is always raving about. Kohl’s won’t open until 1, either. Massachusetts is not the rest of the country, we tell each other, a fact I am usually thankful for. I believe in workers’ rights. I just have a 16 month-old baby.

By the time we get in, there seems already a line at the register. We walk around, but I can’t tell the difference—except in the hour and the level of intensity and exhaustion—between this and any other sale. We didn’t get a cart. I am carrying the things we think we need. When we find the line stretching across the store at almost 3 am, we leave everything behind.

We go back to Target. The baby is still awake. The baby is still awake! But we find a vacuum and a toaster and baby things and even gifts. I get cranky, arguing everything. In the morning, it will still be Black Friday, but I am afraid we’ve killed Thanksgiving. The stores have forgotten Thanksgiving ever existed. No one is giving thanks. Everyone is tired and angry and broke. Cathreen and I look at each other and say we are never doing Black Friday again. The baby is still awake. I try to remember Thanksgiving, to remember we were somewhere quiet and well-fed before our shopping exhaustion.

But maybe we need Black Friday. I wonder. This is Thanksgiving now. Maybe we need to remember how rare a moment of peace is. I think about Grace in my friend’s lap, the way we watched our daughter with someone else and appreciated that we were her parents. The baby is still awake, but she will be asleep soon, and isn’t it nice that we have her for both, that we have her with us as we do something crazy? There is so much in our modern lives that is a complete mess. Not necessarily things we have messed up, but things that start out a mess. Information everywhere. Advertisements, loose ends, social networking, scattered attention spans. And yet somewhere in the midst of all the status updates, all the lonely longing crowded out by the noise of everyone else’s lonely longing, there are instants of reconfiguration. Someone you know mostly online can reach through the wires and say, come over, it is time we spent some life together. Someone can lift your daughter onto her lap and change the way you look at things. A moment can be as big or as small as a birth, a handshake, a shared look, a departure from the orbit of modernity.

We stand in the cold of the parking lot, and I look up, breathing steam. I look up, we look up, we see a few stars that beat out the light from the shops. I wonder, when we down here think about all that endlessness above, do we always imagine other worlds, or do we ever imagine the view, from out there, of the very ordinary magic of ourselves standing on solid ground and taking a moment to ponder existence? Do we ever wonder what it is like, really, to see two people next to each other share a connection, something all so common, but also, all so common? Do we take enough time to look at ourselves from the outside in? Do we take enough time?

I load the things into the car and Cathreen says we got what we needed, so the night was a success. Yes, I think, are we still awake? We got what we needed, the night was a success. Are we still awake?

 

photo Flickr/powerpig set-ups

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About Matthew Salesses

Matthew Salesses contributed to the very first day of The Good Men Project. He writes the "Love, Recorded" column about his wife, baby, and cats. He has written for The New York Times, NPR, the Center for Asian American Media, Salon, The Rumpus, and others. He is the author, most recently, of Different Racisms: On Stereotypes, the Individual, and Asian American masculinity. See more at his eponymous website. Contact him via email or @salesses.

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