Category Archives: family

The Empty Seats at the Table


Last year, our Thanksgiving was a small affair. Small as in the four of us. Schedules and sickness prevented either side of our family from spending the holiday with us.

Instead of bucking tradition, Mike and I did everything we would’ve done had we actually hosted a feast for everyone. We cooked a big turkey on the rotisserie and made gravy from the drippings, and we prepared side dishes, including mashed potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, and Brussels sprouts. I put out a few cheeses and dips, and we watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on television. The kids went for a swim, rode bikes, and played video games. The difference came when it was time to eat. Setting the dining room table seemed silly, so we ate dinner in front of the television.

Everything was fine. The food was fine. The kids were fine. The clean up was fine, but I was not fine. For years, our parents had been the center of our holiday rituals and traditions, and as we ate our Thanksgiving dinner with plates in our laps while browsing the DVR, I realized that framework was fleeting. We had always been supporting actors in a Thanksgiving play starring the elders of our family, and their absence, whether it was temporary or not, made me feel lost and alone. My husband and kids surrounded me, but all I could see were the empty seats at the table.

“We’re not doing this next year if it’s just the four of us,” I told Mike as I loaded the dishwasher for the third time. “We have to make new traditions.”

I wanted a fresh start.

Now, I’m shopping for sunscreen instead of sweet potatoes because instead of setting the table for Thanksgiving at home, we’re setting sail on a family cruise. It’s the fresh start I wanted, but it doesn’t feel exactly how I thought it would.

I should have known that avoiding a traditional Thanksgiving wouldn’t make the empty seats at the table any less empty. I should’ve known that I’d pack those empty seats and take them with me just as I carry their weight in my heart at home. I should’ve known that all of my Thanksgiving memories and expectations would serve as an impossible comparison no matter the locale.

As I rummage through drawers and closets looking for everything we need to pack for our getaway, I’m also searching for gratitude – for the rituals and traditions our parents have lovingly passed down to us, for the opportunity we have to make new ones with our kids, for the seats that won’t be empty this year, and, most of all, for the beloved memories of the seats that will never be filled again.

Wishing you love, peace, and gratitude this holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Filed under family, Thanksgiving

The Sandcastle

We took the kids to the beach near Grandma and Grandpa’s condo. We parked the car in their building’s garage and embarked on the familiar one-block walk to the boardwalk that we’d done since Dylan was a baby.

Mike dove straight into the ocean for a quick swim. Then, he and the boys got to work building a massive sandcastle. First, there was moat digging. Then, there was barrier wall construction. Next, there was tower formation. The waves were high and rough, so the barrier wall had to be reinforced multiple times. I stepped in toward the end to add some cosmetic finishing touches to the tower section. The sandcastle was awesome.

When it was time to go, Dylan began to cry.

“Why are you crying?” I asked him.

“I don’t want to leave the sandcastle,” he said.

“Oh honey, we’ll build another one next time. It was fun to make this one, but it’s the ocean’s job to wash it away.”


“Remember the awesome sandcastle we made in Naples? And the one we made here the last time?  Sandcastles aren’t forever, but it’s okay,” I said. “We’ll build another one.”

Mike added, “This is just one memory of a lifetime of sandcastles we’re going to build together.”

More tears.

The thing is, we weren’t talking about sandcastles.

We were talking about Grandpa.

We were talking about how Grandpa doesn’t feel well and how he isn’t as strong as he used to be and how he has a hard time remembering things.

We were talking about how Grandpa and Grandma are moving and how the moving truck was scheduled to come the very next morning.

We were talking about how they’re moving to a place that isn’t far away, but isn’t near the beach.

We were talking about how they’re moving to a place where Grandpa can see doctors whenever he needs help.

We were talking about big stuff. Adult stuff. As the waves inched closer and closer to the sandcastle’s barrier wall, we were talking about love and loss and change.

This intuitive and emotional child of mine feels everything but is too young to understand  how to process all of it, so he wept about a sandcastle.

“Will you take a picture of it before we go?” he asked.

“Of course,” I said.


We’ll remember this sandcastle forever.










Filed under boys, family