Ah, fall is finally here. Cool breezes, blue jeans, hoodies, and warm cider have been ushered in with gratefulness and reverence. Unless you live in the south. Then it’s mostly just wishing it was cooler out while arguing with your kids that if you carve the pumpkins now they’ll be rotted in a week, losing the battle, buying more pumpkins, being consumed by mosquitos, and sweating. There’s just the slightest chance that I was born and raised in a four seasons-type climate and Texas’ hot and hotter/dry and flooded season changes tick me off irrationally. Maybe. Along with the candy corn, Halloween costumes, fake hay bales, and pumpkin-spiced lattes are those signs being sold in every decor section from October through December. Big cursive letters encouraging everyone to “GIVE THANKS” or declare they are Grateful, Thankful, or Blessed for Food, Family, and Fun. 

And okay, I’m kind of basic, and not all of those things sound awful to me. But the blue pickup truck full of pumpkins attached to thankful fall leaf wreaths hit a nerve. I know I should be thankful. I should feel “THANKFUL GRATEFUL BLESSED!” But no.

See, my kids don’t feel generally thankful. (There’s no reason or obligation they should feel gratitude for their adoptions—but their adoption experiences do affect their general moods.) They wish they knew their biological families. They wish they felt the feelings everyone around them seems to feel. It’s unnerving and sad to realize that the general mood of a season can’t be reached. There are only so many pumpkin cookies a person can eat for a hit of endorphins after all. It’s doubly worse for them as they find themselves being told by others how thankful they should be for such loving parents. I think that on some level, of course, they are thankful but mostly, they just really wish people would leave them alone to feel their feelings. 

I’m right along there with them, but for different reasons. I really should be thankful. I get to be the mom to these kids who are wonderful. They frazzle every last nerve in my body, but I am thankful to get to be the one who loves them. I’m annoyed that it can feel so difficult to feel anything besides overwhelmed and frustrated. I want to get into the spirit of thankfulness and togetherness. Mostly, however, I often end up feeling bitter.

My kids were given the short end of the stick and it feels unfair that on top of losing their biological family, they are saddled with a host of mental health issues related to that separation.

Mostly, I wish society as a whole could be more inclusive overall. I want my kids to not feel like the odd ducks when they are seen being themselves. I wish they could exist in a world that didn’t make our lives more complicated by default. 

The thing I wish for most of all is for the people who say things like “you should be so grateful you got adopted by nice people” to stop saying uninformed nonsense that will trigger our kids. They don’t need to be grateful that someone is doing what their biological parents can’t. That’s an unfair expectation. 

Along with that wish, if I’m dishing out unasked-for social commentary, don’t put kids, especially adopted kids, on the spot by demanding they name something they are thankful for at Thanksgiving dinner. I can remember several times when that caused meltdowns. My kid wasn’t thankful to be there. He was afraid. It was his first group gathering with us. There was no food he had ever had before or had any desire to try. He was hungry at midnight when we got home because he was too afraid to ask for something different to eat. The words “unmitigated disaster” could aptly describe our then-foster son’s first Thanksgiving experience. 

I mean, honestly, I don’t like being put on the spot to come up with something I’m thankful for. I can have 10,000 things I’m grateful for, but when I’m asked in a group setting, all of the thoughts in my brain evacuate. It is a code-red, alert-emergency-services event in my head as I stutter trying to think of just one thing to name as my palms get sweaty and my face reddens and then turns pale. It’s not that I’m ungrateful or unthankful. For some reason, if I’m asked a question in front of a group, every thought I have ever had goes away (and I’m not the only one).

So, add to that the increased social interaction (cue the 40,000 events between now and New Year’s Eve), increased sensory overwhelm (Christmas carols, noisy toys, increased shoppers making an increased sound, extra layers of clothes with different textures), and you’re brewing up a perfect storm for a very unhappy kid. 

I want to be clear. I am thankful for my family. I’m glad that if they had to be somewhere besides their biological family that it is with me. I love them. But emotions are messy. Families are messy. Holiday times can bring out the worst in people who are normally a lot of fun to be around. Sometimes I don’t feel as thankful as I really am. I don’t feel thankful when I’ve sat through an hour-long tantrum because I dared to ask my kid to pick up her clothes. She gets so angry sometimes that she says mean things that hurt my heart. She will throw “I wish you weren’t born” and “I wish you weren’t my mom” in my face like grenades and sit back to watch and see what happens. 

I can wait it out. I can be calm and de-escalate the situation. But am I thankful for it? Not really. I could tell you that every part of being their mom is magical but it would be a lie. There are moments I wonder if she is right. Maybe I am a bad mom. Maybe I am mean when I enforce boundaries and rules.  I don’t think I am. I pray I’m not. But the bottom line is I will always love my kids. Just don’t put any of us on the spot about what we’re thankful for.