We had a pretty simple Christmas tradition, when I was growing up. My parents and I would wake sedately and trundle on down to the dining room table, where we would open presents, drink orange juice, and have cheese and biscuits. That was my mom’s thing. Cheese, biscuits, and orange juice. It was always a quiet affair, if I remember correctly; not a lot of fuss made. My three siblings were much older than me, so much so that the oldest two had children of their own by the time I was six, so for all intents and purposes I grew up as an “only child”.
Oh, sure, we might go around to one or the other brother and have Christmas lunch there, but again it was a reasonably quiet affair. With the result that I grew up thinking Christmas was exactly that: quiet, and serene, and chilled. It is a day filled with peaceful excitement for new things, good conversation, and a time for reflection and – sometimes – even solitude.
So when I got married and had two children of my own, I figured that I would carry on this tradition. It is what I knew, it made sense, and it worked for me. Christmas is for quiet.
So enter my two: Captain Chaos and Miss Mayhem. Neither of them like orange juice. Biscuits and cheese? Bah, humbug. Get us some real snacks, dad. What is this stuff? And instead of a morning of quiet reflection and family bonding, the type you see on a shampoo commercial, Christmas morning mostly goes like this:
My wife and I are woken to the sounds of chatter, laughter, and bouncing. We are literary dragged by the feet out of bed, still bleary-eyed and in that no man’s land that exists between sleeping and awakening. The kids bound into the living room and start pawing through everything, assigning this present to this person and that one to that one and I am just trying my best to hold everything off so that the orange juice can be poured, the biscuits can be put out and the little cheese blocks cut.
It takes a long time to do this because you can’t cut cheese when presents are being thrust at you and demanded to be opened. You can’t pour orange juice when you have to snap posed pictures and “ooh” and “aah” at Father Christmas’ amazing foresight and present-planning abilities. You can’t pack out biscuits when the table is now strewn with discarded wrapping paper and there is nowhere to put anything. The floor too. And the kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms…
So I had to be content with standing amongst the madness as Captain Chaos and Miss Mayhem took over the show. The whole show. Every aspect of the show. I had to wait until things simmered down a little and then perhaps sip on my orange juice, alone in the kitchen, and eat a biscuit with a block of cheese because “tradition”, dontcha know.
By this time in the morning I usually had a half hour to an hour before my in-laws arrived and the whole place descended into new levels of chaos. Then it was more presents and more wrapping being flung and then food preparation, eating, chatting, more noise, crackers, more wrapping being flung until, at the end of the day, with everyone packed up and gone and I was left along with the dishes (my therapy), I could now pause and think to myself:
Where the heck did I put my orange juice?
And the funny thing is: I tried my best for about three successive Christmases. I tried to keep up the tradition. A part of me knew I was fighting a losing battle: a new tradition was being forged right in front of my very eyes but I’m a stubborn old goat so I gave it the old college try.
I guess, when it comes down to it, we’re a homeschool family. And one thing I have noticed in both my own and with the other homeschool families we hang out with is that we are pretty good at blazing new trails. We started with the classic classroom setup but Captain Chaos moves around a lot and Miss Mayhem prefers the lounge to read in. Then we figured out that Captain Chaos doesn’t learn this way but that way and so we chuck out the curriculum and try new things. Then Miss Mayhem has issues with the way this thing or that thing is done and we try to knuckle down and tell them: but this is school and school must be done and so you’ll have to suck it up and get through it.
But must they? Must they really? Captain Chaos likes to do his work in the mornings and Miss Mayhem much later. So what? So what if they do? Nothing is carved in stone, after all. That’s the beauty of homeschooling: take something from here, and from there, and throw it all into the middle. Try it out, mess around, and chuck out what doesn’t work. Eventually you stumble upon a happy medium and for a time you stick with that until you move the goalposts again.
But do we, as parents, ultimately drive that process? I don’t think so. I think we facilitate things, introduce “school” and all that comes with it in a way that benefits the children, doesn’t hinder them, and works to their styles in a way that they enjoy.
And if this stubborn old goat has learned that lesson, he can learn one more: traditions don’t come in boxes. They’re not one-size-fits-all. You can’t dictate them. The culture decides. And in my home, that culture is Captain Chaos and Miss Mayhem. They’ve decided that this is what Christmas should be about. People around them, lots of chatter, lots of laughter, a whole lot of mess and funny hats. It’s about banging about like a screen door in a hurricane.
My orange juice, biscuits and blocks of cheese don’t fit. They’ve been chucked out. And you know what? That’s okay.