Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Making & Breaking New Years Tradition by Amber Leigh Williams

Okay, confession time. I don’t have a New Year’s resolution. When it comes to resolutions, I’m strange. The year before my son was born I vowed to learn how to cook. One year, one bouncing baby boy, and another chorus of “Auld Lang Syne” later, I finally got around to that cooking business. This year, I studiously ignored the whole New Year’s resolution thing and decided to do something different….

Years ago when I worked in my local bookshop, I had to work the New Year’s Day shift. I was re-shelving misplaced titles in the children’s section when I saw a fellow employee wearing day clothes instead of work attire, surrounded by her young children. I greeted her and noted “Of all the places you come on your day off, you bring your kids to work?” She told me something I’ve never quite forgotten. She told me about her New Year’s Day superstition – that every year on New Year’s if you did the things you loved most, you would do them for the rest of the year. Instead of working through New Year’s, she took the day off to spend more time with her children. She brought them to her place of work because reading is something she wanted them to do every day.

I thought this theory was sound. Even if you don’t believe in superstition, doing what you want to do for the rest of the year on New Year’s Day can be healthy and habit-forming. It sets the tone for the next day, the next week, the next month, potentially the whole year. This New Year’s, I finally decided to put this practice to the test by doing everything I loved doing and wanted to continue doing in 2016.

It seems simple, but these days sleep is a foreign concept here at mi casa. While 3-year-old Young Skywalker has mostly settled back into an appropriate sleep schedule for someone his age, he’s still occasionally wakened by night terrors. Or his baby sister’s two o’clock holler makes him fidget himself awake, throwing him and the rest of us off the sleep grid. Our eight-month-old Baby Ewok recently went through a growth spurt which meant fussy days and restless nights. I write between the hours of eight p.m. and two a.m. with a seven o’clock alarm clock in the form of early-rising Young Skywalker. This makes for some bleary-eyed mornings and heavily caffeinated afternoons. The hub being off work for the bulk of the holidays helped tremendously. He rose early with Young Skywalker while me and Baby Ewok tried to sleep in. On New Year’s Day, however, me and the boy slept in until ten in the morning. This never happens. Not only did I wake up feeling completely rested, even rejuvenated (a rare thing), he was able to stay awake all day without a nap, leading to more play.

“Be present. Be here now.” These words are vital nowadays. Case in point: at the New Year’s Eve party we attended, I saw two teenage girls sit in the same chairs at the kitchen table from seven to twelve. They hardly spoke to one another though they sat hip-to-hip. They didn’t associate with anyone else. Their smartphones were in hand the entire time and their eyes were glued to the screen, their thumbs tapping and swiping almost in unison. Another example comes from our first 2016 family trip to the park. The weather was in the forties so there weren’t too many parents or children on the playground. There’s always that one mom or dad sitting on the bench while their children play, completely removed from the youngsters’ actions or anything else on the playground, for that matter, because he or she is completely engrossed in their tablet or cell phone. As a hands-on parent, this is so terribly frustrating to witness. I’ll admit that even as a hands-on parent, it is easy to get caught up in the rush of technology, the necessity of it. I don’t go anywhere without my smartphone. My work revolves around my computer and often my tablet which I use to communicate with my agent, my editor, my readers via Twitter, Facebook, and email. So one of my chief goals for New Year’s Day was to Be Present. Be Here Now in the moment with my children. And it was as simple as getting down to their level, copping a squat on the floor or in their playroom and engaging in whatever captured their interest. My son ended the day surrounded by both me and the hub, playing Construction Site with MegaBloks. This was after a long day of catch, keep-away, coloring, and other indoor activities (solely because it was too cold and wet to play outside). When the hub asked him if he was ready for bed, he did something he never does. He grabbed his Mickey Mouse and a bedtime read, took the hub’s hand and led him to bed. Parenting isn’t easy. Rarely do you squeak through a twenty-four hour period without the typical fuss, whine, tantrum, even throwing and/or yelling. It’s difficult to know for certain whether you’re doing it right, particularly with your firstborn. When the hub returned from putting Young Skywalker to bed, we both sat on the couch and glowed a bit because it was one of those rare nights we felt, as parents, we couldn’t have done better.

Again, so simple. It’s easy to take something as basic as everyday laughter for granted. I set out on New Year’s Day to laugh much more. Whether through tickle fights with the kiddies or teasing the hub, our house was abundant with laughter. The belly-deep kind of laughter that turns faces flushed and brings on toothy grins and a twinkle in the eye. New Year’s Day was the first time I’ve made both of my children laugh simultaneously. If that’s the lone takeaway from the first day of the year, I’ll tuck it away in my memory box and hoard it for a lifetime.

