The holidays are a strange time to be a parent without kids around.
One of mine is grown and has a child of her own now, she and her husband had plans for Thanksgiving that didn't include coming back to her hometown.
The other is in college a few hours away, and I assume had plans with friends. Phone and email didn't connect; chatting with parents is probably not a high priority on the way-to-spend-a-day-out-of-class list.
This is all as it should be; you hope your children grow up to be independent and busy, with relationships to tend to, places to go, people to see, things to do. It beats the alternative.
No parent's dream is to have their kid residing in their basement poking away at an Xbox in their underwear, drinking straight out of your milk carton, dealing weed and sending texts with atrocious grammar - when they are twentysomething, thirtysomething or fortysomething.
Reality today is that relations end up spreading far and wide like a geographic sneeze, wherever the winds of opportunity takes them, and it's okay.
The classic image of the entire five-generation clan hunkered over a huge turkey dinner that would feed half a third-world nation in a perfect Victorian-looking dining room is becoming rarer all the time. More likely you have offspring checking in via Facebook while in line for the Black Friday fiasco at their nearest mall, you see grandchildren decorating the Christmas tree for the first time on Instagram, aunts and uncles send photos of their Thanksgiving meal via cell, and instead of arguing with your siblings about your respective favorite football teams in the living room back home, you're doing is by text messaging from different states during the insurance commercials. Sorry, Flo.
As great as it is to see your children moving on and creating lives of their own, the process of letting go is seldom easy for a parent, and the holidays, when it seems like everyone should be together, is even more awkward.
For all of those years, you planned holidays. You helped little hands trace turkeys using their fingers and crayons, you practiced roles in which your offspring would portray pilgrims and Indians in the school play, you got up early to watch the parade on TV, you played silly boardgames, you worked hours in the kitchen to have the iconic Thanksgiving dinner with all trimmings. Every minute scheduled with the utmost of expectations.
And now, you don't have to, and possibly you couldn't even if you wanted to.
Can you work on Thanksgiving this year? Yeah, I guess I can. Can you volunteer serving needy people somewhere, visit the nursing home, or spend a couple of hours at Santa's Castle? No reason why not, really.
Can you forego the hours of cooking? Heck yeah.
If you feel like a dinner of Thanksgiving tacos or Thanksgiving spaghetti, there's no culture police that are going to pull up and haul you away for violating the Butterball doctrine.
I would advise against the Hungry Man turkey TV dinner, however. I'm pretty sure there's nothing in there actually made out of a bird, and I guarantee you will manage to burn yourself taking it out of the over trying to substitute your shirttail for an oven mitt.
What if you don't care about giant Macy's balloons or the Detroit Lions? There's no one to tell you that you can't spend the holiday listing to Kid Rock CDs, watching "Die Hard" movies, fishing or cleaning the basement. The concept of "Friendsgiving" seems to be catching on too - if families can't be together, you make a gathering of whoever, wherever. Or you can call someone you haven't spoken to in years, bury a rusty old grudge. The holidays are the perfect excuse.
There is also something to be said for not having to put up with the drunk uncle who spills on your carpet and likes to "accidentally" bump up against your girlfriend, the spoiled brat kid who won't eat any of the 14 dishes you cook and demands Goldfish crackers, or your emo teenage niece or nephew who every year stomps away from the gathering over some dramatic imagined tragedy and slams the bedroom door hard enough to knock it off the hinges.
For very few people is Thanksgiving really the Hallmark card holiday, or Christmas either, but when you're used to family or a crowd of friends, and are suddenly in a quiet house or apartment, it is easy to imagine that everyone on earth except you is living the greeting card fantasy.
Loneliness can be a challenge, especially on the holidays.
You don't want to spend it hanging on social media, comparing your insides to other people's seemingly perfect outsides. You don't want to lay around in your pajamas all day, letting yourself get depressed about what the holiday isn't. You really don't want to decide that drinking will make it better. You have to get up and get out, even if its only to get a little fresh air. You can still have gratitude for your life, even if you are alone, or separated from people you love.
It's easy to get emotionally disconnected at holiday time, amid all the hype about togetherness.
I missed seeing my kids this holiday. They've turned out to be interesting people with interesting thoughts, and it's good to talk to them, in person or otherwise. Not being with them doesn't mean I'm not thinking about them. But I'm taking a holiday from fretting about holidays. Feel free to join me.