When I first became a mom, my own mother assured me that I would quickly settle into a routine. I, however, rolled my eyes. I didn’t want to the be the mom with a rigid schedule. I wanted to be spontaneous and embrace the freedom that being home with my kids provided. And my always hungry, never tired, unpredictable first child seemed to agree. But much to my surprise, once a winter full of ear infections turned to spring, our spontaneous life began to organize itself around activities we repeated over and over, which I referred to as little “rituals”.
My particular favorite example is how a completely impractical and overpriced smoothie from Whole Foods became a regular part of this cheap girl’s Friday grocery shopping routine. One day when feeling particularly exhausted, I bought us a smoothie as a treat because, a) I was pregnant with daughter #2 and starving, and b) it contained kale. My little grocery store runner astonished me by sitting in the cart drinking almost the whole thing herself and then staying put for the rest of the trip. And now week after week, she insists on the same.
And so I started to wonder, what makes some random activities stick and become something more, something our kids demand to do over and over again?
Now, while I am not one for routine, I am a planner. And each year as the skies grow dark I start to feel the pressure to plan Christmas magic for my kids. We celebrate outside of any religious traditions, so the options are endless. But just as during the early days home with my first child, the combination of great expectations and endless possibilities can leave me feeling adrift. Our first few holiday seasons were filled with lots of magical moments, but also too long to-do lists, photo retakes, OCD gingerbread house disasters, and two exhausted parents crumbling under the pressure by Christmas Eve. They also contained surprises about what my daughter embraced and what she didn’t.
As she has grown, it has been her questions that have helped me most to focus our holiday effort and find the answer as to what transforms a one time event into a tradition. She wondered why some of her friends celebrated different holidays or celebrate Christmas differently. My answer to her has been that though our traditions look different, we are all really celebrating the same thing: that which sustains us when times are dark – friends, family, memories of past obstacles overcome, music, laughter, ritual itself – whatever nourishes our souls. And I believe that it is also the answer as to why we hang on to these sometimes random little moments. Something about it fulfilled a need we might not have even known we had and left an impression that’s worn deep into who we are.
And so this year it is with great intention that I fill my holiday calendar to focus on what is most meaningful to all of us. Fewer gifts, more walks to see lights, time to focus on small tokens of gratitude for all those we hold dear, a whole day for rolling cookies, more reading, more music. Less buying, less wrapping, less perfecting, less cooking, more sharing. More listening to the stories my daughters tell of their own holiday memories, however random they may be, and celebrating that which has spoken to their souls.
And as I lay out our holiday calendar, I know to keep our Fridays clear, for on Fridays we drink kale.
What are your traditions with your family?