Usually when a concept seems totally logical and full of common sense to me, I discover that I am thinking opposite of everyone else. I don't try to be different, or difficult. It just happens automatically.
Take traditions. I love creating traditions and remembering traditions. The thing I don't like about them is that they're so...well, you know, traditional! I hate being caught up in a great idea that is now past it's prime. I like to take a good tradition and tweak it to match the ever changing participants and lifestyles.
On Christmas Eve in the olden days my family and all my cousins and aunts and uncles went to grama's house. We had a traditional Swedish meal, including lutefisk which the older people loved to coax us kids to try. My uncle and aunt produced a program about Christmases around the world, complete with costumes and scenery, and the 23 grand kids learned songs and poems and performed with relish. It was fabulous and memorable.
And then suddenly we all grew up. Some married and produced little actresses and singers, but others produced kids that liked sports, not performances. There were new in-laws that turned on the TV during the festivities. This created embarrassed cousins who didn't know how to explain that little Jimmy was watching the game, and wasn't going to be a Wiseman this year.
The party had grown from the comfortable 1st generation to the 2nd generation which was double in size. Our little kids felt shy with their unknown second cousins. It was an ordeal, not an anticipated event. We argued about it, but I insisted that we had to go. One year we got home very late, everybody was tired and cross, and I realized it was time for the tradition to become a memory.
Plus, we had ideas for Christmas Eve. We were anxious to create our own holiday traditions to weld our little family. Bedtime needed to be observed so Christmas Day would start off with well-rested, cooperative kids, and to give us time to do our Santa magic. We had long discussions about it to bolster my courage to take a stand. I decided to prepare my mother ahead of time, so I told her in February.
Breaking the news to my mom was awful. She cried! My grama said, "I'd hoped I wouldn't live long enough to have the kids stop coming on Christmas Eve." I felt like I was stabbing my family in the back! I wondered why they couldn't understand and support our desire to follow their example in creating strong family ties.
The caught in the middle feeling haunted us. Dee and I decided many years ago that we didn't want to create that dilemma for our kids. We never want couples to argue with each other because of pressure we put on them. We often celebrate events on a different day, so there won't be a problem choosing between the families. This means that we have sometimes spent Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, Mother's Day, and other traditional family days on our own. It has given us a chance to create some new traditions (eating out on Thanksgiving, sleeping in on Christmas morning...) We want our family to know they are always welcome, but never obligated. They don't have to give us any explanations or excuses, or worry that we'll be hurt or lonely, or upset. At this point our role is to support their families in the goals they set for themselves. We had our chance to create traditions, and now it's their opportunity.
Just because something is tradition doesn't make it right all the time. Tradition is sometimes an explanation for acting without thinking. I grew up with lovely Sunday Dinners. That one got the shaft at our house. We used to go to church in the morning, and arrive home with seven tired hungry kids. I'd start mashing potatoes and making gravy while the whole gang whined and argued, waiting for food. One Sunday while I changed clothes, Dee whipped up some French Toast. It was quick and easy and a total hit. We quickly spiraled down from roast beef to grilled cheese, served on napkins instead of plates. Sundays became pleasant. We created a tradition that helped us.
My goal has been to have a tradition of making memories. I don't like to do things the same way every time, and I don't think it's logical to do everything every time, either. I don't like having things set in stone. Going out to dinner for a birthday might work well in March. If we can't afford it for the birthday in June, we'll go to the park. At Christmas time I make a list of "traditional"activities and then choose from them. Maybe this year we'll do gingerbread houses and skip sugar cookies. It's too overwhelming for me to try to cram every fun thing we've ever done into one season. It takes the joy out of it.
"Traditions are the guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds. The most powerful ones are those we can't even describe and aren't even aware of." My extended family Christmas Eve party has become a treasured memory, but the tradition is a family who loves each other. That's the thing I want to pass on.
Illustrations by Stephen Cartwright