Inside the Sandwich: The Empty Seats at the Table By Amelia Blades Steward


Ah, the holidays! Just when I thought things were getting easier – no more racing to the store on Black Friday to get the latest toy – remember Furby toys and Nintendo Game Boys? Instead, as a mother of a college student and young adult, I now have to figure out how to get quality time with my kids over the holidays – sharing them with work, friends, girlfriends and their myriad of social activities. When they were young, I never had to worry about whether I would eat Thanksgiving turkey with my children, but instead stewed over whether they would have good table manners around my relatives and whether I could keep them calm as the Christmas decorations came out of the attic that weekend.

I remember the week before Thanksgiving several years ago when my oldest son called to inform me that he may not have time for all of the family gatherings planned for the upcoming holiday weekend. I couldn’t believe my ears. I knew he was overwhelmed with numerous college papers and exams (and probably sleep deprived), but I didn’t think we had come to that time of life where we may not eat Thanksgiving dinner together. I wondered if this was going to be the beginning of new traditions for our family? And, who was going to tell my mother that my son may not be at Thanksgiving dinner? I promptly told him, it would not be me.

As I contemplated his words, I took the advice of a wise friend, took a deep breath and tried not to react. I talked to my son about how much it would mean to all the relatives to have him at the various family dinners. I explained how much they all looked forward to seeing him again since he had been away to college. None of my responses swayed his thoughts. Finally, I decided to get to tell him the reason I wanted him there and ended the phone conversation by saying, “Really, what is most important is for me to spend time with you this weekend.” He answered on the other end, “Why didn’t you just say so, Mom?”

I continue to learn from my children. Although some days seem like they are slipping away from me (and I know they are), I learned from my son that holiday that they still want to know we love them and want to spend time with them. The result that particular Thanksgiving was that my son did attend all of the Thanksgiving dinners (even making a dish of his own to contribute). We all even enjoyed going to the movies together one night – just the four of us.

This year, I am faced with my youngest son being away at college in Ireland. There will be empty spaces at the table this year for him and for my dad, who recently passed away. Change is inevitable and our family traditions can’t live on forever as children grow up and relatives pass away. I am grateful, however, for the years we all sat together and gave thanks for family and the bountiful table. Those memories continue to live on in my heart this year even with empty seats at the table.

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