This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. I’m not a “traditional” parent by any means, but I do like traditions, especially around holidays. Sometimes, this results in other adults in my life rolling their eyes as I try to institute some fun new thing to do every year. I want to make the holidays magical for the children in my life. Every October, I make sure we squeeze in a trip to the pumpkin patch. Every December, I carve out time to decorate cookies (gluten free, even!), watch Christmas cartoons, and write letters to Santa. Every Thanksgiving, I instruct everyone to name something they’re thankful for. One year, back when my son’s father and I were “trying to work things out,” he prepared a beautiful meal for my small family. It was a picturesque holiday moment, but when the time came to share thanks, he got quiet and said he couldn’t think of anything. A friend of his had been brutally murdered a few days earlier, so I knew where he was coming from. Still, I was hurt that he “ruined” my happy tradition. He could have at least said he was grateful for family or something, right? After all, the holidays are about joy, aren’t they? They’re a time when, even if it’s just pretend, everything is temporarily okay. The other day, as I drove my son to therapy, still barely speaking to him after he melted down and punched me when I took his phone away while trying to get him ready to leave, I started thinking about Thanksgiving. Not about things I’m thankful for, just about how I was going to manage it. This will be the first year my partner and I will have both of our kids on the holiday since we’ve been together, and we can barely afford regular food, let alone a huge feast. I can’t even use a Thanksgiving basket, because my son can’t have gluten. I silently sobbed as I prepared to tell the therapist we will have to take a break, even though my son still needs her. In that moment, gratitude was pretty hard to come by. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that this year has been exceptionally difficult. For me, this was supposed to be the year things got better, that all my hard work paid off. Except that I finished my Master’s five months ago and I don’t have a job. I don’t know how we’re going to pay bills, my kid is still struggling in school, and I can barely motivate myself to keep the house in order and keep trying. Then there’s still everything happening in the world right now and a million other things that are hard. It’s not that I have nothing to be thankful for. I have plenty. I have a roof over my head, none of us will starve, and I always figure out a way to survive. I have a wonderful family, two perfect kitties, healthcare, and a million little things that I try not to take for granted. I’m thankful, but I’m not okay. This year, I might not be able to keep up with my traditions. And I will feel guilty about it. I might let dishes pile up in the sink. I might not be fully present for every perfect moment. But I’m still trying. I haven’t given up, and I’m still doing the things that need to be done. And if the holiday is a little less magical, it’s only because I’m allowing real life to coexist with the holiday magic. Because I’m not sure if joy even counts if it’s not genuine. Sometimes it’s okay to not be okay.