Traditions are developed over long periods: decades, centuries, millennia…or so I thought.
It’s the time of year again when traditions take centre stage. The holidays are approaching and everyone – every family, every social and religious group – has their own way of celebrating all based on their traditions. But traditions aren’t just about holidays or special events; they also govern the way that we interact with one another in our day-to-day lives.
This year, I am spending the holiday season together with my own family, as a tenant in my parents’ house. For those who missed my previous post, let me catch you up. Aged forty-something, mother of 2 boys and wife of one very Mr. Niceguy, I’m undertaking the ambitious project of renovating my house into my dream home (or as close to it as budget will allow!).
It goes without saying (though must be said as both parents are avid readers of my work) that my parents are making the ultimate sacrifice. I’m sure that when my sister and I first moved out they must have breathed the largest sigh of relief: “Finally…” They had accomplished what I believe all parents hope to achieve (which I now appreciate): two married daughters, established, homes of their own – now they could relax.
Until they took us in.
Only months after they had taken in my younger sister and her family…
And only weeks after they completed their own renovations…
But (I believe) as parents, they’d signed a deal (perhaps with God or the universe) and in so doing, upheld their traditions of always caring for family so on November 2 (Mr. Niceguy’s birthday!!) we moved in.
I had prepared my brood for how they’d need to behave: be neat and tidy, no eating in front of the television, no yelling/screaming/fighting/pretend skiing or car racing in the house/and always, always finish the food on your plate. I thought I had it figured out what with years and years being under my parents’ roof – surely things could not have changed that much, could they?
What I hadn’t banked on was just how much I would change (or come into my own) after flying the coop…
When I married Mr. Niceguy I thought to myself, I will absorb this man. I come from a culture that is as old as Ancient Egypt (and incidentally has produced some of the sexiest people in the world including Kim Kardashian!) while his is only a few hundred years old. I will convert him to an Armenian and he will adopt all of our traditions, our ways of being – he will no longer be phased by my air-traffic-controller hand gesticulations or jump at my voice as I yell commands from just the other room as though I was on a trans-Atlantic telephone call circa 1979 – incidentally my dad still does this whenever he’s on a long-distance call…even if it’s just to my aunt and uncle in Hamilton!
Oh how wrong I was. While Mr. Niceguy did get used to me and my ways (he loves the cuisine and even raises his voice above a whisper from time-to-time)…I hadn’t realized until I moved in with my parents just how many of his traditions I’d adopted. He quietly, stealthily, converted me into a person who went from blurting, “Huh?” and “What?!” to “Pardon?” and “Please.” Living with my parents, I see where so many of my quirks and foibles come from but having had time apart, you really do develop your own traditions.
Our life has become so individualized: each of us has a schedule – I volunteer, write, and am managing our home renovation; Mr. Niceguy has a full time job and is constantly in training mode for one obstacle race or another; and the 9 year old and 5 year old are a couple of jumping beans bouncing between school, soccer, swimming, piano, skiing, judo, jiu jitsu and everything else in between! We have what’s a very modern “grab-and-go” lifestyle. We eat on the run, do homework on the run, catch-up on the run and perhaps the only two things we do staying still are video games and sleep. (And TV for me!!)
Just the other day I was standing in the kitchen having breakfast for dinner:
Elegant mom: What are you doing dear? Why are you eating like that, hunched over your plate? Why don’t you sit down?
Me: ***Food stuffed cheeks*** Pardon?
Elegant mom: I said, why don’t you sit down while you eat? And what is it that you’re eating anyway? Are you having eggs? For DINNER??!
Me: ***Swallow quickly – don’t talk with mouth full*** Yes. It’s Wednesday. Wednesday is Judo night. I got the boys from school, cleaned up, did homework, made breakfast for dinner, and now I’m just eating quickly so I can get them to their class…
Elegant mom: But eggs? For dinner? Surely dear they must need better nourishment. They’re growing boys! Look here, I’ve made green fasoolia with rice – why don’t you feed them what I made? And where’s Mr. Niceguy? Should I fill a plate for him?
Me: ***Totally exasperated – I don’t have time, I don’t have time, I don’t have time…*** Mom I don’t have time! I have to get them out of the door. Mr. Niceguy will take care of himself!
Elegant mom: “Take care of himself?” No. That’s not right. He must feel comfortable and be well fed in our home. You know dear, you must make time for good nutrition. Look at you. Did you sleep well? You know, if you don’t take care of yourself…
This is one of just a myriad of interactions…in a day. But I’m beginning to realize that perhaps I shouldn’t depart so quickly from my “old” traditions. While loud and food centric at times, these traditions are rooted in taking the time to have real interactions – not just those on-the-go – they value a slower, more humane pace and while I seldom have the patience for “twenty questions” (“Where’d you go? What’d you do? Who’d you see? Who’d you know?”*), they’re an indication of real, genuine interest and caring: the cornerstone of family.
So, while you make your lists for Santa this year consider the gift of family and good friends. I am getting the gift of knowing my parents as the people they are now, Mr. Niceguy is getting a front-row seat to my history, and my children are not only getting to build memories with their grandparents, but getting first-hand experience with our rich and unique culture laced with ALL of our traditions.
Now, if only I could put a stop to the teen angst flashbacks that keep cropping up like my chubby days, the mean girls, the countless crush dramas, getting caught, the heartbreaks and, and, and…
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, your families and loved ones. May 2016 bring us all more of what will fill our hearts and souls, and make memories we can recount for years to come…
*Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City, recounting discussions with Aiden Shaw after moving in together to her girls.