Traditions are a part of life, like it or not.
Those that stand out are the basic holiday ones:
- 4th of July, watching splashes of color light up the once-drab evening sky;
- birthday parties that always included ice cream cake with purple frosting staining the corners of little mouths;
- the small tear-away notes that declared sentiments such as “Somebunny Loves You!” during Valentine’s day celebrations at school.
As the parade of our lives marches forward, traditions change; we want so desperately for them to be meaningful. But is that even possible?
We continue taking our children out to the farm to pick out a Christmas tree that’s too big for the den, then put on obnoxiously cheery carols and make hot cocoa with mini-marshmallows in order to set the mood for decorating, only to have the kids quit after 4 minutes. We scream at them to come back in, but they’re too busy circling items for Santa to bring them from the Toys R Us holiday edition catalogue to even notice. We realize that the moment has passed, grumble some inappropriate phrases that coincidentally feature the word “mother,” and resume decorating and spreading holiday cheer solo.
We buy out every decoration from the party store for New Year’s Eve, promising a night of fun and laughs. We beg our kids to put on their fanciest attire and set out the good china, allowing them to drink their sparkling cider out of the good champagne glasses that need to be hand-washed. The evening ends with the youngest puking all over his dry-clean only sweater, the eldest crying about the color of the plastic bead necklaces, and find ourselves passed out and alone by 9:00.
We get our kids the cutest leprechaun-themed ensembles and 4-leaf clover headbands available at Target. We use begging, bribery, and force to get them to put said outfits on in time for the parade. We get everybody in the car, then battle traffic to get two towns over. We finally find a parking spot a mere 3 miles away, so we walk to a grassy area and sit, awaiting the festivities. 1.5 minutes into the parade, the smallest child complains about the weather, prompting whining from the eldest. We realize that our patience seems to have vanished and our extremities, too, are numb with cold. Defeated, we lumber back to the car. Maybe we’ll try again next year? Ah, traditions.
These “traditions” that we create, born out of love and a smidgen of sentiment, yet dripping with desperation, fail 100% of the time. Why?
We create a picture of what this perfect time will look like: smiles and giggles, love and thanks, happiness and order. In reality though, that isn’t life. When we look back in fondness at the traditions of our childhood, it’s because our brain configures it in such a way that we don’t recall the moment when our sister nearly pulled the hair out of our skull because we stole all of the Peeps out of her Easter basket, or the time the turkey (despite being in the oven for hours) didn’t cook all the way through and we ended up eating pizza for Thanksgiving dinner.
We remember the snowball fights and dandelion crowns and swimming races and homemade Halloween costumes. We remember the smell of hot chocolate chip cookies coming out of the oven at Grandma’s house.
We recall, with fondness, the smiles and giggles, the love and thanks, the happiness and order.