Authors note: Just so we’re on the same page (and yes, if you are reading this, we may literally be on the same page) I agree with your likely thought that “traditionate” is not a word. I just made up this verb form of “tradition” for the purposes of this article…
Isn’t memory interesting? Who knows what experiences will later become clear memories, and which moments will be forgotten? One thing we do know is that strong memories often spring from strong traditions. Without realizing it, we may be “traditionating” (creating traditions) on the regular. We just don’t always know what children will consider traditions.
For example, Once I was visiting with a new friend in her kitchen. One wall was lined with shelves full of tall glass containers. One of those containers was filled with dry oatmeal.
I complimented her on her lovely jars and mentioned that I loved a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. “I love it for a snack” my friend said. “Sure” I said. “I guess a bowl oatmeal would make a great, healthy snack.” “I didn’t mean a bowl of oatmeal” my friend said. “I meant, like … handfuls of oatmeal. You know … dry.” Her lips, a serious straight line, told me she wasn’t kidding. “We had it as children.” she continued. “My other favorite thing is burned toast.”
She explained. “When my sister and I were very young, it was just the two of us and our Mom. She had to leave for work early and she was always rushing to get out the door. Generally, she would burn the toast, have a few bites anyway, and leave the rest on the counter. Well … we got the leftover toast. It was just … you know … sort of a tradition, I guess.”
She laughed a little awkwardly. “After school, we would come home to an empty house. We were so young. We didn’t know how to make anything really. But there were always these big bags of dry oatmeal in the pantry. We would dive into them with our tiny hands. We would eat it right out of the bag. So… that became another little tradition. Now it’s all these years later. Sometimes my sister and I talk about how we both love burned toast and dry oatmeal. I guess it’s just because we associate those things with home and family.”
I nodded and smiled. But inside my heart was breaking. I pictured two little girls trying to navigate their little, complicated world, often alone. I wanted to reach back in time and give them better traditions. Heck, the conversation inspired me to pay better attention to both my conscious and inadvertent “traditionating”. Children seem to absorb life nearly by osmosis.
When my husband and I were young and poor, our bishop counseled us “Give your children experiences (and their by-product memories) over things.”
My husband wanted to scrape together whatever extra money (and ski swap items) we could to take our children skiing once in awhile. I wanted to decorate. That was it really-I wasn’t yet “woke” (thank-you teen America) about creating memories. I just wanted to deeply explore decor.
Then I thought about our bishop’s counsel. I thought about how our young daughters had never once asked me why their bedspreads were not covered in cabbage roses from Laura Ashley (a popular designer at the time). I decided to lean into skiing. And when I say lean, I am also referring to my tendency to lean back on my skis. This led to different sorts of awkward memories we can talk about another time…:), but the point was, we skied (#isortofskied). We still head up to those snowy mountains as family members. I am indescribably grateful for this tradition.
Reasonable, curated decor came over time. But years later, not one grown child has ever said anything to me like, “Mom, the woodgrain on that desk in my room, so incredible-still makes me tear up…” Rather they have often waxed nostalgiac about the love they feel for seemingly innumerable memories of time spent on and near mountains. It needn’t have been skiing. It could have been hiking or biking. Or stuffing envelopes for charitable causes (this was a brilliant tradition in the Bill Gates home), or making crafts. It could have been a myriad of good things.
Even more than the skiing, the kids talk and laugh about the many Devotionals*, FHE’s and related sorts of gatherings we’ve shared together. The spirit is the best kind of memory inspiring guest.
They also talk about pancakes. Most Saturday mornings for decades, my husband Tom made pancakes. In the beginning, this drove me slightly and quietly crazy. My husband loves Bisquick. He is a fan of this using this ingredient to produce a constant stream of no-frills pancakes. I am not anti-Bisquick, but I love to cook and could think of so many other ways to make pancakes! Plus, there are so many things you can add to pancakes! But this was his thing. I already had a list of “my things” with the kids. I could let this go. I reminded myself of the old cowboy adage “Never miss a good opportunity to shut up”. My husband was doing a fabulous thing: he was creating a tradition that would span generations.
One morning, with lots of little faces gathered around our pancake grill, our then five-year-old Jared said, “I know what I want to be when I grow up! A Pancake Daddy!” He picked up a pancake turner and waved it proudly. “And I already have a spatula!”
A box of Bisquick, some eggs, milk and a little growing family. This was the recipe for decades (and counting) of comforting tradition.
Traditions are a kind of (happier) life insurance. Or life assurance. We all have the power to consciously create positive traditions that can help children feel worthy of such efforts. Traditions help children feel valued and secure in a world that doesn’t always make them feel valued or secure.
Of course, things will sometimes go wrong, despite our best efforts. But as my mom used to say, “Crisis plus time equals humor.” Fun memories often include bumbling missteps we can laugh about later, even if we feel frustrated at the time. Every memorable photo has some necessary shadows. None of us is perfect. And that’s the perfect way it’s supposed to be in this life.
So let’s tradionate! It’s almost Christmas. Let’s do the Christmas things. And maybe… let’s add a new thing? Memories made may later pop into children’s thoughts, echoing love.
And that love will return to us, multiplied.