Paper Plates Will Work: On Keeping Family Traditions Simple

Stanton and I have been parents for seven years now. Before our older daughter, Grace, was born, we attended a baby-care class together. Yes, we were those first-time parents (or, at least, I was): hyper organized, well-researched and well-intentioned…and completely clueless.

I don’t remember much from that class. A clear memory I do have, though, is that the instructor (a labor and delivery nurse) encouraged everyone to think about family traditions they’d like to create once they brought their newborns home from the hospital.

A baby-care class that had carved out time for…family traditions? As our younger daughter, Anna, would say, “Huh?” Shouldn’t we delve back into Braxton Hicks, bonding and belly-button cleaning?

Family traditions…really?

But Stanton and I dutifully did as instructed. We talked about family traditions. We even wrote them down.

What did we come up with? Well, friends…seven years later, we have no idea. I want to say that, seven years ago, we thought a fun, future family tradition might be a regular game night. I am almost positive this is one of the things we came up with. But I can’t say for sure.

I also think we said we’d say grace before dinner every night. But again, I don’t know…and, anyway, we don’t regularly, even though we are thankful… So another uncertainty.

Our first few years of parenthood went by in a blink. A predominantly frazzled blink.

Yes, we were those first-time parents (or, at least, I was): hyper organized, well-researched and well-intentioned…and completely clueless.

At this point in our family life, though, we both feel more confident, more contented (and much better rested) than we did then. We’re older. Maybe not wiser, but we’ve had some experiences. And we’re able to be more conscious of the choices we’re making for our daughters.

Now, we’re consciously trying to create family traditions.

And they aren’t always fancy, friends.

So Grace recently turned 7. The day before her birthday, I told her she could pick any dinner she wanted, and I’d make it for her—a simple but still-special tradition that your family may partake in too. Grace picked French bread pizza.

“Yes!” Anna (who had been eavesdropping) exclaimed.

We all like pizza. And the French bread recipe I make (found at the bottom of this page, compliments of Gina Homolka’s wonderful “Skinnytaste Cookbook”) is fast, easy and delicious. Win-win-win.

The next evening, Stanton, the girls and I gathered outside. One of my favorite parts of our home is the red-brick patio in the backyard. We pulled some mismatched chairs around the table there. Then we dug into Grace’s birthday dinner of French bread pizza, salad and blueberries from a local farm. It was a picture-perfect summer evening (and I did take a picture), served up on paper plates.

We don’t need to break out the fine china for family traditions, although it can be lovely and extra celebratory to. What matters most, at least for our family traditions and maybe yours too, is that we’re all together. The home team.

Keeping things simple (sometimes, or all the time) is OK. Paper plates can cut it.

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As Stanton and I are getting older, we’re rediscovering the beauty in keeping things simple. We’ve always been T-shirt-and-jeans-type people. Lately, though, we appreciate more than ever simply being together, being with our children. We don’t need to drive to Vermont, say, to take a scenic walk. We can just as contentedly walk a nature trail in our neighborhood. As long as we’re together. As long as we’re healthy.

I’m also relearning the importance of saying no—to invitations to gatherings or “opportunities” to volunteer that simply don’t work well now with our family’s schedule. Instinctively, I want to say yes to people, to experiences, to invitations of all kinds. But there are times when saying no makes sense for the family as a whole.

It can be healthy to say no, just as it can be helpful to break out the paper plates.

As long as we’re together. As long as we’re healthy.

Both Stanton’s parents and mine came to visit with us this summer. I love preparing food for our moms and dads. They have all done so much for Stanton and me, as well as our children, and I get a lot of joy from feeding them, taking care of them in this small but sustaining way.

Our parents appreciate my cooking for them, although they say (especially my mom) they don’t want me going to the trouble. I insist it’s no trouble, and they insist we at least use paper plates. Deal.

Paper plates signify different things. A full dishwasher, and no other clean dinnerware. A fuller house than usual, and a call to simplify the cleanup logistics later.

If you give a child a paper plate, they may not see something to hold food at all, but instead, the steering wheel to an imaginary car. Environmental scientists, meanwhile, may encourage an eco-friendly alternative (palm leaf for that pizza, anyone?).

However we all dig in to our family traditions, whatever they may be and wherever they happen…I wish all the folks gathered together (family, and those who are like family)—I wish them joy, and inside jokes. Picture-perfect moments, and a group hug (or two).

…I wish them joy, and inside jokes.

In seven years, I haven’t been a picture-perfect parent. I’ve been selfish. I’ve made mistakes. Certainly, I’ve let my girls watch “Captain Underpants” one too many times so that I could finish some writing work (or, let me be completely honest, eat alone in the kitchen—heaven!). Just yesterday, we rolled out of Hannaford with a family-size box of Lucky Charms peeking out of one of the bags, alongside two containers of store-prepared fried chicken tenders (#dinnerthatnight). Just off the top of my head, there are a lot of things (more vegetables, less TV, not so many raised voices) I could be doing better as a parent.

So I was sitting in the backyard with my family, eating Grace’s French bread pizza on paper plates. Grace helped herself to seconds; Anna made herself comfortable on Stanton’s lap. I was sitting in the backyard with my family, and I thought, “This feels good. I am lucky for this.”