This was more to do with the kiddies than us adults since the hub and I spent much of the day unplugged from our routine devices. Through bathtime sing-song, Young Skywalker began to croon his “ABC’s,” something new and exciting as he’s only just recently begun to memorize familiar tunes and mimic them. He began including the number four in counting again after several months of “One, two, three, five, six, nine.” He even did something so grown-up, I woke up the following day convinced I’d dreamt it. He used an adult potty for the first time. It’s been a struggle to get our tough guy potty-trained, mostly because communication was difficult for him until Baby Ewok’s birth. Not only did he potty and flush, he acted very grown-up about it indeed, as if it were an everyday occurrence. Not that he refused the Skittles we offered him afterward....

Ever since that delayed resolution from 2012, cooking has become something that I look forward to. Nothing pleases me more than feeding the mouths of my family, immediate and extended. Going back to the superstition part of New Year’s Day, I think it’s good luck to eat from your home pantry on the first day of the year. After sleeping in, I cooked a full brunch with bacon, eggs, and toast. Later that night, I browned and seasoned meat for our favorite bi-weekly meal tradition: Taco Night! The hub made his yum-yum hummus. Simple meals, full happy tummies. I recently came across this quote. It resonates:

Centuries of secularism have failed to transform eating into something utilitarian. Food, the act of eating, is still treated with reverence. A meal is still a rite - the last natural sacrament of family and friendship, of life that is more than 'eating' or 'drinking.' To eat is something more than to maintain bodily functions."
- from "For the Life of the World" by Alexander Schmemann

Young Skywalker’s favorite book is a tattered old version of I Spy I received as a gift from my fourth grade teacher twenty-er-some-odd years ago. I love it because it’s not something he prefers to flip through himself. He brings it to the hub or me, pointing out objects, searching for others, counting like items, and tracing shapes. Another reason I like it is because he enjoys it so much when he’s done spying, he turns to other books looking for the same wonder and excitement I Spy gives him. Baby Ewok mostly likes turning board books pages, but she’s growing attached to a recent library addition, Touch & Feel Farm, a sensory play book that uses different textures to show how farm animals feel to the touch. Fluffy chicks, furry doggies, wooly sheep, even bristly piglets. With a new set of deadlines approaching coupled with the demands of the holiday season, it’s been especially hard to find time for my own TBR pile. The hub sneaked around online for Christmas and bought me a hard-to-find title I’ve been rattling on about wanting on my shelf forever. When the kiddies hunkered down to sleep, I stayed up with a mug of hot tea and a blanket and read to my heart's content!

I broke the no-working rule on New Year's. Writing isn't just my occupation, though. It's something that I love. (And did I mention those deadlines??) However, instead of turning on my computer and burning through the midnight oil, I turned to the oldest, most comforting writing form - pen and paper. I wrote notes on an old passion project, the book of my heart as I finished off my tea.
Quality Time
There’s no better time than New Year’s to appreciate those around you. I had lovely conversations with both my mother and my father. The hub and I spent the entire day inside with the kiddies. The quality family time was wonderful, but we saved our cuddles until after both kiddies went down for the night. We watched a new movie, very rare for us indeed, and we talked. Really talked. It’s easy to get swept away in the busyness of everyday life. It’s our goal every day to take at least ten minutes to reconnect, to hold each other, to converse while making eye contact. It may sound simple again, but we’re convinced if more people did this with their partners, their parents, their friends, their children, they could solve problems more easily. The world might even be a better place for it. As he began to nod off after a while and I started to reach for my book, it hit me. I gasped in horror. He jerked awake. “What? What? What?” he asked. “Oh no!” I cried. “I FORGOT TO MAKE BLACK-EYED PEAS!”

