We ended up spending Thanksgiving with our refugee friends. It was a last minute decision—up until the week before, we thought we might leave town, but in the end, we were too tired. It was the off year for the side of the family that lives close by, so all of them were with their other families. The other side of the family lives hours away; we’re going to see them in just a few weeks for Christmas anyway and the idea of not packing and not getting in the car and not being exhausted was just too tempting. We missed them, but it was the right decision.
I painted a wall I’ve been meaning to get to for months, organized some closets, let the children play outside on the trampoline until they were too exhausted to move and they crashed in front of the TV for a holiday movie marathon. We caught up with good friends nearby, drove to Six Flags for the day, decorated our tree without fighting and put the laundry away before school started back up.
It was glorious.
When we realized we were going to stay in town, our refugee friends were the first people we called. I didn’t think about that till later, what that meant for our friendship and how things have changed for us over the almost ten years we’ve known each other, how we’ve moved from helper and helped to solid ground in our friendship. When I thought of the people in town I wanted at my house, I called those families first.
(Also, selfishly, I adore when they cook, so of course I asked if we could have a potluck—Burmese food pairs surprisingly well with turkey and mashed potatoes.)
It was a lovely feast together. The kids played like cousins, picking up where they left off from the last time everyone was over here. We set out a jigsaw puzzle and worked on it together, finding the edges first so we could fill in the middle later. Everyone loved the dressing and no one touched the rolls and the reactions to the pumpkin pie were decidedly mixed.
At the end, we went around the room and told three things we were thankful for. I added books, my middle daughter said robots, one of our friends said becoming a citizen of the United States, but we generally agreed on the most important things: family, good friends, good food, time together.
When they left, my youngest daughter, the one from China who looks enough like some of the Burmese kids that they could be biologically related, snuggled up in my lap and sighed.
One of our friends, a tender father to his beautiful and brilliant daughters who look like our daughter, had given her special attention and it was so sweet to watch. His face lights up with delight when she speaks. There is something indefinable that he gives her that my blue-eyed husband and I can never provide.
It would be so easy to look at the room and see our divisions—regional, ethnic, linguistic, socioeconomic. It would also be easy to erase those differences and just lump us together because we share a common faith, a common friendship. But somewhere between those two choices—differentiating between us or erasing the lines between us—lies the truth. We are united like strings on a guitar: we parallel each other, resonate together, depend on each other, and yet remain wholly ourselves.
This friendship is teaching me so much about how to parent my children, how to be in relationship with my husband, how to love friends with different political viewpoints, how to interact with the world, what family actually means.
My little one leaned her head on my shoulder and we sank back into the couch. “Mama, I think I be from Burma.”
Later we will talk about what it means to be from China and how that is different from Burma, confirm our pride in her home country, discuss that sentiment in more age-appropriate ways as she grows. But she is five and still my baby and in that moment I heard what she meant: Mama, it’s good to be around people who are like me that I love.
And I responded to that feeling when I say, “I’m so glad, baby. I feel full. Do you?”
“Me too. I so full.” She rubbed her glorious belly and we savored that feeling of fullness for a brief moment before she ran off again to play.