The information about our girl came to us on October 13th. We anxiously awaited travel information and when it finally came, Mark and I heaved a huge sigh of relief. We would be able to celebrate Thanksgiving with our family and would leave for China two days later. It all seemed perfect... except for one small thing. On the day after Thanksgiving, we always go downtown Chicago to see the lighting of the tree in Daley Plaza. We would head down in the late afternoon and stand in a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people, sipping spiced cider from boot shaped mugs and humming Christmas carols in the cool winter air. Mark and I knew that our traditional plans would have to be changed this year. With a trip to the other side of the world impending... and two weeks away from our sweet boys... there was much to do to prepare. We had decided to travel "carry on only" and needed to cram 14 days worth of clothes and various other items into our bags. And, we needed to hold our kids. The thought of being away from them was overwhelming to us...
So, we sat down to explain to the boys (then ages 6, 7, and 2) the plans for the trip. We had no way to foresee what would happen next. Noah spoke first.
"So, we are not going to the city?" he asked.
"No Buddy, we cannot go. We have to get ready for the trip."
"But, it is our TRADITION..." he continued.
And then came the tears. One boy. Then two. Then, watching his big brothers, Josiah joined on in.
Mark and I were stunned. We knew our traditions were important to us but neither of us understood the meaning they had come to hold for our children. Now, some of those tears came from their feelings about our departure... but some of those tears were because we were changing our plans. Noah, now crying hard, tried to explain to us that we would lose our traditions... that they would never again be TRADITIONS if we were unable to see that tree light up in Chicago that year. And there Mark and I sat, overwhelmed ourselves, and unable to do anything about it.
In a stroke of genius, Mark made a declaration that calmed the spirits of our little boys.
"We do not lose our traditions," he began, "unless..." (I held my breath to see what magic would come next...) "unless we skip it next year, too. You cannot lose a tradition in only one year! And we would never miss it next year. It is too important to our family!"
The crying stopped as the boys thought through this new information. Mark and I exchanged brief glances of deep relief and knew we were in the clear. But, we had learned something, too. Those things we do, year after year, they create a structure from which our children learn to hang the details of their lives. It gives them something to look forward to, something to expect and anticipate and use as a tool to process the seasons of their lives. It matters, you see. The little things... the funny sayings... the experiences repeated year after year. It matters.
It is Thanksgiving weekend. My boys are home early from school and Elizabeth is taking a nap. Tomorrow we will gather with family and eat turkey and stuffing and yams and pumpkin pie. We will play a card game around a table and have minutes with grandpa. And then, on Friday we will go the city. We will go and see the tree and we will sip spiced cider from boot shaped mugs. On Saturday, we will drive to Indiana listening to Amy Grant's oldest Christmas CD on our way to the family owned Christmas Tree Farm that we go to every year. We will take a hay ride out to the fields and wander aisle after aisle to find the perfect tree for our house. We will all take a turn cutting it down and will take pictures with the tree and the stump. With it tied to our van, and with our best friends alongside, we will go to Cracker Barrel for dinner together. Tired and full, we will come home then and put our tree in a bucket to be handled on Sunday after church. When we decorate the tree, I will place the first ornament, a Victorian Santa ornament given to me years ago by one of my first grade students. We will talk for a while about who put the angel on the tree last year and this year, it will be someone else's turn. With the tree completely decorated, the kids will lay head first under the tree and look at the lights from the bottom up. By the time they go to bed, Mark and I will be able to sit together in a decorated house and enjoy the beauty of it all.
Today is Wednesday but by Sunday night, all of this will have come to pass. It is our tradition and it matters. What about you? What do you do? What traditions have you set in place for your family that have come to hold warm memories for you? What things would you like to begin to add to this season?
As the holidays begin, it is easy to become overwhelmed by so many things. The economy is a mess and our budgets are tight but the experiences we offer our families do not have to be expensive or huge. Our children are looking for time... for attention... for memories that become what they take with them when they go. Look at these days as a gift... a long weekend given to you to give them what they need. Truth be told, you need it, too. These are the pictures we will hold in our hands when our hair has gone white and our homes are much quieter than they are today. These pictures have no price tag but are worth more than anything we will purchase this year. Priceless minutes that last forever...