Undeservedly lucky.

Our backyard moment didn’t resemble a Williams-Sonoma window display. There was no Tuscan-inspired tablescape, or monogrammed napkins, but no matter. There was love, and comfort, and thanksgiving.

Grace asked how we picked her name. Of all the names in the world, she wondered, how did we decide on hers? Such a simple name.

“Grace means gift,” I told her. “And that’s how Dad and I thought of you, and still think of you. We were so happy to have you.”

“And so happy to have me too, right, Mom?” (Anna is always listening.)

Then I told both girls that the name Anna actually means grace, which Stanton and I didn’t know, originally. We thought it was, simply, a beautiful nickname based on both our grandmothers’ names (Angelina and Nancy).

“My name is really Grace?” Anna squinted at me. “Huh?”

Sometimes, it really is best to keep things simple, and/or stop while you’re ahead. I held up my hands. “Time to sing ‘Happy Birthday.'”

Anna said she wanted to blow out a candle too. Stanton reminded her it wasn’t her birthday.

Grace shook her head. “It’s OK, Dad. Anna can have a candle.”

Traditions can be what we make them, right?

“Like all magnificent things, it’s very simple.” -Natalie Babbitt, “Tuck Everlasting”

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

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True Love Is Staying Awake

Like most moms, I have no problem falling asleep the second my head hits the pillow at the end of the day. Kids, work, life, family and friends, the grocery store, dropping off and picking up at various summer camps, ordering supplies for an upcoming birthday party—no, I don’t struggle with insomnia. Other things, yes; inability to nod off, no.

One evening this week, Stanton was telling me a story from his day. My eyelids kept drooping down, but every now and then, I said, “Hmm.” Then I yawned.

We’ve known each other long enough that the yawn didn’t offend my husband. “It’s OK, I know it’s not that interesting,” he said.

“Please tell me the rest,” I said. I blinked my eyes open. “I promise I’ll stay awake.”

I was promising to not fall asleep. Not to listen, exactly, or ask follow-up questions. But simply to be awake, to be there.

A couple of nights before, Stanton had gotten up twice to comfort Grace, who was sick. She had called out, and he had heard instantly and sprinted up the steps to her room. At one point, I remember squinting through the darkness at the clock on the desk in our room: 3:02 a.m.

Grace will be 7 soon, in just a few days. Talk about blinking—the past seven years have gone by in a blink.

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I remember one night before Grace was born. It was the middle of the night, past midnight probably. I was hugely, uncomfortably pregnant and couldn’t sleep (one of the last times in my life this happened). My tossing and turning in our bed woke Stanton; we decided to take a nocturnal walk.

We were living in San Antonio then. Even at dusk, the August temperature was hot, and we held hands loosely, our skin sticky. We shuffled through our neighborhood, winding our way around cul-de-sacs and under live oak trees.

I don’t remember what we said as we walked. But we did walk, together. Stanton stayed awake.

True love is staying awake.

We may not realize this. Not if we rely on pop culture for wisdom regarding true love, or social media for inspiration of what devotion looks like.

The girls and I were just in a local bookstore, I Love Books. We wandered through the aisles, our flip flops gently slapping against the light-blue wooden floorboards. Then on a shelf of coloring books, I noticed one, “Harry and Meghan: A Love Story.”

I couldn’t help myself, friends—I flipped through it. (Doesn’t every girl who grew up in the ’90s have a soft spot in her heart for the fun-loving royal ginger?) The coloring book proclaimed, “Their love captivated the world!” and featured drawings of Meghan’s engagement ring, flutes of Champagne, and Buckingham Palace.

I wish any couple only the best, including the newly married Duke and Duchess of Sussex. I wish them all the good things: joy, adventure, the comfort of each other. A problem with so many pop-culture depictions of love, though, is that they don’t show what happens next.

What happens after the last bit of bubbly has been sipped.

After the honeymoon wraps up…when real life begins. There are no coloring books glamorizing “[Insert Names Here]: Our Long Road to Parenthood.” Or “When [Name] Lost Her Job,” or “The Year [Name’s] Dad Was Diagnosed With [Fill in the Blank].”

“Harry and Meghan: Middle Age”—no, I can’t see that one flying off the bookshelves.

A problem with so many pop-culture depictions of love…is that they don’t show what happens next.

It’s important to show what happens next so that our visions of love and romance are rooted in reality. So that we don’t grow up, couple up, and then come face to face with hardship…and have no idea how to handle it or stick together.

The last gasp of a wedding day…the final montage of a romantic comedy…the curtains closing at a Broadway show or high-school production of “Beauty and the Beast.” These are all moving moments. Emotional highs. We leave feeling satiated…exhausted.

And then it’s the middle of the night, and someone we love needs us. We’d rather be sleeping, but we go. We stay awake.

Publishers may not immortalize that response with a coloring book. We ourselves probably wouldn’t post an update to our Twitter feed. “Up at 3 a.m.?” It’s not quite as ❤ -able as “Date night!” or “Class of ’05 reunion!” or “Impromptu house party!”

It’s not quite as ❤ -able (on Twitter, anyway), but sometimes, it means everything in real life.

Sometimes, true love is staying awake.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.