family + parenting · traditions

My personal policy for family traditions

A few weeks ago, I crouched down next to the dollar bins at the front of my local Target, a chalkboard back-to-school sign in my hand.

Every year, throughout August and early September, my social media feed gets filled with first-day-of-school photos of the adorable children of my family and friends. This year, Edgar started kindergarten. So when I held that back-to-school sign in my hands, I was considering whether or not I wanted to purchase it for a first day photo for him.

I realized that this moment – choosing whether or not to buy a chalkboard sign for this occasion – demonstrated a little bit of the push/pull I feel when it comes to family traditions and rituals. Because I’m not sure if I care about taking first day of kindergarten/last day of kindergarten photos of my kids – this year or during any school year.

To be clear, I think the photos are ADORABLE. I don’t think there’s anything bad about photos like these at all. And even if I didn’t like them, I would respect and celebrate any family’s use of them as a back-to-school ritual.

But I know myself, and I don’t always have the bandwidth for even something simple like a front step photo. I have two kids; one of them likes to smile for photos and the other one doesn’t. I don’t know if I want to add the expectation of smiling (or staying still) for a photo to an emotionally-charged first day of school.

Add to that, Tamara and I strive to keep our home a minimalist household. It doesn’t always work, and we are far from where we want to be with that quest, but it’s a goal and I try to be mindful of that when making choices about purchases. Do I really need a chalkboard back-to-school sign that we only use once or twice a year?

I decided that we didn’t. (We can always make a cardboard or construction paper sign if we want to do the picture.) I left the store, still undecided about the photo, destined to overthink it a little bit more as our countdown to kindergarten continued.

I’m an overthinker in general, and if I let myself go crazy, I can really overthink things like traditions, rituals, and holidays. I’ve blogged previously about my struggle with Easter traditions and choosing how to celebrate that holiday. I truly love traditions, routines, and rituals. I love the rhythm and magic they provide to my life and my family. Yet I have so many mixed feelings about the minor and major holidays we celebrate throughout the year.

St. Patrick’s Day is a good example. When I was a kid, I wore SPD clothes and brought shamrock stickers to school and shared them with friends and wore them on my face for SPD. But that was because my family of origin is Irish, and we liked to celebrate our heritage on that day. These days, there’s allllll this stuff with leprechauns that I don’t remember ever seeing while I was growing up. It is super cute and fun! But I don’t feel obligated – nor do I think anyone else should – to turn my toilet water green or pretend a leprechaun came to visit my house. I might feel differently this year; Edgar is five, and he might have fun with a leprechaun visit, and I am all about anything that makes him smile and feel joy. I also love holidays and celebrating. But I don’t like feeling like something like this is a “have-to” – because it’s definitely not.

I decided that I needed a personal policy for family traditions to keep myself from becoming overwhelmed with all the possibilities and shoulds. My unwritten-until-now rules for family traditions are:

  • Do nothing because you’re “supposed to” do it.
  • Be creative – avoid making every celebration about gifts or desserts.
  • Align traditions with our family values.
  • Keep it simple. The tradition should either be a) really easy to implement or b) so awesome that you don’t mind the effort.

These rules speak for themselves, and I find them really comforting. I am a scatterbrained person in general; add parenting two boys to the mix and I often don’t know what month it, let alone what holiday is right around the corner. Taking time to reflect on what matters to me is invaluable.

With the beginning of the school year and the approach of the fall/winter holiday season, l am thinking a lot about traditions, routines, and rituals. More thoughts on these topics to come!

