You don’t think much about traditions, about the little things that mark the passage of time. Until you don’t have any.
My daughter was four when she came to live with me. As each “first” approached, people would gush that it must be so cool to celebrate our first Thanksgiving, our first Christmas.
But here’s the thing; although it was our first Thanksgiving and our first Christmas together, my daughter had experienced these holidays before. In different places. With different people.
Yes, now she had someone that she called Mom.
But she also had memories of celebrating differently.
I tried to do a little detective work. I asked her casually how she celebrated with her foster parents, if she remembered celebrating with her birth mom. And she skillfully evaded each question.
I talked about our family traditions. Bashing a piñata on Thanksgiving. Attending a candlelight service on Christmas Eve.
And on we marched through the first of everything together.
She shied away from piñata bashing that first year. Her body was so stressed on Christmas that she was physically sick.
“I just can’t take it anymore.” This is what she said.
What to say to the happy onlookers who inquire about our firsts together? I smile and evade their questions as skillfully as I can manage.
Another year. A whole lot of memories. A shared story forged through twelve more months of life together.
Another piñata bashed. This time she basked in the limelight of a family she was beginning to claim.
Unwrapping our Christmas ornaments, I tell her the stories of each one. Just like my mom did when I was a little girl.
Suddenly she stops. This chattering ball of perpetual motion is struck speechless. Still.
“Mama,” she says, cradling an ornament in her cupped hands. “I remember. I remember.”
You see, doing things together once can hardly be called a tradition.
But the second time around is a different story. The second time around, we can remember. We’ve been there. We know the sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes. It’s comfortable, familiar. We can take a deep breath and relax a little.
“Yes, yes, Love. Of course you remember. I remember too.” I slip my hand into hers as she places another ornament onto our tree.
The newness is gone. The firsts are over. And honestly, I’m glad.
There is less pressure the second time around. There are fewer gushing onlookers and more ordinariness. And this is how traditions are born.
We turn on the twinkling white lights and sit quietly for a minute. Just remembering together.