The start of the school year means the return of structure to many families. I know it does for us, and this September I’ve been thinking about the role that traditions play in kids’ lives and just how little it takes to create the kind of memories that will stick with your kids for a lifetime!
Yes, I said “just how little it takes to create” traditions. It is easy to perceive tradition as something that is established over years or decades, but it doesn’t have to take that long and it doesn’t require a lot of time on your part (good thing — you don’t have enough). I’ll give you some recent examples from my family.
First Day of School Picture. Every year we line the kids up on the front step and take their picture before the bus comes. They’re usually shouldering the new backpacks my wife got them (choosing those from the LL Bean catalog is a ritual unto itself, what with the ability to select style, color, animal embroidery, names or initials…), carrying their new lunch boxes, and wearing a new outfit if we managed to get our back-to-school shopping done before the first day (didn’t happen this year). The kids love to see those pictures and they never fail to remind us. That’s a tradition that takes mere minutes a year – but as Kodak would say, provides a lifetime of memories.
Birthday Overnight. We have four kids and we tend to move in a pack, which means we don’t spend much time alone with any one child. Best case in a typical day, we might spend 10-15 minutes at bedtime talking or reading together. So two years ago, I invented a new tradition: when a child turns nine (yes, my oldest turned nine in 2006 which is the reason we chose that odd year) I take him or her into Boston for the night. We don’t schedule anything, but there is plenty to do, and mostly it’s about hanging out together, having those focused discussions that are so rare in the daily chaos, and creating some memories that will persist through the years. This past weekend, Tucker and I went into Boston where we explored baseball card shops, got room service and a movie, and visited the Aquarium before heading home Sunday in time for his friend’s birthday party. With two such trips under my belt, it is a lock for tradition.
Red Sox Scoreboard on the Roof. Well, this may not be super easy or work in every locale, but my kids are Red Sox fanatics and last year we started a “tradition” of posting a mini version of the famous Green Monster scoreboard over our front porch. The first time around, I did most of the design work and didn’t have a lot of help erecting the 8×3 foot structure. Once it was up, though, there everybody took turns updating the score after (and sometimes during) every game so that morning commuters get the right information. We had our 15 minutes of fame when the story was picked up by two Boston television stations. Commuters routinely honk, wave, and thank us through their car windows, and this year all four kids got hands on with the project as we touched up the paint, mod-podged number and team plates, and hoisted the sign to its traditional place. We won’t be too popular if we let this tradition die (unless the Sox have a losing season, in which case fans may find it painful to see the daily standings).
It is easy for me to recall any number of traditions from my own childhood, yet when I analyze them closely, I often find that they were things that only happened a couple of times. And that’s not a jab at my parents, but a nod at their knackfor creating experiences that have stuck with me for decades. Most of the traditions I recall involve my parents and siblings, and I find myself sharing those stories with my own kids. I appreciate those memories — they’re a big part of who I am today — and nothing would make me happier than for my own kids to have a lot of happy memories of their fleeting years with us.