The changes that grind on inexorably and those things that never change

Christmas is the mainstay of my year because tradition is the mainstay of my life.  It keeps me whole.  It is the centrifugal force that stops the pieces from shooting wildly into the void.  The only way I can bear the changes that grind on inexorably around me is to pepper the year with those things that never change.  Bath and books for the boys before bedtime.  Homemade cakes on their birthdays.  The beach in August.

– Anna Quindlen, Christmas

You know sometimes you read something and you find yourself startled with the simple truth of something that you’ve known along, but you never knew you knew?  Something so obvious you cannot believe you never saw it before?  Yeah, that.  I read Anna Quindlen’s words in one of her Living Out Loud columns and smacked my forehead with my hand.

Duh.  Yes.  I’m as keenly aware as anyone I know of the whirlwind of this life, of the shocking, devastating speed with which it all rushes by, of how easily I’m knocked off my feet by the swirling rapids of time.  I’m also fiercely – you might say irrationally – loyal to a set of traditions, some big and some tiny, and Anna Quindlen finally helps me see why.  These known things are sturdy handholds in the river of life, helping orient me and reassuring me that all does not pass away.

What are some of these traditions?  A Sunday afternoon family tree trimming, including the new ornaments that Grace and Whit pick out at the farm where we buy our tree every year.  Our August trip to Legoland.  Grace’s half chocolate, half vanilla birthday cakes.  Birthday cakes always homemade.  Sunday night family dinners, sitting down the four of us at 5pm.  Doing the Ghostie Dance before putting Whit to bed.  Grace wearing white to her end-of-year ceremonies at school.  The letters I write to each child on their birthdays.  Our annual stay at Lake Champlain, with its cocktails at sunset and bouncy castles and hayrides and primary color plastic cups and dinner at the Red Mill.  Christmas Eve dinner with my oldest family friends, complete with lots of good red wine, singing carols at the table, and the children staying up until midnight.  Dinner out at a special restaurant, the four of us, on the last day of the school year and the night before the new year starts.

Do you have things like this, things that never change amid the inexorable change of this life?
Do you prize them as much as I do?

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  1. Posted March 8, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Oh, I love this. You know that Anna Quindlen set me on this path (I wrote my journalism school admissions essay on her). I love the sentiment too. I’m still finding my OWN traditions for my small children, but the many, many traditions of my childhood kept us whole on that bumpy road: Sunday dinners at my grandmother’s, my aunts and uncle part of the mix for ALL family birthdays (celebrated with my mother’s lemon cake), Christmas Eve dinners with petit-fours for dessert and caroling, summers on Long Beach Island (coming up on 70 years for the Epping/Rodgers clan). In the end, they all center around family, and as you point out, Quindlen articulates just WHY that is, perfectly (of course).

  2. melody armstrong
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Ah, yes…a new Christmas ornament given to each family member on the day we decorate our tree, Christmas eve service at church and then a mad rush home for Chinese food with family, birthday letters for each of my children, a million kisses caught and blown at my childrens’ bedroom doors….But one of my favourites ever since my first son was little has been an annual fall picnic to one of the most gorgeous, emerald green ponds with my mom and dad and the kids. I make huge, decked out sandwiches with every fixing imaginable (on croissants, of course!) and then we have brownies that must be scooped out with our hands. It’s a very messy affair and everyone knows that I will be snapping photos constantly. Two years ago we had our picnic early. The very week that my dad passed away, we were able to go with him one last time for dagwood sandwiches, brownies and endless photo ops. Sometimes even the traditions that keep us grounded in times of change must be reshaped and enjoyed in new ways. Lorette pond in the fall is still a favorite destination – it’s equally meaningful – it’s just different. 🙂

  3. Meri M.
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 1:32 am | Permalink

    I do love traditions. But traditional holidays do make me feel stuck and overwhelmed by all the work the celebrations require. Eventually it seems like I have done it all for my own sake, to make it different from the ordinary, to stop time, whereas everybody takes it for granted and just complains about participating in any of it. That is why I agree to reshaping them and enjoying them in new ways.