Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tradition! Tradition....Tradition! (Think Fiddler on the Roof)

We stripped Ila down to just her diaper and plopped her in the middle of the dining room table.  Aidan sat at one end, his eyebrows furrowed paging through the Jack-o-lantern pattern book trying to decide on just the right one to carve into his pumpkin.  "They have some new patterns this year mom."  he said excitedly.  "But I am not sure I want to do one that is difficult.  Which one are you choosing for Ila's pumpkin?"  I answered, "Oh something easy.  We won't keep her attention long."  While Aidan and I decided on simple faces, Jeff cut off the tops and then he and Aidan began scraping and emptying the contents of the pumpkins.  They each delighted Ila by dropping the ooey gooey innards all around her on the table.  She grabbed them with her chubby hands, squeezed them through her fingers, and yes, ate quite a bit as well (much to her mother's chagrin and father's delight!)  We all giggled when Ila curiously peered into the hollowed out gourd.  And when she looked up at her father quizzically and asked, "W'sat Da Da?  W'sat?"  we all answered in unison, "That's a pumpkin Ila!"  When time came to light up the jack-o-lanterns, we took them out into the dark night and placed them on the front porch.  At the sight of their glowing faces Ila's squeal was so high pitched that we were sure we heard dogs start to howl in the next neighborhood over. We each took turns taking pictures with the finished products basking in the Jack-o-lanterns' light, smiling from ear to ear as the trials and tribulations of the week seemed to get swallowed up into the darkness beyond our front porch.

For 16 years, (Yikes! 16 years!) this Halloween tradition has been played out--albeit in many different ways--but played out none the less.  When life changed around us and within us, whether it be the boys' dad not living in our home anymore, the presence of a new man in our lives, friends coming, friends going, scary medical problems, new siblings, the tradition of jack-o-lantern carving has held constant, comforting us with its presence every week before October 31st.  And isn't that what traditions are supposed to be?  Family traditions are a reliable presence in our lives that help define who we are and what we value. Traditions are steadies in a world where "change" seems to be the only OTHER constant. 

At this time of year traditions seem especially prevalent in our household.   It starts with the jack-o-lantern but as autumn turns its face to November and then December my children, my husband and I look forward to the things that makes this season...well...predictable, comfortable, familial, and special.  Each tradition--whether large or small--is utterly essential.

Music starts my family on the right foot when it comes to the holiday season.  Christmas music--to be exact-- is a large part of our holiday traditions.  Every year on November 1st you can find me in the kitchen cooking dinner with John Denver and The Muppets blaring from my I-Home.  Their A Christmas Together album has been a tradition since I was 8 years old.  The songs define the holiday for me.  It wouldn't be Christmas without Miss Piggy warbling "Christmas is Coming," or John Denver singing "A Carol For Christmas" sweetly and serenely after reciting the poem "Alfie the Christmas Tree."   It is so popular with my sons that it is the cd that is most requested when opening presents on Christmas morn or driving in the car to shop for gifts.  A little tradition that I do for myself is to buy new Christmas music every November 1st to add to my comprehensive library.  However, when it comes right down to it, without the oldest cd's Christmas couldn't happen in my house...probably wouldn't happen in my house without the familiar melodies that remind us of all the Christmases that came before.  Music--a tradition that sings us into the new year. 

One of my favorite traditional outings this time of year HAS to be the Fisher's Thanksgiving get together.  For those of you that don't know, my husband is one of ten brothers...(yes I said TEN boys.  Shouldn't THAT Mrs. Fisher be writing a blog too???)  My sister-in-law, Sandy, is brave enough to hold Thanksgiving at her house.  She tends to be the glue that holds the entire family together.  In a way, Thanksgiving at her house is a manifest of her--welcoming and warm, full of happiness and smiles.  But that holiday gathering is also a manifest of the Fisher clan itself; always raucous, laughter shaking the rafters, conversation ringing from every corner of Sandy's elegant house.  There isn't any POSSIBLE way not to feel like you belong to something special when that family (that family????) No, MY family gathers together to celebrate another year, another child, another grateful meal.  My boys and Ila are blessed to be part of it.  Thanksgiving at the Fisher's--a tradition that provides warmth in the cold month of November. 

Family traditions can cut through strife and worry.  Last year after being diagnosed with a heart condition, I have to admit that I didn't have the energy to fulfill many of our holiday rituals.  But the way that my boys counted on and pleaded for the continuation of our holiday traditions was evidence of the fibrous strength they had woven throughout their very beings.  That was clearly evident last year when Gannan, then 13, and perhaps past the age of admitting that all things Christmas was cool, gently asked me if my heart condition would stop us from traveling to our favorite tree farm to cut our Christmas tree down.  You see, it was his turn to use the saw.  He carried that knowledge with him for a year....looking forward to his chance to be the one who caused us all to cheer and whoop a hearty "HUZZAH!" when at last the tree that was meticulously chosen landed with a thump on the soft snow.  That gentle pleading, the hopeful look in his eyes, made me realize how very vital for our family our traditions were, that those annual moments both large and small were absolutely positively fundamental and part of the definition of what family was to my sons.

It isn't difficult to establish traditions.  In fact it doesn't take much more than doing something two years in a row for your children to consider it a "must-do" every year.  What's more, I think that a year of great change is the perfect time to start a new tradition, especially one that takes family togetherness.  My boys favorite traditions were started just a few years ago when what we usually did on Christmas Eve came to an end for reasons beyond our control.  Instead of wallowing in sadness and loss, we instead brainstormed new traditions.  That was the year that we decided that the boys would be the ones to plan the menu and cook on Christmas Eve and Christmas.  Jeff and I help them by following their instructions to a tee (after all, they are in charge) and I am happy to say that our holiday meals have been scrumptious, decadent creations since we started this tradition.  Each year is a new recipe and another chance for us to bond as a family.

Just two years ago, Jeff and I thought that the years of traveling to Albany to drive through Washington Park's Holiday Lights in the Park with the boys oooing and ahhing in the back seat would soon be over.  We thought that in the near future we'd be sitting at some restaurant on Christmas while the boys went to their girlfriends' homes to celebrate with members of someone else's family.  But, miracles happen, and we have been blessed with Ila and a chance to not only extend the time spent on our old family traditions, but time to establish new ones with her and for her.  And dear readers, I would love your help in doing that!  Please share with me your holiday traditions so that they might become ones that Ila experiences someday!