I grew up having homemade pizza and watching Star Search every Saturday night with my parents and sisters. We always watched game shows together after dinner, and when we went to the lake, we stayed all day. My mom would fry up chicken the night before, make a big thermos of Kool-aid, and get a bag of Pecan Sandies. If we were good, there was ice cream on the way home.
For my birthday, my mom would take me to the mall and we’d rage for hours. Then, a few days later, I’d have a friend spend the night and we’d open gifts, and she’d make a special dinner and my favorite cake — chocolate cake with chocolate icing and Hershey kisses on top with chocolate and peanut butter ice cream.
They were some of the best days of my life and there isn’t a day that passes me where I don’t think of a few of the memories cultivated from our family traditions. You can have a less-than-perfect childhood with the desire to forget about certain times and places, while still hanging on to those special memories you do have.
So, when I had kids of my own, the thing I was most excited about was reliving some of the experiences I had as a child. I had hopes they would enjoy them as much as I did, and they would shape their childhoods the way it had shaped mine.
I also have to admit, I couldn’t wait to do these things over again and relive some magic too. Sure, I had done some of them with my husband, but it’s different when you throw kids into the mix and you can see the wonder and excitement flowing out their eyeballs, and hear it coming out of their mouth.
I made a list when my first child was cooking in my belly because I didn’t want to forget a thing:
Stocking before gifts on Christmas morning — don’t forget the gold wrapped chocolate coins. Carrot for Rudolph and raisins on the floor to resemble deer poop.
Lake: don’t forget the Pecan Sandies
Saturday night: pizza!
And on it went.
Our memories, and what we take from them, really do shape us. When we experience something that feels so good and right, we naturally want to share it with those we love the most. I wanted to give some of the gifts I’d been given as a child back to my kids and it has been one of my favorite parts of being a mother.
Of course, it doesn’t always go as planned. Like the first time I took them outside to play in the snow and my daughter cried because she was so cold and my son was obsessed with keeping the snow off his boots and our family dog kept taking their hats off their heads and running away with them. I was hoping to rebuild the epic snow fort my sister and I made during a snow day and hoped my kids would think I was an amazing snow artist, but it didn’t quite pan out.
And when I started making homemade pizza we would eat in front of the television on Saturday evenings after they were bathed and in their pajamas, they reminded me (over and over) how much better it was when they got to eat pizza from a restaurant and fought about what we were going to watch.
Traditions last because they are shared through generations, but of course they morph and take on a life of their own along the way.
I don’t make pizza anymore. I save myself the trouble and get take out. My kids are right; it is better and so good the next morning for breakfast — a new tradition we’ve come up with. (I wonder if my kids will share that with their children when they have them.) There have also been times my kids wanted to give up a tradition, like the family birthday party, so they could have a big slumber party with their friends instead and I’ve let them lead the way.
But, I’ve also made the mistake of stopping something that was sacred to them, like hiding jelly beans on Easter morning, because I assumed they’d outgrown it and, Oh Mylanta, I never heard the end of that one.
Honestly, after such a major screw up, and practically driving my youngest (who was 11 at the time) to tears because there were no jelly beans on Easter morning, the tradition took on a funny twist and is even better now.
I think traditions are less about getting a thing or an experience, and more about the way they can make you feel. Somehow having something you can count on over and over, like decorating the Christmas tree while Chex Mix is in the oven, or coming home on a hot night after picking berries and turning on the fan as you make a pie and filling your home with the sweet, sticky smell of dripping berry juice, is the most comforting thing we can give to our children — and to ourselves.
They can keep us going through a rough patch, give us something to look forward to, and they seem better knowing they’ve been in the family for decades or generations, and will continue to be passed along long after we’ve left this earth.