We have a lot of accidental traditions in my family. We may eat Chinese food off paper plates while playing Monopoly one 4th of July and the next year one of the kids says, “What do you mean we’re having salmon and salad….we always have Chinese food on paper plates with Monopoly on the 4th….it’s tradition.” Truth be told, I’m always in favor of happenstance tradition over salmon.
Some of our traditions are just silly. Every Christmas Eve the kids open one gift. It’s always pajamas. They know it’s going to be pajamas. And they say so. We do a song and dance where we pretend this year could be the one deviating year and then they open the pajamas. I don’t know why we do this, but our world seems to find its balance when we exercise such patterns.
There is one tradition that I have grown to love above all others. On New Year’s Day, we conduct our annual summer vacation pitch meeting. It’s like Mad Men without the booze and sexism. Everyone secretly researches possible vacation destinations (after a budget is established) and we spend the afternoon in negotiations. One by one, everyone lays out his or her arguments for the trip of choice. Then there is a ludicrous round of balloting with blind and weighted choice sheets. It gets complicated and we love it. The winning destination is revealed and then we nap to recover the mental exhaustion of it all.
You really get to see the personality of each family member in the locale choice, pitch style, and definitely in the method of preparation. My wife is last minute but thorough. I steer toward the unusual and difficult to pronounce. The kids each show what makes them truly brilliant.
My son chooses extravagant settings that he is literally googling while presenting. Not much forethought, but plenty of conviction. He passionately argues the virtue of his chosen city like he’s been pondering it since birth.
My daughter begins her choice selection weeks ahead of time and sends us all meeting reminders. She is organized without being obsessive and thoughtful of how everyone could enjoy the trip. Without show, she presents a contemplative and quiet set of well-designed slides.
We have had some great trips and have thousands of unsorted, digital images to back it up. The greatness, though, is less about the destination and mostly about the process of getting there. I wish I could claim pre-determined parental brilliance in establishing the New Year’s Day pitch meeting tradition, but it was an accident (like the anti-salmon movement). Through this yearly adventure, we have come to trust our kids’ judgment more and more and to hear their voices. As a result, they are invested and begin to celebrate the trip in advance of its coming (regardless of who chose it) because they were included. Because they were heard. Because they were respected.
Now, January 1 is my favorite day of summer vacation.
Reflections on lessons learned from being a therapist and adoptive dad.