Not Invited to the Family Thanksgiving Dinner
Next week is Thanksgiving in the United States. We celebrate with a big feast of turkey and mashed potatoes, various sides, and lots of pie. But this year I was not invited to the family dinner. It’s not the first time. When my parents moved to my state two years ago, I knew things would change. I just thought it would mean that I was expected to show up to huge extended family holiday celebrations. I had mixed feelings about that. For most of my married life I have lived far from most of my family. But I have hosted many holiday meals over the years. I think I cooked the whole Thanksgiving meal for 15 out of 20 years of my married life. We’ve had college aged siblings at school in town for many years. This year my family was fishing for a host and I figured they expected me to volunteer. I didn’t want to. I already invited everyone over once this month for my daughter’s birthday, and my house is the smallest. And I’m just tired. So I didn’t volunteer.
So I didn’t get invited. Everyone else is having Thanksgiving without me and my family. Three sisters, but not this sister. We are allowed to come for dessert. Not sure if I want to because I am feeling really injured.
The reason they give is that there are too many people and not enough chairs. Since when do people need chairs to eat? Or couldn’t we eat in shifts, feeding the younger kids first, or some other solution? That is kind of funny, when I think of church rhetoric talking about “no empty chairs” ingrained in cultural dialogue. I have heard it many times, though I am not sure where it originated. The imagery is powerful, a great heavenly feast with a chair for everyone. The chairs representing the unique position of each person in the family that can’t be filled by anyone else, and that they are all part of a forever family. The empty chair is the one left empty by someone rejecting, not qualifying, or for some other reason absent from the celebration in the celestial abode. Also funny, because at my house we don’t actually have enough kitchen chairs for my whole family to sit, but we cobble things together and still eat together most days of the week.
This isn’t the first time. In fact, since moving here, my parents haven’t invited my family and my sister’s family over at the same time. I have 8 children and she has 7, so that is a lot of children. But no more than my mom had. I would hope she would be sensitive to the feeling of being left out because you have too many children. Except I don’t remember my family ever being left out growing up. My grandparents had us over anyway, even when their house was small and another large family of cousins was coming too. I have shared with my mom how this has happened to me in other contexts. There are lots of extended family events my family and I don’t get invited to. Maybe people think we’re too busy. Maybe they think our family is too big. I don’t know. Ironically, I felt a huge amount of pressure from my extended family to have all these kids. This is the type of family I grew up in. Large families were very much a part of our responsibility in our brand of Mormonism. I never would have suspected that would lead to exclusion.
Soon after they moved here, there was the Easter dinner where my brother and his family were in town visiting my parents. My local sister’s family was invited to join, but mine was not. I had been told Grandma was going to hold an Easter egg hunt, but then we weren’t even invited to that. I saw a handful of pictures on social media and realized we had been excluded. The next year we did get invited for Easter, but there were no cousins there, so really not as fun for my kids.
Perhaps the reason given – that there aren’t “enough chairs” — is really the reason they didn’t invite us. But it still hurts. I can’t help thinking my family is excluded because we no longer subscribe to Mormonism. We never talk about our change of beliefs with extended family, because that seems to be what they are comfortable with. Are they scared of me and my kids? They just want to play with their cousins like any kids. I feel like I have been respectful, keeping my unorthodox opinions to myself, but the distance is vaster and wider than ever. I don’t feel comfortable sharing with them about my troubles and worries. No one calls to chat. And I am supposed to take it in stride when I am not invited and everyone else is.
I wonder what they think about eternal family now. Are they worried about empty chairs at their heavenly feast while using the excuse of ‘not enough chairs’ to exclude some from the feast here and now? An empty chair at a family dinner, empty chair at a wedding celebration, an empty chair at a funeral. They are felt deeply. If empty chairs represent a failure of one kind or another, what does “not enough chairs” represent? When I picture a heaven, I can only imagine it as heaven if it is more loving and more inclusive than anything experienced here. In reaching for heavenly ideals, I think there will always be a place for everyone. Chair or no chair.