Those Trusty Black-Eyed Peas
We have a tradition here in the south. In my family, it goes back further than I can remember, before I was born. Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is a requirement. It’s good luck. Why black-eyed peas are lucky, I have no idea. In recent years, I’ve forgotten to buy black-eyed peas and the year’s gone by just fine without them. I do know that for most of my life, I ate them once a year, January 1st. If I turned my nose up at them as a willful child, I was forced to eat them anyway, even if it was just one bite. This year while shopping for Christmas meal staples, I passed by the legumes. The black-eyed peas sat on a shelf at eye level. They stared at me. I stared back. “What the hey?” I said, tossing them into my shopping cart. On New Year’s Eve, I spotted the bag in our pantry and instructed the hub, “DO NOT let me forget to cook those tomorrow.” We made a plan to do them with tacos. We then quickly forgot this plan on New Year’s Day until ten p.m. The hub went into the kitchen to boil some water. “How long could it take?” he asked. “We’ll eat a bite before bed and the rest tomorrow.” He grabbed the peas from the pantry. His face settled into a frown. “Babe. You bought hard peas.” My experience with peas is limited. If they aren’t canned or frozen, I don’t know what to do with them. So my response was, “Yeah, so?” He groaned. “These are going to take hours.” He read the packaging and laughed. He laughed loud and sour. “These are going to take FOUR HOURS.” “What!?!” I snatched the peas from his hand and read for myself. After consulting with my mother the next day, I learned belatedly that the best way to cook black-eyed peas is overnight in a crockpot. “Oh, no,” I said again, head in my hands. We clearly weren’t having black-eyed peas on New Year’s—again. I should note that the hub think superstitions in general are ridiculous. He was raised in Alabama just like me, but he doesn’t believe in voodoo, juju, wawa, or anything outside reason. He believes in ghosts. He might even believe in aliens. He likes reading conspiracy theories. But other than that he’s a trusty cynic fixed in his ways who’s slowly learned to live with my more open-minded approach to all things luck and superstition. He saw how disappointed I was about this culinary misfortune. He tore the corner off the bag of hard peas and shook out a small handful. He handed me half and stuffed the rest in his mouth. It was like chewing rocks but still. We ate our black-eyed peas. Or, as the hub so eloquently put it, “If the year sucks, it’s not our fault. We’ve got luck now, right?” “Mm hm,” I agreed, still chewing. “And no teeth.” He smiled, close-mouthed, and said, “Happy New Year.”

It’s your turn, Rose readers! What’s your favorite New Year tradition? Here’s hoping 2016 brings you much joy and many blessings!


Margo Hoornstra said...

Do what you love doing...such a great 'superstition'. I think I'll try it this year. Thanks for the advice, Amber. Happy New Year to you and your family!

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

I don't do resolutions either. I used to make them and not once did I ever succeed. So why set myself up for failure. I just enjoy life and my time with Calvin. I grew up near Amish country in Pennsylvania. So our New Years Day meal was always pork roast and sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. Oh, and pies...lots of pies.

Brenda Whiteside said...

Great post, Amber. I always heard whatever you are doing at midnight is an indication of the year ahead. Since I'm asleep, not sure what that means. With a 2 year old grandchild, loved the tidbits about your wee ones.

Jannine Gallant said...

What a great New Year's Day you had, Amber! I wrote and cooked and spent time with my family--although with older teens, it isn't the hands on time you had! Basically, I did what I do most every day (except go to work). It works for me!

Ilona Fridl said...

Wonderful post! The only traditions we observe is champagne at midnight and the Rose Parade the next morning.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Amber, on a 'active' scale that goes to 10, you have a 20 compared to my 5. And you still had time to write about it...even better, you planned New Year's Day. I am so impressed! I am definitely not the superstitious type, so I didn't even know about New Year's Day as a trending concept. I'm a do-it-every-day kind of woman...I write, read, exercise (golf twice a week), go to Starbucks, run an errand, do something nice for the house, plan a nice meal....On New Year's day, I did all those things and also had six people over for clam chowder. Every New Year's day, having friends over is a good thing...feels just right!

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Happy New Year to you, Margo!

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Vonnie, I've come to see New Years resolutions as a way of simply setting myself up for failure. It's the opposite of constructive. The meal sounds fantastic! I love pies!

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Brenda, at midnight on New Years neither of my children were asleep and I was pulling my hair out as a result. That doesn't bode well for me at all, lol

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Jannine, there's nothing wrong with doing the things you normally do at all. Minus outside time, we did the same and that was due to the weather.

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Ilona, I'm nursing my eight-month-old still so I didn't get to enjoy a full glass if champagne as I normally do. But I did kiss the hub at midnight, which made up for it in all its sparkly goodness!

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Rolynn, I think I read somewhere that having company on New Years is very good luck indeed. I also read that leaving the front and back door open at midnight lets good spirits in and bad spirits out, lol

Diane Burton said...

For 15 years, Hubs & I got together with long-time friends on New Year's Eve. We take turns being host. Dinner, visit, play cards/dominoes, visit more, welcome in the new year, sleep over, breakfast, visit some more. This is the first time we'll celebrate the New Year in Feb. since we're visiting our son & his family in AZ. As far as resolutions, I list what needs to be done and what I want to accomplish. Don't always get everything done but at least it's an attempt. Best wishes for a great new year.