This holiday season will be a blend of happy and sad for our family. We will be making new memories and starting new traditions as well as remembering “how we used to do it” and who we used to have with us. Just as you have started new family traditions with your children while continuing a blend of traditions from your own families we will be readjusting our traditions. Part of being a family is to continually re-assess what the family needs are. As our sons have grown up we have added some new activities while taking away ones that are no longer relevant or needed. Joel no longer puts the oatmeal out for the reindeer but Nick still enjoys the tradition of putting the cookies out for Santa. We still hang the ornaments on the tree while listening to The Muppets – even if Nick is hanging ornaments via Google video and Joel is hanging his on his own tree in his own house. The traditions that we have always done as a family may not be the ones that are carried on as they blend into their own family unit. Curt and I blended some family traditions and created our own. What is important is to create memories for your children to hold onto as they leave the house and start their own households. December in our household has lots of birthdays as well as Christmas to celebrate. We have friends who celebrate Hanukkah, some celebrate Kwanza and some friends choose to celebrate being together and all of us value the memories we create each time we are together. It is at this time of year we focus on traditions and memories but it is important to remember that the memories you make with your family happen every day and all year long.
Some traditions are based around your family, some around holidays and some just happen and become a family tradition. As we were looking through boxes of pictures for Pearl’s Memorial Service and for Joel’s wedding we were reminded of many neighborhood traditions. One of the winter traditions in our neighborhood was to wake up the kids if it started to snow after they went to bed. As you all know our snow can be here today gone tomorrow – and possibly-- here an hour and gone the next! So when it started to snow we would wake up the kids and go outside for a neighborhood snowball fight! We saw pictures of children dressed in snowsuits building snowmen, lobbing snowballs and laughing as they enjoyed the fun of fresh snow. We were lucky to live in a neighborhood with children the same age as Joel and Nick (there was even a dog friend for our dog!) As the years passed we no longer woke up the boys, who once were sleepy, footy-pajama-ed little people, to play in the snow. They preferred to sleep! But still, when it snows, Joel will be the first to call me on the phone and say: “ It’s snowing Mom!” And Nick sends me pictures from Wisconsin – although snow no longer has much of a warm fuzzy memory for him! I enjoy watching as they incorporate their childhood memories into their own traditions. It is nice to know that they enjoyed those days as much as we did.
What are some of the things you treasure and want to pass on to your children? Are they things you did as a child or things you wished you had done? One of the things I wanted to share with my children was a love of learning. I was never a reader but valued reading so I wanted to instill the love of books with the boys. We went to libraries, we would read books -all the time- and they had their own books on their own bookshelves. They were encouraged to treat books with respect and value them. Curt read to them ever evening before they went to bed. As they grew older the stories changed from picture books to chapter books then to book in a series. They loved Curious George, then Beezus and Ramona, Roald Dahl books and The Chronicles of Narnia. Books are still valued and treasured by them. This summer Joel’s fiancée, Danielle, road her bike across the state of Washington. In her final email she sent out a picture showing her with the map of her trip standing in front of the Pacific Ocean saying: I road 555 miles, summited 7 mountain passes and Joel bought 24 books! When asked what he needed in Madison Nick replied, more bookshelves. They love to read and I love that they do. It is a gift that will continue to give them great returns – memories, knowledge, enjoyment, understanding, connections with others and the world they live in. Some of the books our sons treasure are the ones given to them from their grandparents, some from us and some they have added to their collections. These books remind them of the people they love, places they have been and slices of time from their past. A book is a gift that can give the gift of knowledge, laughter, understanding and love.
Another gift we gave to our sons was the ability to entertain themselves. It is the gift of boredom that many children do not receive in our world of instant everything. We have movies on demand, games on our phones, DVD players in the car and iPads in case they need to be entertained. These are technology tools that can be used to ease an unpleasant and tedious sit in the waiting room, a long ride in the car and to keep them occupied while you make dinner. But do you ever let them be bored? Give them a box of “stuff” and let them find a way to use it? It is important to have open ended projects for children. It engages their mind in ways that will encourage them to be creative, allows their minds to develop new neurological pathways, develop problem solving techniques and allows them to experience success, and failures, that will develop their patience, tenacity and self-assurance. Children are naturally curious. If you give them items that they can choose the direction the play will go you are encouraging them to use their own creativity and imagination. Items such as Legos used to be open ended – just a box of colored plastic pieces that could be put together however a child wanted. Now they are specific to a character or movie and have a closed, one way to make it, plan. As you play with your child encourage them to make their own “play plan” not play just what they have seen on TV or in a movie. The more freedom they have in their play the more skills they are developing for later use: in school (creative writing, problem solving, imaginative play), with relationships (empathy, role playing, engaging with others) and personal growth (interacting with the world around them, developing self- confidence, feeling comfortable with who they are).
Take some time to reflect on your childhood and what memories you value. What are the things you want to share with your child? What are some of the ways you can allow your child to grow that does not involve something bought at the store? It is important to give them opportunities to grow by encouraging time spent in nature, time spent with others, time spent alone and time spent stimulating their mind. Enjoy the time you spend making memories this month.