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!