This Thanksgiving, I Was Truly Thankful for Family

This Thanksgiving, I Was Truly Thankful for Family

How college, independence, and a different mindset made me truly celebrate the holiday

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This past Thanksgiving holiday, I had the opportunity to return home to Minnesota and spend the break with my family. Having spent the Thanksgiving break at home every year I can remember, I had become accustomed to waving it off as a ho-hum five-day weekend from school. However, attending Emory this fall stirred things up. I arrived in the middle of August and didn't return home until this past Thanksgiving. That period of three months where I was on my own, just me looking out for myself, changed my mindset significantly.

First, and most surprising to me, I truly began to think of Emory as home. Walking up my garage stairs into my house for the first time felt surreal as if I were in a dream, where months had passed by but seemingly no time had passed by at all. Something didn't feel right.

More importantly, my experience made me realize how lucky I was to be returning home. Over those three months, I had begun to miss my family significantly. While not necessarily homesickness, I began to truly appreciate what I had left behind. Separation from loved ones is a moving experience. It's both an intoxicating feeling of freedom yet can be a nervous attack. And while I enjoyed my fall at Emory immensely, I missed the order and familiarity I had enjoyed back home.

One of my first ideas, after I arrived, was to try some true separation from my parents, to gauge my "independence". Fewer phone calls from Mom were answered and more snapchats from my brother went unopened. And honestly, the plan backfired. Turning away the people I depended on the most, even just as some kind of weird experiment, left me more desperate to reach out for communication, jokes, and even validation.

When I finally allowed myself to relent, I had some great moments connecting with my family. Somehow, someway, I even had text conversations with my brother, something that rarely happened before I left.

When I returned home for Thanksgiving, I was able to finally get the full experience. I enjoyed the time off by sleeping, catching up on the video games I had missed out on, going on some runs for the first time in a while, and not opening up my backpack for the whole break. But most important to me was connecting with my family in ways I hadn't for months. Sitting at the table, looking at the people surrounding me made me realize how lucky I was to have people who cared about me enough to send me to Emory, checking up on me and encouraging me throughout.

But not only was it my biological family; I met a whole new family this past fall. The cross country team has been nothing but a joy to take part in, and I owe that to my extended family of runners. They have shaped my perception of college and life drastically for the better, and they have helped me realize the value of family.

If it takes moving a thousand miles away to realize how valuable family is, then maybe there was something I was missing. But regardless, if I hadn't, I wouldn't have had the realization of how much my well-being depends on those people. And thankfully I did, because if there was something extra special about this Thanksgiving, it was being (truly) thankful for family.

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A Letter To My Best Friend On Valentine's Day

Because you are my ultimate Valentine.
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To my beautiful best friend,

Warning: This letter is about to get extremely cheesy. I am talking four cheese lasagna cheesy. But no one deserves a love letter like this more than you do.

This Valentine’s Day, I want to express my love for you. On this wondrous occasion with which most people express their love to their significant other, I want to tell you, my best friend, how much I cherish our friendship.

SEE ALSO: A Valentine's Day Love Letter To My Girl Best Friends

You are the ultimate love of my life. Boys have come and gone but you remain a constant; for that I am grateful. You have been there for me when my family could not be; for that I am grateful. You have been my backbone, my rock, and all those other clichés people use to describe the people they care about, and yet you have been so much more than that as well; for that I am grateful.

All my love this Valentine’s Day goes out to you, my friend, because you do not receive it enough. You have picked me up out of the dirt, brushed me off, and kissed my wounds more times than I can count, and I will never be able to thank you enough for that, but I am sure am going to try.

Thank you for the midnight cries. Thank you for the midnight laughs. Thank you for ordering way too much food with me and still just eating it all. Thank you for the advice, both solicited and unsolicited. Thank you for telling me what I need to hear, even when it isn’t what I want to hear. Thank you for the silly pictures. Thank you for the stupid inside jokes. Thank you for making bad decisions with me. Thank you for laughing with me and laughing at me. Thank you for the endless memories.

SEE ALSO: An Open Letter to the Best Friend I've Ever Had

More than anything, I want you to know that I love you. I love you. You are the family I get to choose, the one I go to when I have nowhere else to turn. You are the one I know I can always run to, whether we saw each other yesterday or haven’t seen each other in a year. You have played a part in molding who I am as a person, and I am so grateful for having such an amazing person affecting my life in such a positive way.

With all the love in my heart,

Your friend
Cover Image Credit: https://www.facebook.com/natalie.pederson.5/photos

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Blood Doesn't Determine Family

Blended families are just as much of a family as a traditional one.

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If you look above, you can see that have a very large family on my mother's side. Between my grandparents, aunts and uncle, cousins and my own immediate family, we're at thirty-three members and counting. All branches of our family tree have busy lives, so we don't get to see each other as much as often as we would hope to. Christmas is the one time a year where we all finally get together for the evening. If you sat in on our holiday party, you may think that we have a couple screws loose, but there is no doubt that you would be able to feel the love radiating from room to room.

If you look at the picture I chose for my header, you can see all of the cousins gathered for our yearly picture. Dysfunctional, of course, but you can tell that love is there. Would it surprise you that out of our entire huge family, less than half of us are blood-related?

I come from a blended family, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Blood does not determine family to us. Love does.

Divorce can be a messy thing, especially when children are involved. Both my aunt and uncle had remarried into relationships that already had children. For the most part, none of us can really ever remember a time when we weren't considered family. We don't ever look at each other as not being related. We never will. Family to us is the love and support that is shared unconditionally between us.

As I said, you would never be able to tell we weren't blood-related unless I told you. Not only do we all look similar to one another (which again is odd, because if the marriages had never taken place, we would just have a ton of doppelgangers running around), but the love and passion that we radiate is unmistakable that we have a bond that will never be broken, let alone determined by biology.

Blended families tend to get a bad rap sometimes from some of the horror stories that can come from second marriages. Not only that, but some people still are stuck in the idea that the only socially acceptable type of family is one where the lineage is clear and concise. Although I can see where these people come from, I don't believe that because there is a lack of shared genetics between all of us, our love is any less strong.

Family is those who will answer a call or text late at night because you need someone to talk to. They're the ones that you end up staying at their house and talking for hours when you meant to make a quick trip in. They are there for you no matter the situation and always believe in you one hundred percent.

Traditional families have a lot of love too, undoubtedly. But please, do not tell me that my family is any less of a family of a family because of its makeup. We have just as much love between us as families with the same bloodline. Blood does not determine the amount of love and affection between all of us. It never will. We will love each other as much as a traditional family. We never look at each other as a mixed family, so please stop treating us as such.

I've said it so many times, but I'll remind you once more. Blood does not determine family, love does-- and I love my family more than life itself.

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