The older you get, the less you need a day to remind you to give thanks. I was always taught the value of the things I already had and perhaps that's something all kids need to learn. My family immigrated from Russia when I was three, going on four. I remember my eyes lighting up when I was given a banana. I'd never seen bananas before. It might seem silly and I was too young to understand it at the time, but I remember my mom looking just as excited watching me eat that banana because she was so proud to be able to give me something I never had before.
I was allergic to almost everything I was fed until I was five-- a big reason for my family to move to the United States was for the quality of health care and medicine. Despite getting sick so often, I was glad to start preschool on time. Because my dad's engineering degree and my mom's passion for history didn't count for much in the US, my parents enrolled themselves in optometry school so they could study and learn English together. More than anything else, they wanted my sister and I to have a comfortable life with more opportunity than they grew up with-- what most immigrant parents want for their kids.
My mom and dad took turns walking me to preschool. Every day, I came home with new English words to teach everyone at the dinner table. We ate and then retreated to the TV to watch American sitcoms to pick up on expressions, and sarcasm, which, I now speak fluently. 'Friends' was a family favorite, even though I was probably too young to make sense of the witty, adult humor. Learning English that way made me a much funnier child-- so much drama and misunderstanding, but my sister's friends found it hilarious.
Although it took us five years after moving to the states to finally figure out why Americans celebrated turkey day, Thanksgiving was always a special day in our family. For our first few Thanksgivings, we either went to the movies or ordered pizza. Or my mom would cook our favorite family recipes and watch in amusement while my sister and I competed over who could eat more. Most importantly, we appreciated the break from work and big life transitions and enjoyed being able to take a day off.
The day before the long holiday weekend, my 2nd grade teacher had us sit down in a circle and go around saying what we were thankful for. Even though I was raised to say “please” and “thank you” for every meal and kind gesture, when you're so young, you don't immediately understand the meaning of "thank you." I didn't know how not to say "thank you." I just did it because that's what I was taught to say. Being part of an immigrant family, I was always blown away by the kindness of strangers and the older I got, the more I learned that no one has to do anything for you, but there are great people who want to help simply because they can.
Material things always caught my eye and while my focus was typically on trendy clothes, I forgot to notice how hard my family worked to keep me happy. My mom found a hobby of finding knock-offs of the fashions girls wore at school because every mother wants their daughter to fit in. Although I made sure to thank my parents daily, it took me years to understand that it was because of my parents that I had everything I could ever need.
Today, my mom would say, "But it was my job to give you all of those things" and my dad would say "But we had to make sure you had a college education and you were properly prepared for life," but I can't help but consider myself to be incredibly fortunate and I am well aware that there are many young people who can't say they are thankful for the same things.
I'm thankful for my parents who gave up the life they knew to give me a better one. I'm thankful that I have their support. I'm thankful to have parents who are still together and show me what a loving marriage looks like. I'm thankful that I inherited my mom's selflessness and my dad's strong work ethic.
My sister and I are grown up and our family has grown, as well as our Thanksgiving gatherings. It makes me so happy to see that my two nephews are being raised with the same values and humanity we were raised with. I'm usually in charge of the cranberry sauce and stuffing. My sister helps with the main dishes, and because my dad isn't a fan of turkey, my mom makes a delicious ham instead. We sit down at the table, take a group photo and just like the 2nd grade, we go around the table and say what we're thankful for.
What are some of your Thanksgiving traditions? What are you thankful for?
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