Last Friday I paced in the kitchen of our tiny apartment, waiting for Avi and Maya to wake up from their nap. Generally, I’ll do anything to ensure that they keep sleeping (including but not limited to: blasting sound machines, forcing my husband to sit on the porch for the duration of their nap time because he makes too much noise walking around, and posting a sign on our front door, imploring delivery people and neighbors not to ring our bell). But on Fridays, we go for coffee when they wake from that a.m. nap, and I realized as I kept checking the clock on my cell phone and listening for sounds at their bedroom door, I really look forward to it.
I hadn’t meant to establish our Friday morning coffee run as a “ritual,” but it’s become one. I bundle the girls up and we walk the three blocks to a neighborhood coffee spot, where the baristas know my order (a medium half decaf, half vanilla). Then we sit on a bench outside the shop (if it’s not freezing) or we pull up to a small café table indoors. We don’t stay long, just long enough for me to gulp down half the cup and maybe read half an article from the Times on my cell phone. The girls look around contentedly and I talk to them. Then we walk home. That’s it. That’s our ritual.
But this small act means so much to me. Parenthood brings innumerable unknowns, and as I’ve come to understand both about myself and about myself as a mother, the more I can count on, the more happy I am and I think, the more happy my little girls are.
I grew up on rituals, established both within the context of religion and without. Friday nights brought shabbos presents (small trinkets like stickers or socks or a book), Carlebach music and Hot Seat, a game we played at the table–each week one member of the family was in the “hot seat” and everyone else was required to say something nice about that person. My father took the phone off the hook and my mother made chicken. If she happened to make chicken on another night of the week and coupled it with playing the Carlebach record, I would inevitably ask if it was Shabbat, so ingrained were these trappings within my Friday night associations.
My parents established secular traditions, too. There were certain songs we always sang on long car rides, and expressions we always said when we left the house. There was a healthy obsession with Archie comic books and Carvel ice cream (most notably after Friday night synagogue services). Of my childhood memories, it’s the rituals my parents faithfully repeated for us that I remember the most.
I’ve wondered how many of those rituals were pre-determined and how many came about organically. Before our babies arrived, Jon and I worried over how we’d establish our own original family traditions, when everything our parents created is still so present and safe. We didn’t want to reject anything we’d been brought up on, but at the same time, we both felt it was important to individuate, now more than ever.
As I think back on the last eight months, it becomes clear that we didn’t need to worry. I bathe Maya and Avi every night, but I didn’t plan to sing Ani Rochetz Yadaim (“I wash hands,” a Hebrew song I learned in elementary school) each time. In fact, it wasn’t until a few months into their lives that I found myself humming the song, and then singing it to them each time I placed them in the tub. Now, it’s our own little tradition, just like the Friday morning coffee runs.
Jon has a habit of letting the girls spend some time together when they first wake up–he calls it “crib time.” When he picks one baby up in the morning, he’ll bring her over to her sister’s crib and let them play together for a bit, still warm and rosy-cheeked from sleep. He’s usually got the camera ready to document the unavoidable cuteness that ensues–this way, even if they don’t remember the ritual of spending those first moments of wakefulness together each weekend morning, we’ll have the pictures to prove it.
My girls probably won’t remember the coffee runs either–they’re too young to remember much beyond the moment-to-moment. But when they are old enough to start remembering, I’m sure we’ll establish other customs, perhaps some of them premeditated and some just materializing suddenly, like Maya’s first two teeth did. These rituals might be reincarnated forms of those I grew up with (I particularly loved Hot Seat) or they might be brand new. Either way, they’ll serve as the comforting trademarks of a young family that loves its past and hopes for a future just as sweet.