As we sat around our new table in our newly painted dining room on Thanksgiving, after preparing a meal in our newly remodeled kitchen in our old home...
We began our yearly round of 'What I'm Thankful For.'
You know that old saying 'you don't know what you've got until it's gone'? Too true. But, I'll do you one better: You really know what you've missed when you get it back.
What we were thankful for:
The ability to sit around our table as a family and have a meal in our own home.
Having space to invite friends and family to enjoy a meal with us.
A huge refrigerator and double oven.
(Yes, we seriously appreciate the ability to store and cook food for a family of seven.)
All of us, together.
It's hard to really explain what it means to us to have a meal in our new/old home. Just try to imagine our situation. On September 21, 2011, after the firefighters and the Red Cross and neighbors, family, and friends had cleared out we drove to a hotel that would be our home for the next 14 days. Imagine for a minute what it was like to live in 3 separate hotel rooms with our 5 children. This was not a vacation. We did not arrive with luggage.
The kids had never stayed in a hotel so it was really a novel thing in the beginning. "They have FREE breakfast mom!" Thank heavens. Because we had no idea how far our money would last in this situation and no idea how soon the insurance company would pay. By day 14 we were mostly having hot chocolate for breakfast because those continental waffles were no longer appealing. Wonderful people lifted us up and kept us coasting on a constant supply of gift cards, cash, and donations and we were able to take most of our evening meals in a sit-down restaurant.
We began to consider dinner a sacred event. We banned visitors during the dinner hour and made a commitment to just having dinner alone with our children somewhere with a table so we could all sit together. Our days were filled with contractors, insurance agents, good people checking on us and helping us with various tasks, vet visits for the rescued pets...complete chaos. Our kids were grieving and they needed us but we were so busy trying to rebuild our lives that they felt left out. Dinner was our time to be a normal family, if only for an hour.
We kept some snacks and cereal bars in a small plastic tub in the hotel room and made our kids order milk and juice at dinner but really, nutrition was seriously lacking and we were all getting sick of eating out. We were thrilled when we moved into our first rental house. We had an actual refrigerator! And a stove! We could cook!
The excitement wore off fast as we realized we didn't own anything to prepare a meal with. The insurance company supplied a few primitive kitchen staples which might have worked fairly well for a family half our size. It was sort of like camping. We could, theoretically, prepare a meal but it wasn't fun or easy. Gradually, we purchased new pots, pans, and various utensils and meal prep got easier. We enjoyed some food in our home and even invited extended family over to enjoy some meals with us from time to time. It didn't last.
We moved to a new rental house in March and we were suddenly what you might call downsized. The new refrigerator felt like an oversized dorm refrigerator and we couldn't purchase enough food to last more than a few days at a time. In the new rental, the dining room table served as an office for me and as a home base for Operation Rebuild. We installed a large whiteboard to track construction progress and hold lists of items that still needed to be purchased. There were carpet and tile samples scattered everywhere. The kitchen nook held a table that did not hold all of us. Most meals involved sitting wherever you could find a spot and balancing your plate.
Our evenings were also packed with visiting the house to approve things, shopping for things we once owned, supervising contractors, and picking out an endless supply of construction materials ranging from paint and carpet to roofing shingles and faucets. We still considered dinner our sacred hour to regroup, but having dinner at home felt like a massive chore. No one had time to shop every few days and since we couldn't eat together eating at home just was not very appealing.
We all tired of restaurants and we seem to know the managers and waiters at every local eatery for 15 miles. We don't even need menus anymore. We had to create new family rules for ordering at restaurants to make sure the kids were getting some kind of nutrition. No soda. No fries. The vegetarian must order a protein. Fruit is your side option. Chocolate chip pancakes are not a meal. Honey mustard is not a side dish.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving.
We are living back in our HOME. There is no construction progress board because what is left to complete is extremely manageable. We have, according to the kids, a giant refrigerator. We have a pantry. We have a deep freeze. We can store an adequate amount of food for a family of 7 and not spend half of our week at the grocery store. Seriously. We can buy 4 bottles of milk and still have room to store a 22-pound turkey. Squee!
We have a sink and a prep sink. That means 1 kid can peel potatoes and 1 kid can rinse dishes without touching each other. (Can you hear the angels singing?) We have an island where several of us can prepare food at once. That means 1 kid can peel potatoes, 1 can make a crust for the dessert, 1 can mix pumpkin pies, I can make deviled eggs, and the Big Guy can put together a vegetable casserole, all while facing each other and talking as loudly as possible about 4 different topics so no one can hear themselves think. Yep. We're HOME.
When we've put together a fabulous home-cooked meal, we can all gather around 1 table and enjoy that meal together while we reflect on what we're thankful for.
I never knew how important it was for us to be able to prepare a meal together and to be able to sit together in a place we call home and eat that meal together. I'm thankful that we've learned that lesson. I'm thankful that we had each other to learn that lesson with. I'm thankful we've come through this ordeal together. I'm thankful it's over.
I'm thankful we're home.