some thoughts about family memories

Canada mintsOver the next few weeks, many of us will be spending time at gatherings with extended family and friends. These events, loaded with emotion and expectation, can overwhelm in the best–and worst–kinds of ways. While we plan and pack and think through contingencies and brace ourselves and gather ingredients for a favorite dish, I want to suggest taking a moment to shift the focus, and reflect on memories from each of our own family gatherings as kids. And what were – and can be – the components that lead to lasting memories.

When I was young, we spent some holidays at my grandmother’s small house in Braintree, MA where my mother had grown up. One of my most lasting memories of those times was Granny offering us orange soda, which she called “tonic.” At our nightly table it was always “water or milk,” we didn’t have soda at home, and probably it was an indulgence for the holiday for Gran as well. Too-sweet orange soda has always since tasted like my grandmother’s attention and my parents relaxing with family. I’m glad now that my parents weren’t being the big bummers saying, “no, you can’t have that, it’s not healthy, there’s too much sugar, etc. etc.” A reminder that there may be no better time than the holidays to say yes when you can.

My other favorite memories from times at Granny’s all came to be because, well, the grownups were ignoring us. We kids had that funny thrown-together time when we just hung out with one another and figured out stuff to do, both as a group and, in quieter times, each on our own. I remember a cousin finding a pack of off-brand cookies in the pantry and sharing them with all the kids in the garage; lining up a shell collection in a hundred different ways from the baskets on my grandmother’s porch for hours; eating pink wintergreen Canada mints from a bowl in Gran’s bedroom–like 20 at a time with my brother–so that we walked around smelling like Ben-Gay; reading through old dusty children’s picture books we found in a shelf; trying to tune our aunt’s discarded guitar we discovered in the back of a coat closet that only had 5 strings; and spying on the adults, thrilling at snippets of overheard grown-up conversation about taxes, travel, or employment until we got bored and moved on.

These days, there is often so much focus on the children. This over-focus on the kids–what they are doing, how they are doing–takes away these kinds of opportunities for them. More good reminders for us parents taking on family gatherings with children: to embrace possible boredom, let discovery happen, and let them make their own fun. -t

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