Easter morning, my husband and I were scrambling to hide the eggs—not because we forgot and not because we had overslept.
Our “kid,” our sweet adult daughter, home for spring break during her final year of college, was calling from her bedroom as we were waking on Easter morning, asking if she could come out of her room.
What?! Come out of her room? That question means only one thing on a holiday, a different question masked by a façade of obedience. Did Santa come? Did the Easter Bunny come? I opened one eye and peeked to see if my husband was more in control of whatever seemingly action-required vocal cacophony that was floating over the airwaves from down the hallway. His eyes were fake closed. We’re not rookies. We know how to pretend not to hear our kids early on a Sunday morning, and we also know how to pretend we are sound asleep so the other parent has to take the lead. We’ve had a lot of noisy Sunday mornings. But both of us were bluffing the other too well that morning. No one moved.
I poked him with my toe.
“Did you tell our 22-year-old child there would be eggs hidden?” I groggily queried.
“Huh? Um, no. Did we even dye the eggs?”
“Oh, right, no! Why would she think we hid eggs when there are none to hide? I did put her Easter basket out, but do you think she’s expecting an egg hunt this morning? No, she can’t be.”
“Nah,” he says. “There’s no way she thinks we hid eggs.”
But then, we hear her again. “Hello? Can I come out?”
I may or may not have accidentally scratched my husband’s leg as I jabbed him with my Iron Sheik toenail again, prodding him. If I had to get up, so did he.
We rose, not quite awake, but aware we’d blown it enough to jump into action pretty quickly.
So there we suddenly were, running around the backyard with a carton of plain white eggs, husband in undershorts and me in his t-shirt and too short pajama pants, hiding eggs in the late morning sun.
“You can come out now!” We yelled at her from the backyard.
“Oh my gosh! You guys remembered! It’s so awesome that no matter how old I am, you remember our special traditions,” she said emotionally as she hugged us and grabbed her Easter basket, as she always has done, to collect her treasures.
We glanced at each other. “Be careful when you drop them in there. And maybe do it kinda quick so the eggs don’t rot in the sun…” They are raw, after all…
Traditions are BIG in our family. I used to think my mother created a monster in me when I got old enough to realize just how much value I place upon tradition in my life. And that morning, I was kicking myself for creating a second generation Ritual Monster in our daughter.
Our family is built upon a foundation of a mosaic of new and old. The pieces of our story are glued together with the joy that comes from being together doing things that make our hearts beat in rhythm, no matter space, time, or distance. Those special moments that become sacred memories also become events that can be used to connect and reconnect. The value of tradition is priceless.
Traditions are people.
Traditions are not about the tradition itself; traditions are about the people behind the ritual. Replace the word “tradition” with the people attached to the tradition, and the spotlight shines on its real focus. For example, I loved my childhood tradition of drinking eggnog from the green glasses in the china cabinet when we decorated the Christmas tree. Rather, I loved the moment I saw my mama walking over to her family heirloom china cabinet. I heard the sound of the clasp unhitching. The rattle of the glass as she gently swung the door open has the same effect as when her voice says good night. I love remembering the squeal of my sister as she clapped and hopped up and down when she realized it’s eggnog time. And I even loved my brother’s answer, “No, that’s gross,” every single year as my dad moved toward the kitchen and asked if we wanted nutmeg on top.
Now, this eggnog tradition has carried into my own family, though we use the Christmas mugs my mom bought us when we got married. My son also says, “No, that’s gross,” when my husband goes to the kitchen to get the nutmeg. But in our family, the eggnog now only gets served after we get back from the Christmas tree farm, where we’ve played three rounds of Hide-and-Seek amongst the pines. And it is one serious game of Hide-and-Seek. The tree farm owner calls her staff out to watch around the campfire when we arrive because, after 15 or so years of tradition, our Hide-and-Seek game is part of her Christmas tradition too.
One year, my son secretly purchased a Ghillie suit online and snuck it into the tree farm under his coat. When we arrived, the tree farm owner let him hide behind her trailer to put on his camo disguise. Needless to say, he won that year. And trust me, the winner gets to have the honor for the whole year and doesn’t let anyone forget. Even the owner remembers who won the previous year and makes sure we acknowledge the reigning king or queen before we begin the new game. Traditions are about the people that feel the joy and power of the tradition, not the act itself.
Traditions are glue.
Families have struggles. Sometimes friends experience distance. But traditions can heal wounds; traditions can overlook strife. Traditions can have more power than pain does. Time and distance can cause amnesia in daily life, but experiences that are so powerful at the time can remind us of the best times in our relationships.
