We have always had family traditions, but we did not know how important they were until our oldest was in 2nd grade. In the fall of that year, we were traveling to China to adopt our daughter. Due to the timing of our trip, we needed to omit some of our annual traditions in order to be ready to leave on time. When we told our children, ages 7, 6 and 2, our oldest burst into tears.
“If we don’t do our traditions,” he cried, “they will never be traditions again!”
My husband and I stared at one another, shocked. Yes, year after year, we had repeated important events. A day at the beach. Apple picking. Pumpkin carving. Cutting down our own Christmas tree. These repeated experiences had created a flood of picture-perfect moments and memories we loved to recall. But, until we wiped our little one’s tears, we had no idea that these family traditions had mattered quite so much.
As adults, we know that each year follows a pattern. The seasons change, school begins and ends, holidays come and go. We find comfort in the reliability of it, the regular occurrence of what we have come to expect.
Children are new to this predictable pattern and focus instead on those moments that have meaning, those times that were fun, those things we do again and again. They connect to the continuity and comfort of it, and it adds to the structure they use to understand life around them.
We didn’t know this until we wiped our son’s tears.
Apple picking as a family held a sweetness that had nothing to do with the fruit. For our kids, it marked the beginning of autumn and a time set apart for us to spend together. They made memories of climbing trees and running outside, family nearby as they reveled in the beauty of creation. They fell asleep, cider donuts in hand, as we drove home at the end of the day. And because we do it every year, the memories of sights and smells and shared experience run deep for our kids.
We choose our traditions carefully these days because we know how much they matter to our children. And learning to see all of this through their eyes has added wonder for my husband and for me. We are, together, building a structure of traditions upon which our children will hang the memories of their lives.
And maybe, just maybe, it matters to them that we have taken the time to step out of our regular routine. It sends a quiet message that we want this bit of time. We want it spent with them. We want to make a memory, share a day, and we are willing to sacrifice to offer this to them.
So, off we will go to pick apples, my oldest now 15. And on that day, I will stand back and watch as a lifetime of memories comes gently together. Standing in the sun, the smile he will offer is the same one I saw on the face of my 2nd grade son. This is what traditions offer me--a place where I can store up the wonder of my growing kids.
Year after year.
Trip after trip.
Picture after picture.
Before these days have passed.