Thursday, December 17, 2015

Traditions Matter

Traditions matter.  They cement families in a way nothing else will.  Sometimes they are silly traditions, like walking down Main Street in the winter and stopping for hot chocolate, or making the Elf on the Shelf have at least one scenario each year where he is pooping on something.  Other traditions are more meaningful, like singing "I Love You Forever, I Like You For Always" when you read the book by the same name 4,682 times, or when you insist that a certain meal has to be served for a certain holiday because, "But mom, it is our tradition!  We can't change it!"

When you have children who spent half their childhoods in orphanages, those established traditions become ever more important, and with each passing year they speak to a constancy that they cling to.  Now home 6 years, the girls are so rooted in these traditions that they really, really matter.  They speak of their old traditions from their life in the orphanage with fondness, but THESE traditions, the FAMILY traditions are the ones that will be carried forward.

As we ease our way through Advent, we are participating in our family rituals that have happily become more important than the cultural Christmas expectations.  We are stretching to try new ones out, too!  The week or two before Christmas is becoming an ever more pleasant time for us, as we have let go of the commercialization and embraced the things that are far more important.  Each year I notice the stress level drops and the enjoyment factor increases.

This past week was SO much fun!  We tried on a new tradition, and it fit beautifully, as we got up quite early last Sunday and traveled to the next town over to prepare, serve, and eat breakfast at the homeless shelter there.  We had been looking for some volunteer opportunity we could have together as a family, and this was a big win.  Everyone enjoyed it, despite the 4:30 awakening necessary to get there on time.

Familiarizing ourselves with the kitchen

Olesya is SO good in the kitchen these days!

Pancakes for 20 or so, we are good at assembly line work!

No surprise to see Josh volunteer to handle the bacon :-)

Kenny is an excellent flapjack flipper

As we ate with the guests at the shelter, I looked around the room and our family had strategically spread itself out among the entire group.  Everyone was warmly visiting with the guests, listening to stories of long haul truck driving careers, jobs being looked for, and more.  The ease with which each of the kids participated in conversation with complete strangers was surprising to me, particularly "strangers" that others often avoid talking with.  We were complimented on the meal, and left the guests to their expected chores of cleaning up.  As we drove home, Angela cracked us all up as she said, "Wow, this time of day really IS pretty!  I don't want to get up this early every day, but once in awhile it is nice."  As a lovely sunrise presented itself to us, we all confirmed that this felt like something we wanted to continue doing, so we have a new family volunteer project two Sundays a month through the winter months the shelter is open...and yes, Angela and Olesya even agreed it was worth getting up that early for :-)  A new tradition has begun.

The evening closed out with what has, without equivocation, become a highlight of our holiday season.  For many years now, we have helped our adopted Grandpa George decorate his Christmas tree.  We share a meal he has prepared, we goof around, we visit, and have a sweet, sweet time of being one another's extended family.  The kids are pros after all these years, and tackle the decorating with enthusiasm.  20 minutes later, with all those hands, the job is done, and George has a little bit of Christmas surrounding him.

This man is a treasure to us.  He has loved us through so very much, prayed for us, and been present via email through very difficult times when we were far from home.  Our entire family appreciates the wisdom he shares, and the acceptance he offers such a large group of kids being in his home.  Over the years, George has taken ALL the kids to the movies (What guy his age would ever tackle that, even when they were all younger?), has offered great encouragement to Kenny, introduced Matt to a wide variety of music, taking him alone on "dates" to local concerts when Matt was only 5 or 6 years old.  

Loving George comes very, very easily.

I realized I had never grabbed a group photo in all these years!

And THIS is what Christmas is

Being loved...

Knowing you are loved...

Actively loving.

This is a tradition that has shaped our family in subtle ways.  It makes us recognize the need to be there for others, to BE family for those whose family is far away, to share our family as we can. WE have been blessed with remarkable people in our lives, people who have literally formed the LaJoy's into who we are...and are helping us "become".  They have encircled us and supported us in tangible ways.  Their love will never, ever be forgotten...and we hope they see us pay it forward as often as we can.  Because that matters.

