Valuing Traditions

Last weekend, I had the privilege of having all  of my children with me in California. They are a blessing and I do want to say, they are mostly happy with each other and get along and are a blessing--your children will grow up and they are listening to you!

Many moms asked, "What did you do to cultivate your children into best friends? How did you help them learn to enjoy each other? I think one way is that I purposed time that we would all spend together, even as they got older. There were some non-negotiable times when everyone had to be home--sometimes it was a Saturday night pizza movie, most times we were always home on Sunday afternoon tea times, or Sunday morning feasts. Of course when they were little all time was family time and that is when you are really securing tight relationships.

I found this older post from 4 years ago. Joy is now almost 16, but I hope you might enjoy this post of yesteryear! Every May about this time, I find myself wondering how we started so many birthday traditions so that the expectations of each birthday child is so high. I am a little worn out by this time and my mind ponders, "Now why am I doing this? Does it really make a difference?As I have pondered this the past couple of days, I have realized again, that traditions force us to take time to celebrate life.

Pausing, as a family, in the midst of the busyness of life, communicates that we are more important to each other as a family than all the activities that are swirling around in our lives that separate us from each other. In our case, twelve year old Joy doesn't often have the full attention of her siblings, who are quite a bit older than her. They are always running here and there to a job, to classes or to meet friends. Yet, on this day, everyone takes a break from their other commitments---even Clay stays home the mornings of birthday breakfasts--and says to the birthday child, "You are beloved in this family and we are here to celebrate your life!"

Joy turned 12 today. I have to admit, that in spite of all the work, I think I can see that the traditions have deeply filled my children's hearts with affirmation, validation, memories, confidence and blessings that they will draw from for years to come. Today was especially bittersweet, as I imagine that by next May's birthday, probably only Clay, Joy and I will celebrate her birthday as a family! We will have to import new friends as family.

Each birthday morning, the person we are celebrating, has to wait expectantly in their bedroom. They are allowed something to sip--hot chocolate or tea---and then must wait patiently for the other siblings to come to deliver them to our breakfast table. Usually, I have made my whole-wheat cinnamon rolls--the expected favorites--and I make my own special scrambled eggs---with cheese, sour cream, ham or bacon bits. Strong Austrian coffee is dripping through the filter, while one child is setting the table with the ceramic tea set usually used for all birthdays. (The set was bought over several years at a second's shop in Austria. By now, several of the dishes are chipped or cracked, but, as we cannot buy anymore here in the States, we are happy that the dishes aren't broken.)

We are all a part of a team seeking to throw things together as quickly as possible, since often, presents are wrapped and cards are written at the last minute. One child throws the gifts into very familiar bags--many of which we have kept for years. As a matter of fact, the kids all discussed which bags were their favorites and warned me never to give them away to anyone else with a present in it, because it is family tradition! (Winnie the Pooh and a pre-Raphealite bag tied for the favorites!) We put every gift, however small, in it's own bag. Even if something was purchased for a song at Good Will or at the dollar store, it gets fully wrapped. Consequently, each year, it looks as though the birthday child is getting a zillion presents, even though the ultimate value may not be much at all--it is all part of the sparkle and fun of the morning. (Once, a child received a pacakage of ball point pens--each in its own bag!)Life is a flurry as one sets the table, one lights the candle and puts coffee cream out, another is wrapping and putting on music to set the mood and Clay is always looking for the camera and batteries since he is the official photographer.

Finally, at least a couple of kids, go to the birthday child's room to blind-fold their eyes, so that they have to stumble into the room with no peaking. What a funny sight this year as 6'5" Joel and 6'3" Nathan still willingly participated in leading Joy down the steps for her surprise day.

Seems the conversation never varies from year to year---I think your cinnamon rolls are the best, Mom. Yeah, we have never tasted any that even compared. (Of course this is so I will keep making them from year to year and yes, it does encourage me to keep up the work---even the 5th time this month!)

After breakfast is appropriately enjoyed, the birthday child begins opening gifts one at a time--to be marvelled, commented on and appreciated. Then come the cards---each child and parent usually creates a card and message for the birthday child to read and save in a special box.

Humor always adorns every meal we share, whether it is our somewhat retarded golden retriever who almost knocked down the table to get to the leftover eggs, or some extravagant comment. Today did not disappoint us. I was reading a Jane Austen quote outloud from a card Joy received, "It is much easier to kill realities than phantoms!" At which exact moment, the front door mysteriously blew open--and we all looked for the phantoms who must have entered at precisely on time for a great effect! (Maybe you had to be here--but the timing was perfect and made us all giggle!)

Finally, the pinnacle of the morning is when all of us at the table share with the birthday child what they have meant to us and how we appreciate them and how they have grown. I am still astounded that at 23, 20, 18 and 12, my children take this ritual so seriously. I thought when they were young, they would surely giggle and make sarcastic comments and find it difficult to finish the time. Yet, I am truly amazed that they have vested lots of love and thoughtfulness in these times and I can farely observe the heart of the birthday child being watered and refreshed enough to last for months.

Nathan started this year. "I have been amazed at how confidently and professioally you have been performing--through your Youth Performing Arts choir and through the musicals you were in. You have quite a voice and your are so poised and confident. At the last concert, I got my whole row of friends to yell your name at the teen concert. They all said they wish they had a sister like you. I prayed you into the world and I am very proud to have you as my sister!"

Followed by his generous comments, came Joel's, Sarah's, Clay's and mine. "You have really grown in your commitment to the Lord this year and you have such intelligent things to say in our discussions." "You have really developed in your personality this year. The way you decorate your room is amazing, your writing is very expressive, you're learning to read music so well on the piano, and you are passing all of us up in your many abilities!" "You have been a real friend to me and you always have such interesting things to say in the car when I pick you up from classes. It is obvious that you are reading and learning a lot. You have also been a lot of fun for me." And on it goes. I see before me, these children who have learned to love each other in spite of the personality differences, the various immature and hormonal and argumentative stages of life. I am amazed and grateful. How did this happen---these children who threaten to undo me from time to time with their whining, silly fusses, immaturity and friction. Yet, here they are in their right minds, enjoying each other, laughing at each other's jokes, discussing issues loudly, and participating in family bonding--willingly, generously. What a gift to me, Lord, to see this picture of watching Joy's heart fill with emotioal health, before her brothers and sister venture to the far winds-Sarah and Joel to Cambridge, then to Seattle in the fall, Nathan to his classes in another state.

But when everyone goes their way, I see that there will be hundreds of memories shared, loved communicated, prayers offered at our table over the years of celebrations--because we took time to invest in tying our heartstring to each other. These foundations of emotional mental and spiritual health will serve to stabilize and give hope to each of us long after we are separated by miles. Now I see, all the effort and cooking and washing of dishes and wrapping of presents did matter because they provided the frame around which a life of love was painted on the souls of each of my precious children. Ok, move over---I will finish the dishes this morning!