Family memories have always been important to me.
But, marriage and motherhood changed me.
Suddenly, I wanted holidays and birthdays and little moments to be even more special.
Unfortunately, the harder I tried to make something fun or special or memorable, the more defeated and deflated I felt when things inevitably went wrong.
My mom said to me this past Christmas, “That perfect holiday you’re looking for doesn’t exist except in the movies and in your imagination.”
I was taken aback, but there was an element of truth in her words. I do have this image in my mind of what the holidays and special occasions should be, but they never quite end up that way.
My sister offered another opinion. “We are the ones planning and doing. We don’t get that warm, fuzzy feeling because we’re making it for everyone else.”
“Do you think everyone else feels it?” I questioned. We both agreed that they probably do, at least most of the time.
A few years ago, my parents, my sister and her family, and my family began ringing in the new year at our lake house. It’s such a cozy, fun way to celebrate and has become one of my most favorite family traditions.
This year, I decided that we were going to have a fancy dinner and we were all going to dress up for it. I painstakingly planned the menu, spent most of the day in the kitchen cooking dinner and preparing desserts, and working hard to make everything perfect.
And it really was a great dinner. Everyone dressed up and kept their complaints to a minimum. Everyone ate their dinner and even came back for seconds. We put on some music and danced around for a little while and once I gave my approval, everyone made a beeline to put on their pajamas.
After the little kids were in bed, my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, my husband, my oldest niece and nephew, and I sat together in the family room. Everyone was talking and laughing about silly things.
But, I was stewing about some of the things that hadn’t panned out at our party. The little boys refused to “clink” their glasses and “toast” each other with their sparkly ginger ale (a favorite tradition from my childhood). We forgot to play this one game I’d really wanted us to play. My pies were good, but not perfect. The list in my head went on and on.
With only a few minutes to spare, I asked everyone to tell me the best thing that happened to them in 2013. I listened with tears in my eyes as my family shared of their successes, joys, adventures, and new beginnings.
This moment, I thought, is perfect.
I’m not sure if anyone else took notice, but those few moments just before 2013 ended will forever be in my heart. And I suddenly realized that sometimes the best memories happen on a whim. I have a feeling if we’d played the game I wanted to play it wouldn’t have been as magical.
The next morning, I was back in the kitchen preparing a special New Year’s Day breakfast. I was a bit overwhelmed (read: cranky) when my husband said to me, “You don’t have to go through all this trouble- 9 of the 12 people in this house can make their own breakfast.”
I pondered it for a moment and replied, “Yes, I do have to do this.”
I am the memory maker.
I got asked more than once:
What are we having for breakfast? Is it ready, yet? When will it be ready?
When my five year old came up to me and asked if we were having pancakes (we weren’t!), I almost lost it. I shooed him (and all the kids) to the basement with instructions not to come up until I called for them.
Finally, everything was finished! I pulled the last of it out of the oven and called for everyone to come eat.
My five year old came clopping up the stairs. “Mmmmm,” he said, “I smell Mommy’s coffee cake!”
My eyes flooded with tears. It wasn’t what I was going for, but it occurred to me that my son linked special occasions to Mommy’s coffee cake. I suddenly realized that everyone sees the world differently. What makes something memorable for one person might not even register for someone else.
I can’t begin to describe the warmth (and fuzziness) that washed over me in that moment. Perhaps one day when he’s grown (and making special memories of his own), he will call me and ask for the recipe. I sure hope he does.
This particular holiday changed and defined me as a memory maker. From here on out, I’m not going to worry if the moments aren’t perfect.
Things will go wrong. More often than not, nobody else will even notice. There is no need to beat myself up over it. Sometimes things will go horribly wrong, but often the things that went wrong are the most fun to remember down the road.
I’m cutting myself some slack.
And I’m going to take the time to make my own memories, too. I am going to stop my crazy, behind the scenes running/doing/cooking/making and actually participate and spend time with my family. I will pause and savor the moments, even when they look entirely different from what I envisioned.
Are you a memory maker, too? I stand in camaraderie with you. We have a tough and tiresome job. Often our efforts go unnoticed. And no matter how hard we try, things sometimes go awry.
It’s okay, though. We don’t need elaborate plans or lots of money or all the stars to align. We don’t need much at all, really.
All we need is our loved ones gathered together at a special time (or an ordinary one) or a special place (or not) and the memories will take hold in hearts and minds.
All we need is laughter and affection, sometimes even tears. All we need is a game or a conversation, an outing or quiet day at home.
And sometimes, all we need is coffee cake.
Life happens when we make memories.