The Teeny Tiny Thanksgiving

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET

Divorce puts an interesting spin on the holidays. Six years after my initial separation, they are getting easier and more routine. I have become accustomed to either having our home roaring at 180 decibels with the swarming of children and relatives or the deafening silence that comes with being a holiday orphan when the kids are with their dad.

The first Thanksgiving we spent as a divorcing family was nearly unbearable. My ex had the kids that year. I couldn't see myself as one of those sad people sitting alone at a holiday buffet at a local hotel or cafeteria. At the same time, I could not stand the thought of hanging out with an intact family that was doing nothing but complaining about how much they all got on each others nerves when my family had just exploded.

It was all I could manage to do to put myself in the car and drive to the Burger King to get a Whopper, no onions, cut in half. It seemed ironic to "Have It My Way" when what I wanted more than anything was to be sitting around the table with the family I loved.

By the time the next Thanksgiving rolled around, I realized that while my divorce had put me on a path that I didn't plan on, it did present a new opportunity to develop new traditions for my revised little family of three. As the pain started to subside, we began all kinds of new holiday rituals around our house.

My one goal that year was to be mistaken by the neighbors for Martha Stewart on my block. Perfect house, perfect meal, the perfect holiday experience. Forget this single mother thing, I had my act together. I could do this!

That year, I was determined that we wouldn't miss a beat and even though there were only three of us, we would invite people over and with a home teaming with activity have the best possible Southern Living-esque Thanksgiving dinner ever served. I was a frazzled mess. I burned almost everything and when my four year old finally asked if she could make Cocoa Pebbles for dinner, I sat down on the couch and put my head in my hands.

That was the last time I attempted a large holiday dinner.

In my efforts to maintain the status quo, I had lost the meaning of the day. Time to regroup. Develop a new plan. All of that led to The Teeny Tiny Thanksgiving.

Two days before the next Thanksgiving with the kids, I prepared the list of ingredients we would need. Everything that I purchased was small. Baby carrots, tiny squash and zucchini, miniature apples, baby peas, mini corn on the cobs, three Cornish hens, little red potatoes. We cut green beans into ½" pieces. We made tiny pecan pies, mini muffins and cupcakes.

We spent all day talking about our blessings. The kids sat at the kitchen counter bar coloring pictures of our feast. They explained to me what pilgrims were and where Plymouth Rock was located. They made decorations to put on our table and in the dining room. We set the table with little plates, little forks and the smallest glasses in the house. They basted the Cornish hens and assisted with meal preparation. We never once turned on the television.

After cooking all afternoon with the kids, we put our spread out on the table in the dining room. The table is only 4.5 feet long but we covered it with teeny, tiny bowls of yumminess and three "individual sized turkeys."

Then we sat down, blessed our meal, pretended to be GIANT PILGRIMS, and gobbled up ALL of it.

Every year since then, whether our Thanksgiving is held on the actual day, or two days before when I have the kids at the first half of the week, their number response when I ask about the menu is "Can we do the Teeny Tiny Thanksgiving again?"

A new tradition was most definitely established.

All across the United States are little families facing uncertain emotions during the upcoming holidays as they go through transformations they didn't anticipate at the beginning of this year. When you are sad, broken or in a dark place, it is extremely difficult to realize that there are blessings everywhere in life, in any adversity, if you search for them. Each experience, good or bad, is an opportunity to live our lives to the fullest.

Our attitude is what makes us move forward or drown in bitterness and despair.

This year, if the soul's season is in the midst of a bleak winter, try this. Get a notebook and every morning when you get up for the next ten weeks write down ten blessings in your life. They can be simple. The trick is to not repeat them. Each one has to be different.

Do you have a roof over your head even if it is not where you want to live? Do you have indoor plumbing? Do you have a job even if it isn't one that you want? Do you have electricity? Do you have a phone? Do you have food in your pantry even if it is a can of Vienna Sausages? Do you have people that you love in your life? Can you walk? Do you have shoes for your feet or a warm coat even if it isn't the latest fashion?

On the pages before you will be 700 separate blessings in your life by the end of this teeny, tiny project. Just two weeks of this exercise turned my "poor me, I am so put upon" attitude around 180 degrees. With 140 blessings written down, I realized I had a lot to live for and so many things for which to be thankful. It was the simple blessings I had clearly taken for granted.

My life has not turned out the way that I planned. It has had plenty of heartache and some incredibly dark twisty moments, but the blessings that I have chosen to focus on keep me going every day. When I get discouraged, I pull out that book from six years ago to remind me how far we have come as a family.

We still have a long way to go but what I have learned in all of this is that in even the worst of circumstances, we can't imagine that one day our painful, difficult experiences may be used for good and provide us with the empathy to help someone else who is struggling. So we take a deep breath and move ahead with thankful hearts. Good things and big blessings can come in very small packages and even the teeniest, tiniest of Thanksgivings can be a fabulous success.