Category: Enhancing Family Ties
Over 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
Summer is often about family time, perhaps long drives, train rides, or other waiting times where a good family activity is just the ticket. Kids are often captive audiences of grownup stories, “when I was little, “ “ my grandmother used to…”, etc.. Help to solidify their own memories of your family adventures by asking each person to share a favorite outing, funny story, part of a trip, or other family event from the summer.
This helps kids develop their voice and create their own memories and stories. It gives them practice in figuring out what are key elements of a good retelling, and builds their confidence in sharing with others. It identifies and keeps important elements of family lore alive, which will create bonds that will reach far beyond this year’s long summer days. You might start by telling stories in your immediate family, and then see if they’ll share a funny moment or new experience with an aunt, cousin or grandparent. -n
Family Movies with Compelling Characters and Inspiring Stories (that we all watched and loved!)
They are noted with a target age according to Common Sense Media.
1. Duma (8) – a boy raises a cheetah as a pet and has to return him to the wild. Beautifully filmed in South Africa, a coming of age story that highlights the power and importance of family.
2. Secretariat (8) – true story, follow your dreams message about horse racing.
3. Rudy (9) – true story, follow your dreams message about football and the underdog.
4. Whale Rider (11) – filmed in New Zealand, a Maori girl wants to become chief of her tribe though the role has been solely reserved for men. Great positive message for girls.
5. Bend it Like Beckham (13) – follow your dreams message, romantic, cultural and generational tensions. Great positive message for girls.
We all have those days when we are overwhelmed, feel vulnerable and agitated, and get stuck in a negative place. From the negative place everything is harder, there’s a tendency to see things that are amiss, to connect the dots between all that goes wrong. ”We woke up late, and then there was no milk and then…and then… and then…” Being negative begets more negativity, and no one among us needs more of that. One way to break that cycle?
The simple act of acknowledging something for which you are grateful can shift the focus and change the energy. Try applying a framework of humility and being thankful for what we have and notice what goes right. As parents, modeling gratitude for our kids helps them to see opportunities for being appreciative in situations big and small. Boost it with specifics! “Thank you to the person who put on the new roll of toilet paper.” “It was so helpful that you put the laundry away.” “What a great dinner Dad made. I loved the broccoli done that way!” Whether acknowledged to oneself or spoken aloud, it’s quite amazing how easy it is to turn toward the positive, and how contagious it can be. –t
In our book we talk about the richness of establishing family traditions. This week we share traditions from 2 families about what hangs on their Christmas trees: Tara’s, and a guest writer, Sarah Baker. One catalogs miles and memories, the other sets the holiday mood that delights in seasonal indulgence. Let’s trim the trees!
A collection of memories Our tree holds collected ornaments from family trips and events — pink handprints on a glazed ceramic ball with “Olivia – 1997” written along one side from the year our daughter was born; a carved wooden loon from a 2000 summer cottage in Maine; a Fleur-de-Lys from Montreal in 2006; a special rock with a glue-gunned fishing line hanger from a river camping trip in 2010; a tacky Santa-driven cable car from the vacation to San Francisco in 2002… Sometimes purchased, sometimes made, sometimes found, each has a year scrawled on it – in black Sharpie, fancy metallic ink, engraved or stamped by some artisan or offshore factory. Unwrapping the worn-soft tissue from around each ornament when we trim the Christmas tree is a gift in itself, an annual journey through our shared memories of family adventures over the years. – Tara
Getting in the spirit Every December, my husband and I and our two kids pile into our station wagon and drive 20 minutes west to Gerard’s, the farmstand/boutique on busy Route 2 in Lincoln, MA. We zoom past the shop on the left and make a u-turn about a mile up the road. We pull into the parking lot, giddy with anticipation. For it’s our Christmas family tradition, that the children get to pick one decoration each—ornament or accessory–every year. And Gerard’s gets us into the spirit.
My husband scouts for a Frazier fir while the kids and I race past the cedar garlands and refrigerator filled with mouth-watering homemade fruit pies into the little store. Inside we find the impractical and often pricey Christmas decorations that we have come to treasure. After all, isn’t that what Christmas is all about? A little indulgence? There are red currant scented candles, sparkly reindeer wearing faux-mink collars, oversized antique etched glass ornaments. Gerard, originally from Belgium, and his wife, Amy, have had the shop for 18 years. Antique and new finery, much of it from Europe, fills their shelves inside. Local products including decorated wreaths and apple cider can be found outside. We come for both.
So after the kids find their treasure and my husband our tree and wreath, we pile back into the car filled with Christmas spirit and ready to decorate. Oh, and we all get one of Gerard’s homemade chocolate turtles, conveniently located next to his cash register, to eat on the drive home. Now there’s a tradition! – Sarah Baker
In our book, we talk about the importance of one-on-one time with each of our kids. Many have asked “what do you do?” So here are some more of our favorites: a walk around a pond collecting acorns; pancakes at a diner; a ride on public transportation (they can sit on your lap – no car seat!); plan, shop for and bake cupcakes; throw rocks and float sticks out into a lake; spend library time reading themed books (dragons, construction vehicles, feelings, horses, ice cream); go to a new, further-afield playground; watch planes take off at an airport; try on fun shoes at a self-serve shoe department.
Like other “dates,” the getting out together makes it special. However, one-on-one time is not necessarily about a treat or extravagance, but rather about attention paid, honoring a child’s interests, and slowing down. (For many people, this requires getting away from the distraction of other family members.)
These are opportunities to know your child as he grows – what he loves, how he learns about the world, and what he thinks about. -t
Our family dinner plates are white. One of them has two small round chips on the edge, not much bigger than a nickel, at what could be the 5:30 and 6:30 positions. I always found it odd that of the 2 times the plates got chipped, it happened to be the same one.
One day, years ago, when we were setting the table for dinner, Olivia offhandedly mentioned, “oh, Bump’s got the hippo plate!” It turned out that the children always noticed who at the table had this particular plate, the chipped one, the one with nostrils. It became a favored item, but not as in “I want that plate!” but rather “let’s give Per the hippo. His LEGO thing fell apart.” Or “Daddy had that big presentation today. Let’s give him the hippo.” And, occasionally, someone will set the hippo at their own place at the table, and the rest of us know we might just want to check in. At the back end of a hard day when I’ve felt overwhelmed and unappreciated, finding the hippo at my place has, I kid you not, turned the whole dang thing around.
There’s really not some huge hippo drama every night at our table. Caring and love comes in all shapes and sizes, and the hippo can accommodate them all. What we’ve found in a simple chipped dish is a quiet shorthand of our connection to one another, a way to recognize one among us – for whatever it is – as we come together for a meal. -t