Last year around this time I went to mom’s group that was run by older moms. They were so much older that most of them were already grandmothers. On this date a year ago, instead of the typical morning talk, they set up a roundtable and discussed their favorite holiday traditions. They each had called their adult children and put the question to them: what do you remember of our family holidays as a kid?
You could feel some of the anxiety in the room. Many of us were moms to very young children. Making a sandwich was a struggle, much less a fleet of reindeer cookies. The idea of creating new traditions for the next generation to carry on, traditions somehow built among the remains of the dusty shredded kleenex and fishy cracker crumbs we’d left behind on the floor that morning, well, it sounded almost impossible.
Some of the women said they’d cried on the phone, because asking their adult children about this reminded them how often their young working husbands had been gone during that time, or how tired the women had been, or what high expectations they’d had for themselves.
There was one surprising revelation from the phone calls: the things their kids loved and remembered were usually not the ones the mothers had intended. Not the three-tiered cookie tray that showed up on the right day, but the fact that the kids got to pick the food coloring colors for the frosting. Not the getting of the tree at the charming corner store, but the bag of chips they were allowed to pick out for the ride home. Not the deluxe Christmas meal, but how many candles she managed to light around the room each year. Not the gifts, but the fact that their dad built a fire every Christmas eve.
The talk instantly reminded me of how my mom let us have donuts and orchard cider with cheese and crackers for dinner on the night we decorated the tree. In any order we wished: crackers, then donuts. Donuts, then cheese. Hands down it is one of my favorite memories of annual traditions. I vaguely remember that she sent out tins upon tins of cookies each year, vaguely recall the Advent calendar that was different and creative every year, have a fleeting image of all the lovely hearth decorations, but the thing I remember most: cheese and crackers.
I wonder if it was the thrill of a snack for dinner, or the way dinner formality bowed to decorating hubbub, or just the fact that I could tell my mom was happy not to worry about dinner for the night. It doesn’t really matter, anyway. I love that memory.
To sum, they told us, you do the best you can and they end up remembering the oddest things anyway. Which I think we should take as, do what sounds wonderful and rewarding to you, and skip the rest.
It sounded really really nice to follow up on a promise to Lux and go to cvs and buy candy, so much candy, and then make a little graham cracker house that looked just like the one in Martha Stewart’s kids craft book. And it was.