Then, another newer tradition is Miss Mary taking us out for a LaJoy Academy Christmas Party at the same Chinese buffet in town every year.  What a spoiling moment that is for us, as going out to eat at a "real" restaurant is a rare occasion for us!  We bring little gifts and cards to share, we laugh over fortune cookie messages, and we really just relish being together...our friendship runs so very deep.  Our homeschool efforts simply would not be the same without Miss Mary participating a couple mornings each week in lively debates, and bringing her many gifts to the table in working with the kids on book studies.  And I, personally, would never have made it without her steady encouragement and constant praise.

Love the smiles, always hard NOT to smile with Miss Mary around!

So thankful for every single person around this table.

So yet another tradition of the season is behind us, one that makes it feel like the holidays have truly arrived.  They are all little traditions, nothing spectacular, but they have meaning, they create a sense of rootedness that is important, and every year they burrow into the heart just a little deeper.  Tonight we head to Matt's Civil Air Patrol Christmas Party, something that has also grown to become part of our tradition.  On Christmas Eve we will have more traditions with friends for dinner then church candlelight service, which really makes the holiday for us.  

Not necessarily a Christmas tradition, but one I hold just as sacred is curling up in the winter with the kids and reading.  Do you know how lucky I am that in the late teen years, I STILL get to snuggle with my Big Kids and "read them a story" as we explore new books?  Wow.  I never, ever thought that when I was rocking Josh and Matt in their nursery and reading Curious George for an ungodly number of times that I would still be able to feel their warmth nestled in next to me 15 years later as we read.  Of course, I missed out on it with Kenny, Angela and Olesya, so being able to grab a little piece of that now is extra sweet.  We missed so darned much with those three, but I think we have done a terrific job of making up for lost time, and revisiting much beloved traditions.  Here, thanks to Pastor Karen's loaning of a book, Angela and I are tackling a new tome from Rabbi Kushner explaining Judaism.  Angela was enthralled by the book and wanted to read it with me, so here we are, off on another reading adventure!

I was as surprised as anyone else might be that THIS was the book that captivated Angela, but it is quite a good read and we are thoroughly enjoying it.  She has highlighted so much in just the first 2 chapters.

A rare selfie

Kenny and I are reading together as well, but I found I can't read with both of them in the same day, as it is too deep and requires too much brain power.  He and I are tackling  Reza Aslan's No god but God:  The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam.  Yea, not exactly bedtime reading.  That boy challenges me all over the place.  His reading is not as fluid as Angela's, and he is processing some deep material with that one, so I think it will take us a looooong time to read it.  However, it is fascinating and we are having some interesting discussions about it!  

And, for the final new tradition, when it snows, Dad calls in The Crew for the store to shovel!  Our liquor store is quite busy, and Dominick can't get the shoveling done by himself, so, it looks like our new tradition is that Snow Days are Shovel Days at House of Spirits!  Luckily, with 5 kids, the job is relatively easy, and Montrose never gets that much snow, so it won't be a frequent occurrence.

I like our traditions.  They are traditions of service to others, service to family, traditions of enjoying education, of enjoying the arts, and traditions of love and friendship shared.  Sure, there are decorations and a few gifts, there is a tree and a creche, but that is all "window dressing".  Being steeped in meaning is what we value, even if others look at it and see nothing of value at all.  Discussing making Christmas candies, which is on its way to becoming a new tradition versus cookies,  I was surprised to find the boys were disappointed to think they might not get to participate, even Dominick, so we will make a few today, then hold off and spend Saturday night as a family of 7 crammed into our kitchen working together, laughing together, bumping butts together, creating sugary, chocolaty goodies and making a huge mess.  I am sure that singing Mary Did You Know? will be part of the evening as well, loudly and totally off key.

We don't have a Better Homes and Garden Christmas.  We don't have a Martha Stewart Christmas.  I think we have more of a Charlie Brown Christmas :-)

What more could a mom ask for?

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