I think one of the best things about being a mama/parent is getting to see your children delight in the traditions that you pass on to them. For some reason I have always, since I can remember been one of those people who was obsessed with tradition. Possibly because growing up, I wasn’t really taught any to speak of.
I was raised unconventionally to put it mildly so all the occasions that people typically associate with tradition were not things that we celebrated, Christmas, birthdays, Easter ect. But still I remember being 8 or 9 years old and trying to create them. Even though we didn’t observe holidays I wanted to at least cook the same dish every year on that day, or find a way to mark the day that would make it our own unique tradition. I was demanding and focused about it too. I don’t think the rest of my family really cared one way or the other, but to this day I’m still obsessed with passing on the traditions I tried to give my family as a little girl.
Most all the traditions that I do have from growing up revolve around food. Considering we didn’t do may of the other physical things, and money was always tight so we didn’t exchange gifts. So the way we celebrated a special occasion was with lovingly prepared meals and treats.
My birthday dinner: My mom’s Eggplant Stroganoff. The best in the world!
Thanksgiving: baked yams, “Gluten” (homemade fake meet), Brussels sprouts, stuffing with walnuts and apples, my moms jello salad with cream cheese topping, my special apple and Black Cherry pie, black olives, cranberries, chips and onion dip. (Since I was 19 I have hosted Thanksgiving, just to be sure we didn’t miss a single thing!)
My brother’s birthday dinner: My moms amazing Lentil Soup with a dollop of sour cream
Christmas: My Noni’s (Grandma’s) sweet rolls (I have the recipe!)
The list goes on and on….
I find, now that my kids are a little older it’s starting to be fun to see them excited by the same things that excited me. Little things, tiny things really. Like cooking together, the way I did. Teaching them that making something special in the kitchen is one way that a parent shows love and passes on their traditions to you, that making great food can only be done with love.
One of my favorite childhood food traditions is the special way I learned to make popcorn. My dad was the only one in our family who knew how to make it and he usually worked late nights, but on Friday or Saturday night we would all chant “popcorn! popcorn!” and he would heat the oil in the pan on the stove. Drop 3 kernels in the pan, wait for all 3 to pop then pour the rest into the hot oil. Then rhythmically and continuously shake the pan, lid on over the hot stove. We’d watch in awe as the lid would rise several inches off the pan, white popcorn lifting it with the sound of the 4th of July. Salt and Nutritional Yeast, our own little bowls and it would be time to settle in for a story. I remember feeling so honored when he passed the baton to me, and how many years it took me to get it just perfect. To this day I think I’m the only one in my family that makes it this way.
One of the reasons I love this so much as a child, was that my father always told us that this was how his mother, my beloved Noni made pop-corn for him as a boy. Those were the magic words, I knew that made this a “family tradition” which I so desperately wanted more of. Now it seems nightly that I hear “popcorn! popcorn!” from my own 3 little monkeys. I make it the exact same way, and tell them every time that this recipe has been passed down to them, now the 4th generation. I can promise that all 3 of my kids know how to make it already (of course I wont let them!) but they know every step, and they stand beside me and watch the lid rise the way I did.
These are the moments, when you really feel the gravity of being a parent. When you realize (not like you don’t every day, but still) that this is for real. These little people are learning and internalizing everything you teach them, and from it they will decide what are their defining childhood memories. It’s such an awe inspiring responsibility, but also such pure, simple joy.
With each stage my children go through there is something new to love and drink in about them, but this might just be my favorite so far. Everyone is big enough to rough-house together. The girls are mature enough to know who is wearing the most beautiful dress and has the best moves on Dancing With The Stars (and equally as critical who doesn’t!). My son can enjoy watching a game at the same level of understanding as me (yes, I realize this does not speak highly of my understanding of the game…zip-it!). And they all can, want to, and actually do, snuggle in for a story.
They are truly the greatest gift. I’m thankful for everyday that I am their mama.