“If I get stoned and sing all night long, it’s a family tradition…”
Okay, so some families—like the Hank Williams clan—have unusual traditions. My family is much more generic.
I think of the family traditions of my childhood. They are the stuff of standard American suburbia, recognized across state borders and economic classes. Christmas with the tree and presents of all shapes and sizes overflowing underneath. Halloween. Fourth of July fireworks.
Shared national and religious traditions.
Then there are the traditions particular to my family as a child: my mom’s carrot juice that turned my sister and I orange one summer until my mother figured that she ought to cut back. We protested. We wondered aloud if being orange was such a bad thing. That juice was good.
There was the tradition of peeking in on my mother’s solitary yoga practice. Ever the optimist, she believed that she could capture a moment alone while my sister and I whispered loudly behind the closed door, wondering what pose she was practicing at that moment.
There was the tradition of my father always referring to little girls as little boys and vice versa, feigning surprise when they objected to this gross miscalculation of gender. My sister and I rolled on the ground for this joke.
But then life happens along with divorce and relocation. Girls become teenagers. My dad’s jokes become rote; we argue with my mom about what she knows and doesn’t know. Eventually my sister and I grow up.
Our lives look so different from the lives of our childhood. But we still have family traditions. My sister lives in Brazil with her beautiful family and their trip to the beaches of paradise is their regular tradition. My little family (comprised of husband, wife and dog) is filled with music and art. My parents live on either side of me a couple of hours away. We are all so far away from each other as well as the relationships of our childhood.
Enter Video Chat.
I will admit: I resisted the new medium of communication rather vehemently. Email, Myspace and Facebook represented yet another form of communication with which I would be late to reply. At one point, I was touring around the internet each day to check all of my accounts. Cheese and crackers. And, I was also keeping up with my home phone, cell phone, mailbox and knocks on the front door. I wondered to myself, how I am supposed to keep up?
I have since coped with the major technological changes that have met us face first and find myself enjoying one form of communication over all others: the Video Chat. At first, I worried obsessively about what I looked like until I just let makeup and the accompanying worry go (you can read about that journey here). Now, my family and I are forming some new millennial traditions…
Brazilian Portuguese Lessons.
While my niece and nephews speak English, I am determined to learn Portuguese so that I am not always in only half of the conversation. My sister administers her lessons by video, using the text chat to spell out words that I have questions about.
This would not have been possible only a couple of years ago.
Instead, this would have been a tragedy of distance and I would have effectively lost a sister to the other side of the globe.
Wine on Friday Nights.
Me and my sister again, only this time we drink wine and converse. The hubbies chime in from the background and then float away. The kids run by. There are the moments when we must communicate in silence and I point to the side of the screen where we talk in private via text chat, the rest of the family unaware (sisters will always have secrets).
Visits with the Kids.
I get to see the kids grow up and share in their lives. They get to see their Aunt. I can’t kiss them, but I can keep up with soccer victories, dance recital reports, spiderman sightings and so on. It is a blessing that I can be present at their house in Brazil on birthdays, during health scares and sometimes just when somebody needs to talk.
Music Rehearsal with my Mom.
Alright, so we just tried this just once and it didn’t work out too well. We attempted a mother-daughter stringed instrument duet with my mom on harp and me on guitar. It turns out that the audio doesn’t really capture a performance very well, besides the timing lag that makes true musical collaboration rather impossible.
Yoga Practice with my Dad.
My dad had a heart attack recently—he’s doing well now—but I became determined to bring yoga into his life. We have biweekly practices that have helped me as much as they have helped him. I am happy to report that his posture improved almost immediately and his capacity to perform other physical tasks improved. He has been following doctor’s orders and taking his medications, so I’m not saying that it is the yoga…but then again…I think it is the yoga.
Regardless of the myriad of benefits to our health, we have fun together and I find myself remembering back to my childhood when my dad only had to roll his eyes around to send my sister and I into bales of laughter. Now, he rolls his eyes around in yoga class and we laugh and laugh.
Thank goodness that some family traditions never change.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Glen Edelson/Flickr