Enriching Rituals

Instead of watching TV one night, how about asking your kids a question like, 'If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?'  You might end up having a fascinating conversation.   photo credit: flickr.com user canfielddave
I was listening to the news the other day, and some Hollywood insider was being blandly interviewed about the Oscars. The interview took a turn for the more interesting, though, when the Hollywood guy, whose father had been a movie set designer, told a story about his childhood. He said his dad came up with a wonderful yearly tradition of helping him remake his room in any motif he wanted. Whatever whimsy, inspiration, statement, or fad had taken over his imagination that year was fine. They would design it, procure the necessary supplies, and implement their own room makeover together.

I thought, Now that’s a great idea—and one that deserves reflection. I thought back to the traditions and rituals of my own childhood, all with fond memories. There was the daily pothole count with my dad on the way to school, the nightly relaxation and breathing routine with my mom when I had growing pains, and yearly birthday trips to the Aquarium and Fenway Park in Boston. In some ways, these rituals define my childhood—and perhaps the person I am today.

I think the idea deserves emulating, too. So here’s a challenge: Invent a new tradition to do with your kids. Here are some ideas to get you started:Daily Dilemma
If you have kids who latch on to a new concept and ask a zillion questions about it, engage them when you get in the car or sit down for dinner by presenting some kind of puzzle or dilemma. It can be something as “deep” as “What was before the Big Bang?” or something everyday like, “Where does water go when it goes down the drain?” It could be an ethical dilemma (“Is it ever ok to lie?”), a reasonably concrete philosophical question (“Why is ok to drive 65 miles per hour, but not 66?”), a cool scientific phenomenon (“Why does the moon perfectly block out the sun during an eclipse?”), or a good old-fashioned riddle (“What walks with four legs, then with two, then with three?”). You may find yourself running out of ideas after a few weeks, but you may also get hooked on finding the newest cool thing to talk to your kids about with each new day.

Weekly Wandering
This one’s simple—and even simpler with the help of google maps. Just pick a new neighborhood or street or park each week—and walk there, or walk around there. The Bay Area has so many niches, interesting in both natural and human features, that there is really no excuse not to find a fascinating place to wander in.

Monthly Money Market
Each month, convene a meeting in which your kids assign some of their actual savings to a variety of possible “investments” overseen by you but track-able by them. These could be the same kinds of things that you invest in (though these days that might be even more depressing for kids than it is for adults), but more likely it would be something more readily observable and easily graspable than mutual funds. To stay in the financial realm, you could suggest the price of gas or the weekly grocery bill. Or you could incentivize something else that they are already “invested” in like their grades or the number of pages they’ve read. More idiosyncratic kids might choose to invest in the number of silver cars seen on the way to soccer, the ratio of times you say “Yes” to the times you say “No,” or the number of contraptions they can invent in their garage with paper towel rolls and duct tape (true Silicon Valley kids those!). Then, every month they get capital gains or a dividend based on whatever formula you come up with. Watch out—they might get so good at financial planning that they dupe you with their own ten-year-old versions of credit default swaps or Ponzi schemes.

Seasonal See-What’s-New
Another easy one: pick four days a year, one in each season, and go to the exact same place with a camera and a pad of paper. Take lots of pictures, jot down some notes or poems, and then make a professional-looking photo book on-line at shutterfly.com or blurb.com. How about March 21st, June 20th, September 19th, and December 19th this year? They’re all Saturdays around the solstices and equinoxes. Go see what’s new and be a photo-journalistic family!

Annual A.R.M. (Artistic Room Makeover)
This is the tradition of the Hollywood guy I mentioned above. You might not be able to afford the time or money to completely overhaul your child’s room in a Star Wars theme one year and a High School Musical theme the next, but perhaps you could choose something more manageable like a wall or a corner. Let your kid be the guide, so long as it doesn’t involve a sledgehammer or live animals loose in the walls.

Bi-annual Auto-bio
Every couple of years, help your child write an “autobiography” to crystallize both the memories of those years and the state of consciousness and personality your kid has in that moment. I have one of these from third grade, complete with photos removed from family albums and actual typing paper with lots of X-covered typos. I treasure this artifact of my eight-year-old self, and I wish I had five or six more of them.

Make your life richer with rituals and find your own freshly-minted traditions. Enjoy!

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