Tis The Season!

11.24.2018


Whether you spread your jolly all month long or scrooge your way through, Happy Christmas time from the Spragues!

In the void of tradition :: a surprise in the folds of loneliness

11.05.2018




   We moved to Finland while our daughter was 20 months old. Both the youngest in the family, Ben and I had, until then, been faithful to be a part of the holiday festivities of our parents. We participated in the traditions as our familiar roles required and we didn’t think anything of it. Sure, we talked about how someday our family would have its own traditions, but what that really meant was maintaining the ones built for us in tandem.

   That first November overseas, I remember glancing at the calendar. When was Thanksgiving? Christmas in Helsinki starts Nov 1st. Since they obviously don’t share our history, there isn’t any seasonal ‘thanksgiving things’ to find (at least not back in 2014.) It caused an ache in me that, while typical for expats, was one I didn’t expect. We anticipated that we may experience it alone and a quick talk to the relatives confirmed it. Our first Thanksgiving as just nuclear family unit was on the horizon without any thanksgiving things to buy… Would we even bother making anything?

   Perhaps it was an act of desperation (two extreme introverts pulling a wild card for sure!) but we decided to medicate our loneliness by inviting all the people we could fit into our 89m2 flat. We moved in May and if we had met you between then and now, you were invited. Bring your friends! Bring your neighbors!  Bring your foldable chairs!

   There were things we didn’t anticipate when the invite sent out. We didn’t anticipate how well received the invite would be, for starters. So, when we looked up how many pounds of turkey you need to feed 30 people, we realized we might have overextended ourselves. We searched all of Finland for that turkey. Or at least it felt like that by shop number 8.

  The turkey was found in a clear act of divine intervention (at stockmann, where else...) ,and it then proceeded to hardly fit in the stove. Other than that, everything went without a major hitch. We found a homemade recipe for cream of mushroom soup and substitute ingredients for Ben’s side of the family’s  ‘orange fluff.’ This dish provided a lot more humor than we expected.  We watched as every guest eyed it suspiciously. Is it dessert? Is it part of the main course? Yes, but what IS IT?! Only the kids were brave enough to consume the brightly colored mass of whipped fruit.  

  Nothing was burnt and we all had our fill. People sat on the floor and yet we had enough food to send left overs home with people whom we knew it would benefit.

  That was the first (and last) from scratch thanksgiving I have ever attended. A few friends brought some of their favorite dishes and one acquaintance who had just flown in brought Latvian beer. We sat around the table and each of us said one thing we were thankful for. I heard the most varied and sincere answers I ever have heard. Tears were shed. Mine included.

  Having so many people in our home, celebrating their first thanksgiving felt deeply sacred. We had everyone sign the bottom of our table leaf after that day (it pulled out to make a longer table) and as they wrote with that permanent marker something set inside me permanently as well. All this striving? All this fretting? All this running about and creating a timetable and inviting people in to our baby-food-smeared home. All of it. It’s worth it. It became part of who we are.

That will always be my favorite thanksgiving.

  That first Christmas without visitors was a similar story. We had a small group of people over for Boxing Day and it’ll be one of my favorite memories yet. Everyone bringing their leftovers, convincing someone else’s parents to play board games. It lacked the stress of cooking, the tension of hoping you got the right present for that special someone and for us at least, the anxiety of familiar family stress… We were just together. Eating day old food, sharing stories. Perhaps the food was tastier because it sat for the day, but I suspect it was the company. I felt a deep peace I hadn’t felt before.

  I had never shared holidays outside of my family unit before Finland. Not really, at least not like it was a tradition. I began to wonder how much we had missed from not inviting our community into the more intimate space of our homes. When did holidays become a time to guard? When did we decide the invitations were limited? Not in an obligatory sense, but, what if we invited in the people who could become like family?

  When our time came to return back to the motherland, I was giddy at the idea of not having to carry the weight of ‘making traditions.’ I’d bring the pie, just like I always did and I’d sit back and enjoy the show. That first Thanksgiving, we stepped right back into our old form. Except, we didn’t. The anticipation quickly waned when I remembered just what we had built over that sea.  We caught ourselves reminiscing when everyone else had gone to bed. “Oh! What I would do to get some of Hanna’s quark!” “remember how he always brought his house slippers over?” “Remember how they dressed up like Pilgrims!” We ached for the people who were tethered to those tender memories.
I think it was then that I knew we lost something, or gained something, depending on how we look at it. I knew then that every holiday would be bittersweet and that it would have to be, from this time forward, entirely different.