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family + parenting

Adorable Things My Kids Are Up To Lately

My sons, Edgar and Jonas, are 4 and 2 years old right now, and those are pretty great ages when it comes to doing adorable things. Here are some of my favorites lately:

  • Edgar announcing something we forgot to do. Every night at dinner, we say things we’re thankful for, write them on a post-it note, and put the post-its in a Mason jar. Edgar always remembers this ritual, which is great for me, since I love rituals but often forget to do them. He often announces, “We forgot to say what we’re thankful for!” However, often he’ll announce that immediately after our blessing – sooooo, we didn’t actually forget yet, we just haven’t started it yet. He does this with other routines, too, but this occurrence is my favorite.
  • Jonas making sure we’re okay. Every time Tamara or I stumble or bump into something (happens to me more than it should), Jonas stops whatever he’s doing and asks, “Are you okay, Mom?” in his amazing two-year-old voice. SO. FREAKING. SWEET.
  • Edgar’s letter to Santa. This is a bit of a throwback, but during Christmas 2020, Edgar “wrote” a four page scribble letter to Santa. He would not tell anyone what it said; just left it out by the milk and cookies. He also wrote two scribble letters to Santa before Christmas, and again wouldn’t share what they said. It was adorable. I was slightly worried he’d sent a secret message to Santa that would result in disappointment on Christmas, but everything on the holiday was just perfect.
  • On my birthday, the kids sang happy birthday to me at every meal we ate that day – breakfast, lunch, dinner, two snacks, and cake. Amazing.
  • Edgar has always been great at independent play. He’ll get lost in his own thoughts, playing with a small toy or two, and we’ll hear him quietly talking to himself. I love it. I can hear him telling himself stories or acting out a book we’ve read or a movie he’s watched. He likes to tell us that he’s making a show or telling a story.
  • Jonas doing EVERY SINGLE THING THAT Edgar does. EVERYTHING! If Edgar gets a tissue, Jonas gets one. If Edgar drops something, Jonas drops it. If Edgar starts whining that he’s tired, Jonas – all smiles, because he is NOT tired – will start whining as well. Love this when it works to our advantage – do NOT love it when it involves a real 4yo meltdown followed by a fake 2yo meltdown.
  • Edgar asking, “Cam I do this every day?” Edgar’s been learning to do lots of new things, big and small. Opening the latch on his blue boat toy, riding his pedal bike. Whenever he learns to do something new, he asks, “Can I do this every day?” When I tell him that yes, he can, he gets the sweetest, tiniest smile on his face.
  • Edgar’s great ideas. likes to tell us, “I have a great idea!” The other day, he was holding a small red dragon, and e, “I have a great idea! We can build a new dragon toy.” saying, I habve a great idea. said, i want to bnuiold a new dragon – so that he would not have to share the pone in his hand with his little brother.
  • Once we started having warmer days, I told the boys they could take off their shoes while we played in the backyard. Edgar’s eyes LIT UP. He kicked off his shoes. He then repeatedly told me “I love being barefoot!” the whole time we were outside playing.
  • The two of them like to make up games. One of the games, called “Pop!”, involves them running across the yard or the basement screaming “POP!!!” at the top of their lungs. “Egg!” is a variation.
  • Hide-and-seek. Playing hide-and-seek at these ages is the best. They’re not very good at it yet, but they LOVE it. Our fave way to play is me hiding in the living room, and the two of them count to ten in Edgar’s room. Then they come find me and shriek with fear and joy when they find me. Then I run into Edgar’s room and hide there. We go back and forth like that for a while. Sometimes they take a while to find me, because they’re having so much fun being silly and pretending to be scared, which means I can bring my book to my hiding place and read two or three pages without being interrupted. Amazing.
  • They are both really into writing and drawing lately. They each have a “writing book” and they like to bring them with them wherever they go. Love this SO MUCH.

I plan to do posts like this occasionally; at these ages, there are so many sweet and amazing things every day, and I want to remember as much as I can.

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family + parenting

My New Favorite Holiday: Reflections On Easter 2021

I had so much fun celebrating Easter this year!

This was a major surprise to me, because historically, Easter is the holiday I overthink the most. I’m never quite sure what to do or how to celebrate. When I was a kid, this was a religious holiday for my family. Now that Tamara and I don’t practice Christianity, I’ve questioned whether we should celebrate Easter at all.

