Thanks for Giving (Unsolicited Advice)!

Y’all…can I just be really frank about something? Every year, I dread Thanksgiving. It’s not that I have anything against a holiday which only exists as an excuse for me to stuff my face; in fact, I am thankful for such opportunities. Any excuse to throw down in the kitchen always gets my vote. It’s just that every year, something happens that’s worthy of having “-gate” behind it. Like “White Wedding-gate” last year, in which one of my aunts wanted to discuss whether or not I was sexually active across the Thanksgiving turkey. I’m not making that up even a little bit. So you can imagine my trepidation at going to yet another family gathering for Thanksgiving. I don’t mean the good ones with my mom and immediate family where we eat and laugh and joke, the obligatory showing out of someone happens and we all take it in stride, but the awkward silence, full of moments I’d rather forget, extended family ones.

I was happy, then, to spend Thanksgiving this year at my apartment alone, catching up on my spring cleaning. I trudged load after load of clothes to the laundry facility, which I had all to myself, and moved around my furniture until I was satisfied with the way the apartment was coming together. I went out and bought a massive amount of groceries and had a simple dinner before my TV. It was great. But it was missing that certain Thanksgiving something. It didn’t have any macaroni and cheese, collard greens, turkey, or sweet potato pie (OK, so there was a store bought pie, but that’s nowhere near the same). As much as my family gets on my nerves, I kind of missed them.

However, it didn’t make much sense to go all the way to my aunt’s house for less than a full day. I had to work on Friday, and I was going to a football game on Saturday at noon. My aunt called and told me to miss the game, but I won the tickets from work. Someone else who wanted to go wasn’t able to because I’d won and they didn’t; it didn’t seem right to waste them. Besides, I wanted to go. So I made a compromise: I would come down Saturday after the game and leave after dinner on Sunday. This is when I should have slapped myself in the face.

Why did I think this year would be any different? Because I’ve been taking charge of my health? Because I’m on track to pay off my car this year? Because I’ve put a lot of energy and effort into my relationship? Because I’ve decided what the next steps are along my career path? What was I thinking about, thinking these things would matter to anyone but me? My aunt wasted no time disabusing me of the notion that any of this meant anything.

In the space of less than two days, I was told:

  •  I need to relocate in order to take over her business when she retires. I will be given a salary of $48,000, or $25/hour. She retires in two years.
  • MensHealth isn’t going to marry me and I need to move on and start seriously thinking about my future.
  • I need to do a better job of managing my money so I can join them on a cruise next year.
  • My stomach is hanging; I should do something about this ASAP.
  • I won’t get ahead professionally because I don’t do my hair (at least not the way she would like me to keep it done).
  • I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

In short, it was an even more brutal trip than usual, covering a lot more ground and a lot more to the point. I didn’t bother to correct any of these assertions because it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Either things will happen as she thinks they will or how I think they will. I didn’t tell her about my decision that before the new year a decision will be made on my relationship with MensHealth, nor did I share that we’ve started pre-marital counseling. I didn’t tell her that I will have paid all of my one time bills, my car, and be all caught up on my bills by the beginning of next year. I didn’t tell her I have no intention, MensHealth and current job or no, to ever move back to that city and I have no desire to work in the group home business, that running a business like that is her dream and not mine, because I realized as she was talking that all of this was not about me, but about her. It makes life easier for her to think of me taking over her business and living closer, of me still needing her advice on how to order my entire life. It makes sense for her to take these positions because they give her a basis from which to order my life in a way that benefits her a lot more than me.

I’m not saying that to say my aunt doesn’t care about me, but let’s look at things realistically: what man am I meeting in her small town? I’m not meeting any. I lived there, so I know. I don’t want to work in a group home or live in this town, so who would that make happy? Certainly not me. I want to pursue getting some certifications in the legal field and to continue writing. One of very few ABA certified programs is down the street from me, and my current job is willing to help me pay for the classes. Why would I give that up for a job a don’t want? I’m sure my aunt loves me and wants what she thinks is best for me, but it’s not what I want for myself at all.

I can’t tell y’all how big of a relief it was to walk into my still-needs-work apartment, turn on Cold Case Files, and eat a piece of well-earned homemade sweet potato pie. As I sat thinking of all the usual things I think about at times like these (why did I even go? What was I thinking? Why didn’t I say…?), I realized something. Being grateful doesn’t make me indebted. When I didn’t have a real plan for how I would be able to finish school with little support and no job, she helped me. I’m so grateful for that. I worked for her for a year full time, and during my last year of school on holidays. I continued to do her paperwork for another year. I have done all I can to show I’m appreciative of what she did for me; I don’t have to feel bad that I am not going to do everything that she thinks I should do with my life.

Another thing I realized is that listening to your elders and respecting their opinions doesn’t mean that you have to take all of their advice. I am a major proponent of seeking the wise counsel of elders when making major life decisions. I respect the fact that outsiders can see things in a relationship that the person in the relationship may not necessarily see. But we are to have discernment, and everyone’s counsel should be measured against God’s word and confirmed; no word should stand all on its own but God’s word. I love my aunt, but at the end of the day, I have to live with the decisions I make.

Family. Gotta love it.

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