Family traditions: Rituals we pass on to our children

Susan shares the importance of maintaining family rituals in her household.

A delicious homemade pizza: A Sunday night family tradition for Susan, her partner and their two sons.

Sunday is pizza night at our house: I’ve pretty much perfected the “light whole wheat” crust in the breadmaker. The large recipe makes two pizzas: your basic, “no surprises” cheese-and-pepperoni pie for Isaac the Unadventurous, and a “grown-up” version for the rest of us that may include pesto (from the garden!), caramelized onions, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, feta, and whatever else I feel like throwing in for good measure.
 
Two pizzas, but I can see that it’s only a matter of time before that’s not enough to feed our family of four — Isaac barely weighs 40 pounds, but he’s capable, some weeks, of demolishing a good half of an entire pie. His older brother could probably finish one on his own, if we didn’t insist on him eating his crusts. One of the rituals of the meal is me or Rachel intoning, “Yes, you can have another piece, but you have to eat a bit more of that crust — look, look at how much pizza is still left on that!” And we natter on about waste and he halfheartedly gnaws away a bit more at the offending crust before tossing it aside for the pleasure of biting into the tip of a fresh piece.
 
Sunday night is pizza night, just as Sunday mornings are for brunch with our friends — and the kids’ godmothers — Judy and Jill. We alternate hosting, depending on who’s in town and whose kitchen or bathroom is under renovation. We’ve been brunching since Isaac was a baby and Rowan was a toddler and J&J made us brunch every single week. We’d show up sleepless and bleary and vaguely hysterical and so happy to be fed and have adult conversation with people other than each other, for two extra sets of arms to hold babies, for reprieve. Rowan’s Sunday brunch ritual involved doing laundry with Judy and then going outside to pick up dog poop with Jill — two tasks that thrilled him inexplicably to pieces. My ritual was to sit on their couch, hands cradling a cup of coffee instead of the baby, and do absolutely nothing but caffeinate myself for 15 minutes. Equally thrilling, but entirely explicably.
 
These days, what with soccer and Hebrew school and the demands of new jobs, brunch isn’t as regular an affair as it used to be, but it’s still an important part of our family’s rhythms whenever we can fit it in — just as we go through the Friday evening Sabbath ritual of lighting candles and saying the blessings over wine and challah (I’ve perfected the recipe for that as well, given that it’s pretty difficult to find a Jewish bakery in Thunder Bay, Ontario). We’re not particularly religious, but there’s something comforting about the familiarity of the same songs, the same weekly tastes and words and scents, candles in the same candlesticks that my mother used. We tend to eat pretty much the same thing every Friday night: roast chicken and vegetables, week in, week out. Every so often, I’ll deviate from the menu, but the pushback from the kids is immediate. “Can we have roast chicken next Friday?” one or both will ask, looking up sadly from whatever carefully crafted dish I’ve assembled.
 
There are more rituals: the restaurant we go to on birthdays, the same camping site each year, annual weekend trips, grandparental visits on birthdays, Florida. There are the questions Isaac rattles off each evening as we leave his room after tucking him into bed: “Nightlight on? Hall light on? Door open? You’ll stay on the same floor as me? You’re not going out?” And we answer, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, no.” Some of these rituals we’ll outgrow, and some we’ll continue. But I find myself drawn to creating them, to the idea that my kids will remember the things we did as a family, that they will one day call up sense memories and feel awash in warmth and safety, happiness and love, laundry and pizza, roast chicken and — so be it — dog poop.
 

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