When I became a mom, I reached out to a non-religious friend, who advised me to treat Easter as Secular Chocolate Bunny Day. I took that advice and I’ve followed it ever since. And yet, I still have found so many things to overthink – when and where and how to do an egg hunt, what role an Easter basket should play, what role an Easter bunny should play, food to eat, etc.

This year, our relatively low-key Easter ended up involving three different celebrations:

  1. In North Carolina, with Tamara’s side of the family, we dyed Easter eggs and had an egg hunt for Edgar and Jonas and their two cousins, who are 4 and 3 years old.
  2. In Maryland, the day before Easter Sunday, my sister drove down from Philly with her husband and their two kids, ages 11 and 14.
  3. On Easter, in addition to our “just us” family activities, my brother and his family (kids aged 12, 10, 7, and 6) came over for bagels and an egg hunt.

Here’s what I LOVED about our Easter celebrations this year:

  • Limited planning required. Some of this is due to COVID, because so few plans have been on anyone’s calendar. But it was relatively painless to arrange all three of these events just a week or a few weeks in advance.
  • The dyeing of the Easter eggs! This is not a task I remember enjoying as a child, but I loved it this year. Mainly because we used brown eggs and it made the resulting product such a deep and beautiful color.
  • The HIDING of the Easter eggs! This was so ridiculously fun. There is something about this task – just wandering around a yard, looking for little spots where I can tuck away an egg for someone to find – that is so satisfying and fun for me. For the egg hunt with my brother’s family, it was extra fun. What we did was label the eggs by the kids’ age – so all the eggs with a 12 written on it in Sharpie were for my 12-year-old nephew, all the eggs with a 4 on them were for 4-year-old Edgar, etc. That meant that we could scale the difficulty and make some of the eggs for the older kids extremely difficult to locate or obtain. (For example, several eggs with a 10 or a 12 on them required climbing a tree or scaling the roof of our shed.) It was so fun to hide them all, so fun to watch the kids hunt, and so fun to provide hints and clues for the last few eggs, often in the form of a rhyme or a riddle. LOVED it.
  • Our indoor hunt for dyed Easter eggs on Easter morning. For our outdoor egg hunts with my sister’s family and my brother’s family, we used plastic eggs with treats inside. So on Easter Sunday morning, I was a little worried that Edgar and Jonas wouldn’t be excited to look for the dyed Easter eggs. But they were! Edgar woke up first and immediately started to spot some of them around, and he got so smiley and excited to look for more. Jonas jumped right in when he woke up, and it was all delightful.
  • The Easter basket scavenger hunt. This is one of the other big things I overthink about Easter – what is the deal with the baskets? Are they just out and on display when the kids wake up in the morning, like on Christmas Day? Do the kids have to look for them – are they hidden somewhere? I’m pretty sure my parents alternated between these two options. I don’t love the idea of the baskets just being out and on display – partly because I like having the kids hunt for the baskets, and partly because, without a hunt, the baskets just aren’t that exciting. Like, they have candy and a few fun things inside, but not THAT fun! So Tamara and I decided to do a scavenger hunt for the boys to find their baskets. The boys woke up and found all the dyed eggs, and then we ate breakfast. Then, while I entertained the boys, the “Easter Bunny” hid five clues around our home for a scavenger hunt that would end with the boys finding their baskets. When that was done, we revealed the first clue. The boys had to go to their trampoline, to the bathtub, to Jonas’s new “big boy bed” (AKA his crib mattress on the floor!), to Edgar’s whale lamp, to our new canoe (a gift for Tamara’s 40th!), and finally to the sandbox, where they found their baskets. Edgar LOOOOOVED it! He kept asking me about all the things the Easter Bunny had done while he was hiding clues: “You mean, he jumped on our trampoline, and then he went a took a bath? And then he took our canoe in the truck and went canoeing at the Reservoir?! And then he played in OUR SANDBOX?” So freaking cute.
  • The boys’ Easter baskets. I love the candy associated with Easter – especially Cadbury mini eggs! But it can get overwhelming to me. I knew we were going to do two different egg hunts involving plastic eggs with treats inside, and I knew the boys were going to receive treats from elsewhere, like candy from grandparents or neighbors. I wanted to avoid giving them an Easter basket packed with candy, knowing it would result in overindulgence for the boys, AND for me and Tamara – we both have a big sweet tooth and have a hard time not gorging on chocolate when it’s in the house! Tamara was on the same page, so for the boys’ baskets, the Easter Bunny filled each boy’s basket with a bicycle bell; cool tape to make a road on the floor for their toy cars; a book; and a chocolate bunny. It was perfect. The kids devoured all the candy from their plastic eggs in the afternoon, they took taking delicious bites of their bunnies each day for the next week, and neither kids nor adults went into a sugar coma.
  • Tamara’s annual bunny cake! I am not into fancy food, really ever, but especially not for Easter. But I DO love our annual tradition of Tamara baking a carrot cake bunny cake. This year, in the spirit of low sugar and moderation, we bought small cake pans and she made a mini bunny cake for our visit with my sister’s family. It was the perfect amount – everyone got a piece of cake, with just a smidge leftover for us to eat later.

