Thanksgiving Growing Up
Growing up my parents were amazing cooks and especially so around the holidays. We were not rich by any means but we had 3 freezers filled with various meats. Dad was the one in charge of the big bird on Thanksgiving, cooking it to perfection, along with Mom cooking all the yummy sides. She always took extra time to prepare the dining room with a gifted Liberian tablecloth, hand-polished silver, and bone china.
We helped with pouring the drinks and putting all the sides on the table. Mom worked very hard to have all the food hot whereas Dad was a little bit more laid back. It was the daily dose of tension at most of our meals. How long would it take Dad to get to the table? haha Now with both of them gone, I so wish I could make these memories come back to life. I wouldn’t stress near as much about whether our food was hot or feeling like I was the only one helping before dinner. I’m sure these stressors accompany every family, holiday or not. Before we would eat, we would always say grace. That is not unusual but in our Dutch family, we would also read the Bible and say thank you after the meal. My family feels so broken now without my Mom and Dad and the loss of these traditions.
Why does it take losing someone to really see and understand how they formed your soul? I couldn’t have been any closer to my Dad than I was yet over time my appreciation for all his sacrifices continues to grow each year. What I didn’t know growing up, he was not my real Dad. I was two when he met my Mom. They fell in love and got married. Every year they discussed when the right time would be to share the news with me. It wasn’t an easy decision and each year it got tucked away, hoping the next year would be better timing. But in April of 1983, the time had come. I was turning 17 and my Dad wanted to officially adopt me before I turned 18.
It was a late afternoon while I was watching tv with my Dad that he told me Mom had something she wanted to talk to me about. Well, that is bound to send fear to any teenager’s heart. I expected the worst. When I asked him what it was about he kept saying, “Your mother will tell you.” Well, that just made it worse. Tell me what?! This back and forth went on for quite some time. I finally broke him down and he shared the news I never saw coming. “I’m not your father.” I still feel the emptiness of that moment. Immediately I fell to my knees crying with my head buried in his lap. He kept saying over and over, “I love you, I love you.” Within seconds, maybe 15-20 seconds – it was quick, I pulled myself together and said, “I’m okay.” I had put myself in his position and knew this had to be hard for him to share. This man had chosen me and I was so grateful. So on some level I really was okay.
Looking back I can tell you today that the moment was so raw and vulnerable, which is why I quickly shut that door. I told him I was fine and when my Mom walked in from shopping, I told her I was okay, not even letting her sit down before telling her I knew about the news. At the time, I needed everyone to stay in the bubble I had been in all my life. It was too much to take in and like usual, I was making sure everyone else was okay. (Where was Brené Brown when I needed her!)
Fast forward a couple of months later, we drove down from Orlando to Ft. Lauderdale to meet with a judge who would make the adoption legal. Why so far away? To make sure it didn’t show up in our local newspapers. There was still so much shame around having a child out of wedlock. I wish I could tell you this was a beautiful moment between my Dad and me but going through the steps of being legally adopted was awkward. I didn’t need any paperwork to state he was my Dad. He had been my father in every true sense of the word. And when the judge asked me if I accepted Edwin Fredrick Sheets to be my father, I was a bit afraid I would get in trouble if I said no. (haha) I hated saying yes to a question that was already burned in my heart with love, not paperwork.
Funny how today I am a stepmom and for the most part, the blended family has come easy to me. I never and still do not refer to my Dad in the technical sense of being a stepdad. I think my sister and brother, who are actually my half-sister and half-brother have it ingrained in them, as well, that we are a biological family, not a blended one. I’ve never had children of my own, mainly because I didn’t want to pass on my bad traits or ever lose a child to estrangement. I was blessed to have met a counselor to do my own work and clear up the cobwebs of why certain things had happened in the family and hopefully change myself for the better. Thankfully, my own stepchildren had and have a strong family of origin. My hope is that only the good parts of me rubbed off on them and not the bad. I didn’t have marriage nor kids in my desired future but I can say both have been pure miracles of God.
Now I can say I know exactly how my Dad felt about me. The same way I feel about my stepson, Austin, and stepdaughter, Chandler. I have an unbelievable love for them and am excited when they are happy and sad when they go through rough patches. Nothing I have earned is mine anymore. I want to give them everything they need and want. I want nothing more than for them to succeed in life and feel loved by me.
So this Thanksgiving the way I say Grace is by saying, “Thank you, God, for the many blessings you have given me, both with my amazing husband and the two gifts named Austin & Chandler.”
Happy Thanksgiving to You and Your Family!
I will praise God’s name in song and glorify Him with Thanksgiving. –Psalm 69:30
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