At age 37, I still haven’t learned to ski, and almost five years and two children into parenthood, I can’t quite believe in myself as a real mom of a real family with real traditions of its own. Although a few years of experience in Waldorf education tells me that children thrive on daily rhythms as well as meaningful rituals of celebration, truthfully, I suck at both.
But I’m working on it. If I’ve learned anything from studying positive discipline, it’s that the first step to thinking forward about parenting is usually looking backward at your own history. So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my childhood — about the traditions of my family and my role in them.
It was an awkward position to be youngest child of five, almost nine years after the fourth. When I was young, I was the only one still really getting a kick out of kid things. And from a fairly early age, I was a little too conscious of the fact that everyone else was ready to move on. I struggled between wanting everyone to be excited the way I was and just wanting myself to grow up already so I could be like them.
The traditions we had — of storytelling on Christmas Eve, of finding the bounty of red pistachios left by the “Valentine Pig,” of hunting for Easter eggs from clever clues — they were all around well before my time and seemed to have a fast-approaching expiration date. By the time we moved to a new town when I was ten, my siblings were all in college. It was like starting over.
Couple that with the fact that on the verge of an already-going-to-be-rocky adolescence, my brother died a week before my fourteenth birthday. Cynicism and sadness crowded out joy and expectation when it came to celebrations. I grew up before my time.
I got a bit of my groove back as in my 20s, but, as I developed into a more holistic-minded person, I lost the lust for many of the trappings of traditions. They seemed tacky at best, toxic at worst. Once you give up the candy, the glitzy plastic, and the TV, things can look at little, well, dull.
I’m all for eschewing consumerism and going green, but being a full-on Debbie Downer is not exactly inspired parenting. My children deserve a model of joyfulness. My wider family has rekindled a secret Santa tradition with all the cousins and spouses included; we write poems to reveal who has given to whom. But in my house, I’ve been living in a fog, not knowing how to build something from scratch with my new family of four.
Where I am right now, with a son nearing five and a baby daughter barely rolling over, is trying to release my humbug and embrace a joyful spirit. To start, I am trying to identify some core values so that I can create traditions I feel good about … and actually sustain them. Without that crucial first step, stuff just doesn’t happen in my world. It lingers in a pile in the corner. In order to really get invested and model excitement for my children, I need to figure out what I want to hang my hat on.
A great source of support has been my chapter of Holistic Moms Network, where last year two life coaches talked about aligning values and priorities, and where last month, our “holistic holidays” speaker helped us get beyond mundane (though important) questions of how to deal with your in-laws giving toys or foods you don’t let your kids eat, and to think instead — at a more fundamental level — about what kind of experiences we wanted to create for our families.
After taking my baby out to the “holistic holidays” discussion, I decided she wasn’t up for accompanying me to Craft Night the next evening — or for staying home without me. I struggled a bit with the desire to honor her needs while also trying to become a crafty domestic goddess. I identified “beauty” as a value I wanted to uphold in my home in general and with respect to the holidays in particular, and I wanted it to start now, darn it. But just the suggestion of the wreath-making activity and then the jovial reports of those who attended were inspiration enough to get me started.
With those models in mind, I took my son to the craft store just before Thanksgiving so we could make a “harvest wreath” that we will put up every fall. We got started on a Christmas wreath, and I stowed away some blue and white ribbon for a winter wreath and pastels for a spring wreath.
It should be noted that I am not one of those people who ever has anything on her door, much less seasonal banners flying in the breeze off my front porch. A friend got me a subscription to Family Fun magazine, and I usually look at it with astonishment that it and I exist on the same planet. To walk up the steps and be greeted by something pretty hanging on my front door is just short of revolutionary around here. So I’m pretty excited at our initial efforts.
My son and I also wove a ribbon placemat on which to put our signature GFCF pumpkin pie and made sure to start that Thanksgiving and every dinner since then by lighting the candle he made at his school’s fall festival. He was so excited by our mini-decorating spree and by the resurrection of the candle that I went a little crazy adding to the school’s group order of beeswax candles from Hinode Farm. I decided I’d rather spend money up front on a quality product from a vendor I feel good about than rush to come up with something at the last minute, either running out for cheap tchotchkes, drawing a crappy picture with whatever random marker happens to be available, or just doing nothing. After a lifetime of flying by the seat of my pants in a society that values disposability, I’m working on approaching parenting with intentionality and on treating things with a sense of reverence.
So now, we will have special candles to light just for holiday nights — among them a turkey, a bunny, and a pine tree — and a leaf, a star, a tulip and a daisy for solstice and equinox celebrations. Also, I pushed for going out to get a Christmas tree from a farm this year — just like I used to do as a child — and I was amazed how happy it made me to have it to decorate.
That’s the mom I want my children to see. The one who both sings Christmas carols at full tilt (while sprinkling colored raffia on a pesticide-free tree) and who also tears up at the silent beauty of our school’s Advent Garden.
Never mind that I don’t yet have any more specifics on holiday celebrations or seasonal festivals. There is plenty of time, and plenty of reading material for ideas. We’re celebrating baby steps around here, and today, I’m just glad to have started to believe in myself as a happy mom who can create something beautiful for her children.
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