Monday, February 18, 2008

Third in a series

I'll try to make this short, since I'm already up too late.

Today's topic is "Why are we so dissatisfied with everyday life that we feel the need to do special things as a nearly everyday thing". In reading my Dad's memoirs and remembering stories my Mom told of her growing up years, they had a whole lot of everyday life without the special stuff. When they did have special times, such as holidays or special trips, they were much simpler than we would make them. On holidays, they would have a nice meal. This consisted of a little more than what was served everyday with maybe a special dessert that was only made for that holiday. If it was an occasion where presents were given, they would have received only one or two gifts. Eating out was a picnic, a potluck, or a meal at another person's house. A meal in a restaurant was rare. Special foods that were savored, were ordinary foods that you only got when they were in season.

I find that I am tempted to try to make too many special things in my life. Some of it may come from our advertising culture that tries to make you think that you aren't satisfied with what you have. But, I think some of it is from my own inner child wanting to do the special stuff for my benefit. Christmas is a good example. How many family traditions did you have growing up? Didn't your spouse have some traditions they want to pass on to your family? Have you heard of family and friends doing things that sounded to you as a good idea? Before you know it you are drowning in an avalanche of special things to do for Christmas. After all, if every day is special, it doesn't really stand out against the experiences of every day life. I find myself doing something "for the kids" that is really all about me. They might enjoy it, but I can't keep doing special things all the time. I have to somehow get the message across that it is special and no we aren't going to do it every single day.

I have a recent example from my life. I have fond memories of baking special things at Christmas. So, in my mind, I would like to repeat this for my children. But, since I'm going to be doing something special, why not go all out and pick something new that I've never done before. I decided to do popcorn balls and a Gingerbread house. I should have known better. Christmas is my craziest time of year. I need a simple quiet time, not more activity. Well, this year was a little bit crazier than most and the popcorn balls and the gingerbread house didn't get done. Looking back I was quite disappointed about that. Then one day at the grocery store I noticed all of the Valentine's day candy showing up in the store. I had an idea! Who says a gingerbread house is only for Christmas time? We can do one for Valentine's Day!

It took about a week of interruptions and delays, but we finally completed the gingerbread house today

The girls did enjoy the process. They helped me do the gingerbread recipe. The Pillowfight Fairy helped me roll out and cut the dough. They watched me make the icing glue. They both helped me decorate it with candies. I'm very happy about how it turned out. I must say, anyone who has put one of these things together can be considered a wiser gingerbread architect than when they first started. As much as the kids liked doing this, it was still Mommy's project. I didn't want to let other people interfere with my vision. Although, I did ask advice from my husband since he had worked with a group of people to build a gingerbread castle once. I finally had my special Christmas baking experience that turned out to be a belated Valentine's Day experience when it was all said and done.

How does this tie in with where I started? Well, I was trying to graft on a tradition into my family so that we would have one more special thing to remember. Even though we don't really need anything more added to the other special things we were doing. There is nothing wrong with special things or events. I am even a little proud of the fact that I adapted this bit of confection to a different holiday than is traditional. However, I am newly keen to the idea that this takes a ridiculous amount of work. Nearly every special thing or event in our lives takes extra work. This was true for my parents in their family's growing up and it is true of my family today. They didn't have a lot of special things or events in their lives. There was a whole lot of sameness from day to day. I think that they tried to give my brothers and I more than they had growing up. In turn I am trying to do even more for my kids.

I hope my kids remember some of the special things that we do. I hope they remember that their Mom would try something new from time to time. But, I don't want them to think that a day without something special is a substandard day. I think I want to be picky about the special things that we do. I don't want to get too elaborate or we won't be able to afford the special things in time, effort or money. I don't want them to be too frequent or we might think that they are necessary to our lives and can't be done without. But, I don't want to go to the opposite extreme. I don't want to make our special family times ordinary.

I guess it all comes down to priorities. When celebrating a birthday, what do we want to remember as special? The event or the person? When celebrating Christmas do we emphasize gifts, the nativity, music, or family? What will be the special part for us? When we choose a field trip, do we plan carefully to match exactly what we are studying in school or do we take the opportunities as they arise? We probably need a little of both. It is possible that we can fill our lives with so much that none of it makes an impression anymore.

By the way, my parents revel in doing special things now. They enjoy tremendously giving their grandkids an overflowing generous measure of special treatment. They travel all over the country in an RV and enjoy doing things they never got to do earlier. I think they treasure those memories of special times when they were young, but they know that those simpler times were simple out of necessity. What will I treasure as I look back? What will my kids treasure? I don't know. I hope I will treasure some of the simple things as special along with some of the more elaborate things.

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