The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 17, 2010


It’s a tradition….or not

The week before school began, my eight-year-old daughter Holly and I went to Staples and plowed our way through both kids’ school-supply lists. (My son Tim wasn’t interested in coming with us.) The next afternoon, on our way up to Maine for the holiday weekend, we made a quick stop at Old Navy to buy both kids a few new school outfits.

This is not how we usually buy our school supplies and fall clothes. Ever since they reached school age, I’ve taken the kids individually for a special late-summer evening excursion. I planned it all out the week before Tim started kindergarten six years ago, and we’ve done it that way ever since: we pick a weeknight the week before Labor Day to leave in the early evening for the mall a half-hour away, buy school supplies, go out for dinner together at Friendly’s and then continue through the mall to buy some clothes.

It was a tradition. And those have always been sacred words for me.

But as the kids get older, and as I get older, I am beginning to concede that not every tradition has to be carved in stone. This is not an easy admission for me to make. I like being able to rely on certain rituals and events to recur year after year. I love the children’s book Over and Over, in which the little girl goes through a year’s worth of holidays and then at the end says to her mother, “What’s next now?” and her mother says “Now it all starts over again.” That book comforted me when I was a young child looking at the pictures; it comforted me all over again as a parent, when I would read that book to my children and feel reassured that I was creating certain traditions for them as well, including the one related to back-to-school-shopping.

It’s just that at a certain point, I had to admit that tradition wasn’t all that much fun. We always got too late a start. And the mall itself was overwhelming to me. There were office supply stores just as close to home, so I wasn’t sure why it was so important that we go to one a half-hour away. And dinner always took too long compared to the errands we needed to accomplish. Plus, you know…Friendly’s?

So this year we decided to do it differently, breaking the shopping into two separate trips, staying closer to home, going in the afternoon instead of the evening, skipping the dinner part.

Maybe this was the start of a new tradition. There’s something rather romantic about stopping for back-to-school clothes on our way to the coast for Labor Day weekend, after all, much more so than just heading to the department store and then turning around and going home afterwards. And I certainly didn’t miss the tuna melt and French fries at Friendly’s.

On the second day of our trip to Colorado last month, we bought tickets to the gondola that ascends Aspen Mountain, just as we do on our second day of our Colorado vacation every year. Once we’d reached the top, the kids stood in line for their turn at bungee jumping, just like they do every year. As always, I enjoyed watching them tumble against the bright blue sky, and they thanked us for the excursion, but none of us got much of a thrill out of it. It just felt like something they’d outgrown.

The next day, we went whitewater rafting. Rick and I had been before, but the kids never had, and initially the plan was for just Rick and Tim to go. We thought Holly was too young and would be scared in the raft. But she assured us she wanted to try it, so we went. We had an amazing time. Before it was over, the kids announced they absolutely wanted to go rafting next time we’re in Colorado – and do a more challenging course next time.

“Sounds good,” Rick and I told them. “Next time, less gondola; more rafting.”

And I admitted to myself that I’d be fine with skipping the gondola next time. It was great for a few years; now it doesn’t matter to us so much anymore. The same is true with the yearly back-to-school routine.

Traditions are wonderful, but so is being able to recognize when it’s time to end an old one and start a new one. Or even try something just once and try something else the next time. Judicious decision-making can be a tradition in its own right. It’s taken me a long time to be comfortable with that idea, but I think I finally get it. ∆

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