Family Ritual

The Adventure Team with the addition of M&M!

Last night, I read a book that included a section about the importance of family rites and rituals.  The author asked the question “why do we need rites and rituals?” and answered it with the following: “Because we fall into forgetfulness.  The speed Demon captures our souls. We are too busy…. The demands of modern life are so many that we easily become distracted and neglect to pause and consider what is really important.” 

When I read this passage last night, I immediately thought about some of the past rituals that I share with my family.  My dad, stepmom, brother and sister and I used to take summer vacations to areas where we could hike, find rocks, swim and camp.  It was an outdoor adventure and not surprisingly, we dubbed ourselves “The Adventure Team.”  I look back on those trips with such fond memories (even though for a few of my teenage years, I remember dreading the thought of leaving my friends and the city to go to the lonesome woods!) and an appreciation for Dad and Meg’s persistence in making such vacations happen.  A high appreciation now that I have kids and know the effort and time necessary to prepare for such events and the lack of “leisure” that can often occur on such vacations!  

Mario enjoying his donuts!

Today, Maria, Mario, Jon, and I woke up to a balmy 32 degrees outside and the sight of a cardinal and robin perched in a bare magnolia tree in the back yard.  We looked out the back door at the two birds debating which one was a male and female; the babies they may have in the Spring; and the magnificent color of red the cardinal wore against the ashen tree.  After the birds flew away, we headed back into the living room, and decided that it was warm enough to take a stroller ride to the donut shop.  It has been a while since we did this on a Sunday morning.  The kids bundled up with their nighties under their clothes, and we jumped in the stroller for a wintry, snowy ride to Tim Horton’s.  

During the ride, Maria noticed how beautiful the morning was with the sun shining (the first time in days!) and the snow glistening.  Mario noticed the huge nests that were still present in the bare trees. Ahh, it is these mornings that I breathe in my children and my life and everything beams around me….

Maria and her sultry pose at the donut shoppe.

Once at Tim Horton’s, we claimed our regular seats near the window and ate our donuts and bagel.  We talked about Mama Ionno’s house and what they would play there when they went for dinner.  We talked about Daisies and how many cookies Maria has sold to family.  We talked about summer and how great it will be to stroll to the donut shop in a t-shirt and shorts!  After the donuts, Maria begged to go to the river to find rocks.  I was not sure Mario would agree because he gets so cold even wrapped up in three layers but he ended up being game.  It was an adventure getting there since the bike path was still covered in snow.  I got my arm workout in for the week!   

Maria found her stash of cool rocks, as always.  The girl has an eye for unique rocks.  She found one with fossils and another shiny onyx one.  Mario threw small, medium and large rocks into the water listening for the different sounds they produced upon impact.  We found an “iceberg” jutting off the edge of the bank and took turns throwing rocks on it and watching the ice break off and float down the river.  I told them that if anyone ever told them that they were not strong, they could tell them that they destroyed an iceberg!  They liked that. 

Maria and Mario at the river

We headed back to the house about a half hour later.  I trudged back through the snow along the path and took a deep sigh upon seeing the road.  We headed up Grandview Avenue taking in the immense sunlight and “warm” temperatures.  While I pushed the kids up the hill, I thought about family rituals and it dawned on me that going to the river is our family ritual.  Spending the morning at the river engaging in the simple acts of gathering rocks and making huge splashes in the water.  It is strange to think about creating new rituals for my children; my focus in the past has always been on retaining the rituals from my childhood – Christmas dinners at Grandmas’ houses; Easter egg hunts at Grandma’s house; birthday parties with big sheet cakes.  

But now I found myself creating a new ritual with Maria and Mario that, although right in line with the activites of my childhood summer vacations. was different and special to us.  And best of all, the trips allowed all of us to “pause and consider what is really important.”

Summer Teenage Control Program

Mario copping his attitude while at Five Guys eating his fries!

Tonight, I turned into my father (AHHHHHH!).  I instituted the Toddler and Kindergartner Dinner Control Program.  Jon and I have done a horrid job at sitting down to dinner with the kids.  Both of us grew up having dinner with our parents, and want to carry that tradition down to Maria and Mario.  However, for numerous reasons (some lame and some legitimate), we have failed.  We both work and have used that as an excuse to order in food most of the days of the week or simply skip dinner and eat some random foods through the night.  Now, before we have Child Welfare knocking at our door, we do feed the children decent meals.  They just usually eat them at their little Dora table as Jon or I (sometimes both) watch them gobble up their food and begin play again.  If they are not eating at their little table, they are out with me at one of the parks eating a picnic dinner or at Panera or Cowtown Pizza.  During the Spring, Summer, and Fall, we live outside.  Therefore, we carry our dinner with us.  So, here comes Winter and darkness at 5 pm.  We need to make the change. 

Maria wanted a “feast” for this dinner so she decided on turkey dogs, peas, leftover pasta and meatballs, grapes, and bread.  We cooked the meal while Mario and Jon played in the dining room. 

Maria doing her model pose (as always) while eating her fry!

After fifteen whole minutes, we had our meal.  Maria and Jon cleared the dining room table, Maria placed a vase of flowers on it, and we served the dinner plates.  We all sat down.  Maria and Mario fought for five minutes about who got to say a meal prayer (Grandma Ionno instituted this ritual in them!).  Finally, Maria caved and Mario went first and Maria second.  We then began our next soon-to-be ritual: telling each other our favorite part of our day.  Mario again got to go first (yes, Maria is a saint and so patient).  Mario’s favorite part of the day was learning about manners at school (always say “please” and put a napkin in your shirt when you eat sloppy foods).  Maria’s favorite part was sitting next to her friends, Zach and Trent, at lunch and laughing about “silly things.”  Unfortunately, Jon was stopped cold in his story because at this point, Mario was standing up in his chair and dancing.  We scolded him to sit down and eat warning him that Spiderman only gets bigger if he eats his food (the only thing, if anything, that works on him to get him to eat).  Maria, by that time, was begging for some of my spaghetti since she had eaten her food.  Maria skirted all around her chair and managed to get cottage cheese and spaghetti sauce in her hair, on her forehead and on her shirt.  We were asking her to scoot around to the table when Mario stated he was finished (although he had only ate half of his hot dog and nothing else).  He lifted those tiny arms up with his palms facing upward pleading “But, mom, I am not hungry. My tummy will hurt.”

He knows exactly what to say.  Maria, meanwhile, was set on finishing the rest of my spaghetti.  She is a girl who knows how to eat well.  Unfortunately, I do not think Mario will rise to her level anytime soon.  Right in the midst of all of this, guess  who calls?  My Father!  The Architect of the Teenage Summer Control Program that I morphed into the Toddler and Kindergartner Dinner Control Program!  Little did he know what influence he had on his daughter. 

Maria and Mario ready for our Fall picnic at the park!

As soon as I got on the phone with him, the kids were out of their chairs and wrestling on the floor.  It had been 16 minutes since we began eating our dinner – not bad for the Programs’s first night.  Tomorrow we will explain the Program in more detail to the kids and try for 18 minutes.  I may also have to give them a carrot like my dad did for me and tell them if they sit in their seats for 18 minutes, they will get a yummy treat for dessert.  I better stack up on vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and skittles!