I have a young student that struggles with math. He has the best work ethic of most students I’ve taught. He knows he has to work harder than his friends, and he knows that he has to learn a concept several times before it sticks. He doesn’t let it phase him—usually. Once in a great while, I can see a bit of a defeated darkness cloud his eyes and I know he is discouraged beyond what any words of encouragement or power could do to reverse his mindset. In those moments, he feels frustrated with me because I am the deliverer of the content that he feels he can’t manage.
To create a bridge, I will pull upon our “rituals”—those positive encounters that he enjoys and feels ownership of to bring him back to a place of positivity and joy in learning. We have a special learning corner in our tutoring cottage with beanbags and blankets, and I will give him some time to sit with me without a learning agenda and just talk about things he enjoys while he kicks off his shoes, relaxes into a beanbag, has a special hot chocolate. This tradition, a repetitive rejuvenation he can count on, allows us to non-verbally acknowledge his frustration, separate himself from his feelings of inadequacy within his own mindset, and get a break so he can come back ready to power through stronger.
Traditions can overcome adversity.
Traditions are a solid foundation that hope and joy and safety can be built upon. The raw egg hunt came from this strong foundation. Our daughter is on the verge of beginning her own family traditions. She is marrying her sweetheart in just three months, and she will start her own new connections. But she will also take some of our family traditions and continue them with her own kids someday. Hopefully, she will boil the eggs first, but even if she doesn’t, she will be creating her own mosaic and strong foundation for her own family that will run deep for their well being and feeling of belonging and safety.
Traditions provide continuity in times of transition in the face of the unknown. Growing and changing is good but can be stressful. Tradition and family rituals can help with growing pains. Traditions are also the special reminisces that we can count on when we lose a beloved family member or friend to help us deal with the loss in a healthy way. These traditions are how we can help our kids process loss without feeling like they are legless.
In our family, one way that special tradition manifests itself is in the form of a banana cake. My grandma made a three-layer banana cake for every special event in our lives—holidays, baby showers, funerals, graduations, etc. When she died, my sister picked up the tradition to honor my grandma. The first cake my sister made was lopsided and heavy, but we ate every morsel because it helped us feel lighter, knowing our grandma was being honored with our efforts and that the tradition would carry on. That cake has a special place of honor in our hearts that fulfills that continuity. It makes us all feel safe and have a sense of belonging that our Grandma Ruby’s cake provided.
So, how do we instill tradition in our kids? Do we have a meeting with our co-parents and lay out a 73-step strategy for making special things happen that will provide safety and connection? Yep! That’s the only way to create a lasting tradition. Or not! Moms, we don’t have time for that, and furthermore, our kids are SMART! They’d be onto our intentions and motivations in a hot minute! Let’s be honest, sometimes we try too hard as parents to make everything so special that our kids will bask in the comfort of the family connection. Sometimes, the best traditions come from the easiest, most natural occurrences, and we, as parents, don’t have to do ONE DARN THING.
The first time our daughter came home from college for a weekend her freshman year, I put a flower from our garden next to her bed in a mason jar. And then, when she came home the second time, I went into her dusty, musty room to air it out and noticed the dead rose in the jar. I popped a new rose in there, and a tradition was born. She gets a flower from our garden next to her bed when she comes home. It’s gotten a little tricky when I’m out of town and she pops in with a quick trip home, but we just do the best we can! I’ll make it a joke and put the rose behind my back, being fake-sleuthy as she’s lounging in her bed, and will back up to the mason jar and swap the dead for the new behind my back while she’s literally watching me.
But, even the joy in the imperfection is a tradition of sorts. It’s just about the connection, in any form it is created. I love the latest Denny’s commercial that’s out right now. The mom is speaking about “Crepe Day” and says, “It’s a family tradition we started about 22 minutes ago, and from the looks of it, this tradition is going to last awhile.”
Sometimes our kids are the tradition creators, and we don’t have to do anything besides hang on for the ride! When my son turned 16, his favorite thing in the world to do was to go for long drives in the hills. We didn’t want our new driver to be out alone on the road in the dark “joy riding” quite yet, so when he asked us to go on a drive, we jumped in the car! Out of necessity, a tradition was born. We go on a drive almost every time he’s home from college. We don’t have to have some deep convo, but if we do, we’ve certainly got the opportunity. Even if we didn’t say a word, though, the tradition is enough to help us all reset and connect after our extended physical separation.
Even when we can’t pull off the exact ritual that our kids anticipate, even when raw eggs are poaching inside their shells in the backyard because we didn’t realize how important this tradition was, and we have to pull our plans together last minute, or when dead roses are greeting them when they arrive home, we can provide strength and foundational stability to our kids, no matter how old they are. And the bonus is, the tradition warms us just as much as it does our kids. It doesn’t matter their age. Traditions remind us that we are all on one beautiful journey together for the whole beautiful ride.