What a lovely holiday. I’m so glad I am over my Easter angst and now get to celebrate Secular Chocolate Bunny Day every year in all its glory!

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family + parenting

Breakfast Invitations + Why I’m Here For Them

A few weeks into the COVID-19 school closure, I noticed that my sister-in-law’s Instagram feed was full of fun exploratory and educational activities for her kids. Her two boys are close in age to Edgar and Jonas, and one day I texted her to ask about the activities. Specifically, the when and how of it all.

She referred me to the Instagram feed of Days With Grey, which was FULL of fun and educational activity ideas. The site was created by Beth, a mom and education specialist, and it is creative, fun, and awesome. One of her key ideas is Breakfast Invitations – simple activities to be done at the table, during breakfast, so that kids can play and learn while parents caffeinate themselves for the day.

I love the Breakfast Invitations so much. The way it works for our family is that either Tamara or I set up an activity at the kitchen table the night before. We choose things that are low prep and try to mix it up so that we’re doing different things. Kids are learning all day long, of course, but sometimes the breakfast activity is a chance to practice letters, numbers, patterns, shapes, etc. Sometimes they do mazes or puzzles or Highlights “That’s Silly!” games. Sometimes I break out a toy they haven’t played with in a long time and incorporate it into the activity.

So the kids wake up, and we snuggle or read books and they play. Eventually, they make their way to the breakfast table, and they do their activity while they eat and I drink my coffee.

Here’s why I like this routine:

  1. It’s a little surprise for the boys every morning. I love anything that intrigues the boys and gets them engaged – especially amid the monotony that is COVID times.
  2. It’s a way to practice or teach skills – colors, cutting with scissors, whatever pops up. Edgar started getting into playing with money over the summer, so we did a few days of recognizing pennies and nickels and dimes.
  3. It’s a ritual that allows me to teach them something that I want them to learn. We’re teaching our kids all day every day. But, it’s become overwhelmingly evident during COVID times, it can be hard for parents to take on the more formal role of teacher. So I like the idea of practicing this with Edgar now, especially since (gulp) I worry about life going back to normal by the time he’s supposed to start kindergarten next year.
  4. It’s a planned activity that’s part of our routine. My kids are great at playing independently, and I’m fine just sort of playing our days at home by ear – sometimes. But sometimes, in COVID times, I find that we’re all getting a little bored, a little restless. So starting the day off with something a little structured and/or creative feels good.

Check out the website Days With Grey if you want to learn more!

close up photo of watercolor palette
Photo by Deeana Creates on