Perhaps this is what they mean when “you’ll make your own traditions.”

  We now have three kids and a few more thanksgivings of making our own turkey and inviting others in. As we approach our second thanksgiving since we moved back, I had a lot of thoughts whirling. The anxiety started to build when I tried to anticipate maintaining everyone’s traditions. “How am I going to make so and so’s specialty?” “What if someone’s disappointed we don’t do X”

  Until I realized how beautiful an opportunity this could be.  When we were invited into someone else’s home-be it family or otherwise-they offered up themselves. That favorite dish, that story we’ve all heard a million times; The traditions are tethered to the walls just as much as to the people who made them.

  So then, it is entirely rational to embrace the idea that these four walls get to have traditions of their  own. We, in this house, get to invite other people-be it family or otherwise-into our culture. They get to experience our traditions.

 When we make blueberry quark for dessert on Thanksgiving (though it’ll never ever be as good as Hanna’s) and play board games instead of hitting up the movie theaters?   That’ll be ours. When we have clotted cream and English scones for breakfast on Christmas Morning (because our very best friends decided to share their special imported jar with us one rainy Saturday) that’ll be ours. And when we say that only the stockings are from Santa and that we know where he lives (Lapland, Obviously.) That’ll be for us too.  And the next Christmas when we find ourselves at home, we’ll do just as we did and invite people near and far on Boxing Day to bring their leftovers for an exhale-the final end to Christmas season. These are ours, but they can be yours too.

  In the void of tradition, we realize how much we’re made by it. When we repeat something year after year we find it weaved into our identity. It can feel absolutely jarring to not have those traditions available to us when we ache for them most.

   If you ever get the chance to lose out on your traditions, even once, I think it’ll reveal itself as a gift. In the void, we pick up something new. If it proves meaningful and enjoyable, please keep doing it. Year after year. Remember why you started it in the first place and tell your people about it. I think there in lies the joy of tradition making.

  Someday my kids will have traditions of their own. An eclectic dish their roommate taught them how to make, a silly game the new husband brings in, a treasured movie…. And my job will be to make room. Not to mourn that they want their newfound homemade cinnamon rolls instead of what we’ve done for years. Why? Because this is an invitation I don’t want to miss. A tradition grown. It’ll be an honor to have them share with me what they think is worth repeating. Year after year. I’ll be happy to show up in their four walls. When we're with our family? We'll celebrate the amalgamation of traditions with them.

  And while we're in this space and time, we’ll have friends over for feasting and we’ll be thankful for the loneliness of that first year in Finland. It taught us how to never be without tradition or family again.


Chewacla State Park :: Sprague Adventures

11.03.2018


Now that reverse winter is over, we're soaking up as much of this autumn as we can get.  We wanted to head over to Auburn to go to Chewacla State Park and it did not disappoint. It's just a quick 45 minute drive from our house, and the kids had a blast pulling their shoes off and wading around in the waterfall.

We've been learning about mushrooms and seeds and a whole host of interesting aspects of autumn, so to have the kids be my little nature guide was pretty fun. We even found two poisonous mushrooms and a spider with perfect camouflage.

I commented to Ben how, yet another way, homeschooling has changed my perspective on parenting overall. More or less, I've embraced a long game. Before, I would have calculated the 'worthiness' of an outing based on the probability that everyone would have a consistently good time. If there was a good chance we would need a lot of band aids or if they would be put in more strenuous positions, I'd probably hold off until a different time.

These days I intentionally calculate all the risks, (kids might fall in the water, scrape toes, bug bites etc.) and I grab the band aids and head out the door. I want my kids to test their limits at 4 and 6 so that come 14 and 16, they know what to do with themselves in other situations. Giving them a thousand opportunities to do their own risk management and often times manage poorly (I WON'T FALL IN MOM! and splash) means they begin to realize they're not infallible, but it also allows them to engage in their natural world and set their own realistic limits.

My long game goal is that when they engage in risk assessment as young adults, those muscles will have been flexing for a long time. They'll make more worth while risks and will get the reward of pushing themselves towards things they actually care about, not just for the thrill they finally push the limits.

Eowyn had a few limit pushes today (including getting her behind wet by freezing cold water.) Elias felt the thrill of coming a little too close to a spider. Rowan licked a few things too, so he's living wild in his own way.

And we didn't even have to bust out the bandaids!