When I was growing up, my family was extremely consistent. Every holiday, we knew where we would be spending it, who would be there, what we would eat, what time we would eat, who would be late, what topic would start an argument, who would go home in a huff. I never found this sameness to be boring. I looked upon it as normal, traditional, what we do that makes our family us.
Perhaps this is why I struggle with holiday-memory-making with my own children. I’m six years into this parenthood gig, and I still don’t think I have found that familiarity that makes our family us. We are very inconsistent. In the six years we have been in this house, our Christmas tree has been in six different locations, and every holiday is a reason for my husband and me to have a conversation in which both of us ask, “Well, what do you want to do?”
Just look at our track record for Halloween:
Year One—No trick-or-treating at all. Why? Our daughter was a newborn and we agreed that taking a child under two trick-or-treating was just prostituting her cuteness for candy.
Year Two—Dressed daughter as a pumpkin. Still no trick-or-treating. (see Year One.)
Year Three—Dressed daughter as a dog, went to children’s Halloween party and went trick-or-treating in a strange-to-us neighborhood with a huge group.
Year Four—Dressed daughter as robot, dressed son as pumpkin, weren’t invited to a party, took big pot of chili to in-laws and trick-or-treated in their neighborhood.
Year Five—Dressed daughter as pink bear, dressed son as dog, repeated Year Four because we thought, “Hey, we found our Halloween thing! Trick-or-treating with the in-laws after bringing them food.”
Then, my mother-in-law fell and my father-in-law died, and although where we trick-or-treat is a very minor detail in our family history, we obviously needed a new plan, and so…
Year Six—Dressed daughter as a dragon, dressed son as a knight, called older, childless friend and asked if we could trick-or-treat in her neighborhood, she was delighted, and so, we did…
This year, my neighbor informed me that yes, kids do trick-or-treat in our own neighborhood. How did I miss that all these years? Since my “older, childless friend” was in the hospital, I figured sure, we would give our own home-turf a shot, and it turned out to be a good experience. My daughter was Pippi Longstocking and my son was a knight—because he craves consistency—and we went to a grand total of six houses, because we live in a very small neighborhood. Can I really call it a “neighborhood?” It’s a street. A single country road–and houses are all on two acres so we are kind of spread out. Can you see why I didn’t think anyone trick-or-treated here?
So, perhaps we have, at last, found our Halloween thing. Since we live on such an un-populated street, perhaps next year, I will add to our thing by taking treats to the houses we visit and by inviting the only other young family in our neighborhood to eat with us before we all go trick-or-treating together.
Besides, I need to do a little neighborly PR. Last night, I learned that some of our neighbors think of me as a holiday killjoy because until now, I had never taken my kids trick-or-treating at their houses. Of course, the irony there is that my real life is scarier than any Halloween horror flick right now. Night of the Living Dead? Why, yes! It’s the Night of the Living Dead every night for me.
Geez, I’ll have to make a point to decorate the outside of my house for Christmas, too, before they think I am the Grinch or a Jehovah’s Witness.
And with Halloween behind us, I am thinking about Thanksgiving. Our history with that holiday has also been all over the place. We’ve dined at the Officers’ Club with just my mother-in-law and father-in-law. We’ve been to my sister-in-law’s house for a pot-luck/coverdish family style meal. I even vaguely remember travelling to South Carolina to be with my family, but that may have been before my children were born. I honestly don’t remember the last time I was in South Carolina for a holiday. Isn’t that pitiful?
Last year, it was just the five of us—my husband, our children, his mother, and me—and I cooked the traditional Thanksgiving Day feast—turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, gravy, potatoes, green beans, and pumpkin pie. Beyond the menu, it was all a little anti-climactic because it really wasn’t different enough to be a holiday. Yeah, we said grace, but we say grace before every meal. We talked about what we were thankful for, but that’s just part of our usual dinner-time conversation. I think I used my mother-in-law’s wedding china, but I don’t think my husband or our children really noticed how beautiful the table looked. Really, it could have been Sunday dinner at our house with turkey, instead of chicken.
As I look at the calendar now and begin to plan Thanksgiving, I know it will in some ways be a repeat of last year. Obviously, we aren’t going anywhere, and obviously, we aren’t having guests. It will be just the five of us, but I want to cook a big meal and I want to eat on the good china because we don’t do either of those things enough.
Still, I have the need to ramp it up a bit. I could host a post-dinner bonfire after my mother-in-law has gone to bed.
Maybe I will have kids do some sort of craft-project, like make a centerpiece. Okay, since I’d rather cut off my own hands than do a craft, maybe I should just stick to the bonfire.
Yes, bonfire. Burning stuff. THAT can be what makes our family us. I may have found a tradition.