Saturday, April 6, 2013

Making them up as I go along

If you think the people you associate with don’t have very specific rules for holidays, try switching things up one year and observe what happens. “Let’s have lasagna for dinner on Thanksgiving, and let’s eat at noon instead of six.” “Let’s spend Christmas at my family’s house instead of yours.” “What if we don’t put up a tree this year?” Did you hear that shrieking? Yeah, they’ve got rules, all right.

The thing about me is that I’ve never much cared about following any rules, let alone holiday ones. My life would probably be easier if I were always sure of the One Way that things had to be, but I’m usually more interested in seeing what would happen if I tried something different and stood back for a longer look. 

It’s a lifeview I took with me into motherhood, so my children have suffered through the year when we didn’t get a Christmas tree until we smuggled one out of a closed lot on Christmas Eve, or the Thanksgiving “Democracy Rules” dinner, when everyone got to vote on what they wanted to eat, and we ended up with dumplings and brownies. So far, they’re surviving.

It’s not that I don’t like holidays. I just prefer to make up new ones, which are usually a lot more fun. Like the tradition of taking a couple carfuls of kids every December to the community center gingerbread house-making event, and pretending not to notice when the years slid by, and the kids got so big and tall that they’re now consistently mistaken for parents. The constant whoops of joy coming from our table, where the boys try to craft elf heads on pikes, or re-create vampire-reindeer wars with nothing more than red licorice and pretzel sticks, are well worth any confused looks from the other participants, who tend toward the one-nice-granny-with-a-four-year-old demographic.

Sometimes I get so deep in the throes of a newly minted tradition that I don’t realize how entrenched it has become. I hadn’t realized that our pickup-game-style Easter Egg hunts, normally conducted with whomever happened to be standing around at the time and was wearing a warm-enough jacket, had become “a thing.” But when I went back and starting printing out group photos from years past, I realized there were a lot of years that had passed. That invented holiday, I realize in retrospect, has been a keeper.

We celebrated one of our self-created days yesterday, and ended up talking about one I’d already forgotten, so it was a nice break from the current action of my life, which has been trending not-so-hot of late. This holiday is called “Going to the Lands,” and it involves Mary Katherine and Olivia, plus (and you might be noticing a theme emerging here) whoever else happens to be hanging around that day. Celebration requires, at minimum, a visit to the annual spring flower show at the store-formerly-known-as-Dayton’s and an afterwards (never before!) visit to Candyland, where one-quarter pound of candy must be purchased for each child. Also, every single time, Mary Katherine will get Sour Patch kids as her candy selection, which is the dumbest candy choice ever, but I don’t think that’s a rule so much as a phenomenon.

Yesterday was the only day that Olivia, a very busy eighth grader (president of her class, not that I'm bragging), was going to be free. As luck (my kind of luck, lately) would have it, it was a day in which I’d already crammed a number of grownuppy and workish activities. But I promised her that I’d get my nose to the grindstone and still manage to be in her driveway at 2 p.m., and, more or less, I was. It wouldn’t be a Kendrick holiday without extra guests and several automobile trips to gather up participants, and this one was no different. Olivia’s younger sister wanted to come along (sure, if you don’t mind double buckling, sweetie), and I had to drive back across town to get Mary Katherine and Maren, our favorite seven-year-old. It’s called “Going to the Lands” because, on a previous visit, a younger Olivia had happily observed that the nooks and crannies of the various settings at the show “were like little lands.” The Holiday Name was born; some things you just don’t change.

It was a lovely respite of an afternoon, and I was happy just to be together with the people I love for no particular reason, which I guess is why holidays were invented in the first place. I paid no attention to the fact that Olivia is now taller than me, or that Maren can read the names of all the flowers by herself and doesn’t really need a whole lot of help for anything, not even for shoelace-tying. In my perfect holiday world, everyone is four years old, including me, and yesterday felt like a perfect world.

Things were a little less perfect when we pulled out of the parking garage and saw that, on April 5, it had started to snow. All the green lands we’d been looking at for the past hour had tricked us into thinking that spring might be coming, so we were a bit desolate as we tottered home in the bulging Beetle (me, two teens, a tween, and a luckily very slender seven-year-old). That’s when Olivia decided to cheer us up by talking about another made-up holiday.

“Remember the Breakfast Picnic?” she asked. I did, and they did, although they remembered details like cinnamon rolls, which they either made up or which I had long ago forgotten. The basics of the holiday were that, as soon as they woke up on a beautiful Sunday morning (which was mighty early in those days), I gathered up blankets and food and camera and took them to the Walker Sculpture Garden for a Breakfast Picnic, an event of my own invention. We were alone in the park (because every other normal person was still asleep), which gave everything the magical feeling that the whole beautiful space existed just for us. We fed ducks (I guess they liked those cinnamon rolls, if I can trust what the children tell me), and the kids stood on all the sculptures that had big “no standing” signs by them while I took pictues.

As I fell asleep last night, I thought about that day, and I was thinking about it when I woke up this morning. I rooted around and found those pictures I'd taken. No one had taken any pictures of me, but that was okay. I can tell you how I looked – I looked tired. I had a carful of kids, it was early in the morning, and somehow I had talked myself into baking cinnamon rolls and talked them into how much fun it would be if we tried eating them outdoors. 

But even though I was tired, I did it anyway, and I am so proud of myself now for making the effort. I want to reach out to that Julie of May 2008 and tell her, good girl. You made something happen that these young women still remember – a green space and a perfect morning and a little bit of fun. It doesn’t matter that you were tired then, or that you’re even more tired now. You made up a holiday five years ago, a good one. And that, Julie Kendrick, was something worthwhile.

1 comment:

  1. Happy holidays! Since traditions are learned, I think I will learn from your breakfast picnic and give it whirl.