I cried twice.
I made it through my first major holiday without my kids in 17 years. And, I only cried twice.
I knew the time would come, and I knew it would be difficult. I just didn't know it would start off as emotionally challenging as it did.
I didn't want to get out of bed. I didn't want to go anywhere. I didn't want to field the questions about where the kids were and why they weren't with me. If I heard "They need their mother, too" one more time, I may have needed bail money.
I've learned to deal with the things I can't change. And sharing time with the father of my kids is one of those things.
And even knowing this, I still cried twice.
I decided that lying in bed all day would not be good for my ailing emotional state. I got out of bed to shower. It was as if just the act of deciding to participate in the holiday festivities without the kids broke the dam on my tear ducts.
I cried for 10 minutes standing under the shower head.
My boyfriend, Derek, was so supportive and patient. He knew when to make me laugh and when to let me cry. He didn't pass judgment or get mad that I might not be in the right frame of mind on a day that you're supposed to be thankful for all that you have.
We went to visit his family for a little while. I must say, I completely adore them. They make you feel like you've been a part of the family for years. I've spent many Thanksgivings with family members who resented cooking and stayed on edge the entire day because of it.
Derek's sister, who had cooked all day, still had a smile on her face and was just happy to have her family together. I don't think she knows how much she helped turn my day around.
Next, we visited my mom. It was a small gathering with a few friends of the family and both of my brothers. All three of us together, on speaking terms, hasn't occurred in many, many years. But, I forgave my youngest brother earlier this year.
After dinner, I received a text from my daughter. It was a side-by-side picture that she had made with my oldest son. They took a picture from 10 years ago at my in-laws' house and re-created it. They sat in the same chairs, in the same position, with the same smiles. I know her intentions were to make me feel part of the day.
But, it immediately took my breath away.
Derek received the text at the same time, so he knew by the look on my face I was suddenly struggling.
I ended up in my mom's room with leaky tear ducts again. In the midst of my breakdown, I realized that there were many gifts in the day. And I almost got a little mad at myself for losing sight of that.
The foundation of my relationship with the kids is not lessened because we don't spend a holiday together. The relationship I have with Derek is healthy and strong. Derek's family offers a place where no one worries about something you did last year or questions your decision to go Black Friday shopping even though you probably shouldn't.
The relationship between my mother and I has only grown stronger over the last year. I never imagined we would overcome our differences, our past mistakes and the pain we caused each other.
And then, I recognized the real beauty in the day went beyond all of that. I gave my mom the opportunity to prepare Thanksgiving dinner for all three of her children under one roof, and all on speaking terms. I know now, more than ever, what that did for her.
In the end, I realized I had an abundance to be thankful for on this very different Thanksgiving. And for that, I am thankful.
I know there are many who spent their day of thanks without their kids. I hope that somehow, they can reflect on the day and find that same thankful bounty.
It's there. I believe that.
Heather Tempesta is a single mother of three who lives in Brandon.