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Some traditions deserve to be broken

Some traditions deserve to be broken

Mr. Tucker and I have covid so we’re taking precautions so the kids don’t get it

When the pandemic happened the holidays were furthest from our minds. Easter was the first holiday after the lockdown started but it had never been a huge deal for anyone but the kids. When Thanksgiving rolled around we rented a couple of cottages on a lake, quarantined for two weeks, and then met up with another family. If I am honest, it was one of the best Thanksgivings we ever had. The kids hung out with other kids, the adults had drinks & played cards, and Mr. Tucker made an amazing Thanksgiving dinner. After dinner we played games, laughed, and then built a bonfire. Everyone was full, happy and relaxed. After that first one, the past two covid Thanksgivings we’ve used to take a small road trip and do something fun as a family, usually Halloween-related (Thanksgiving in Canada is the second weekend in October) with those same friends. It’s been a nice, new tradition that we all enjoy.

Christmas that first covid year was just the four of us. Determined to make the kid’s holidays still good, we ramped up the activities that we could still do during covid. We baked cupcakes for The Mission, we headed out to pick out a fresh tree, we did our 12 Days of Christmas Movies & we baked cookies and delivered them to friends. We also doubled-down on Advent calendars to make every day of December special and started incorporating Jólabókaflóðið – the Icelandic tradition of getting a book & some chocolate on Christmas Eve – into our new holiday tradition. Christmas day we had outside visits with family and friends (no easy feat in Canadian winter) and then sat down to dinner just the four of us. This time the kids were honest: they loved having a relaxed Christmas. We spent the day in our PJs and watched movies and they loved it. They hated having to dress up and sit around watching the adults talk about boring things so this was a change they really enjoyed.

I loved it, too.

I loved it for different reasons than the kids did. Because we were the only people in the family with young kids, we’ve always hosted. That has meant 13-15 people for dinner, including my divorced parents. For various reasons, it’s always been stressful and chaotic but we always did it because otherwise we’d have to choose somewhere to go that would exclude other members of the family, feelings would be hurt etc. So from that point of view, it always made sense for us to host.

We are heading into year three of Christmas with covid and over the past years I have discovered that I ENJOY a simpler holiday. I love not having to hold myself up to some ideal holiday standard where every moment feels like I’m shoving a square peg into a round hole. No matter how hard I tried to make everything perfect, there were always little stinging comments and judgement or a divisive conversation would erupt. Mr. Tucker and I would shut the door behind the last guest and then feel like collapsing from exhaustion both physically and mentally. It was a lot of work and we convinced ourselves that we were giving our children the experience of seeing all of the family at Christmas and vice versa.

Looking back, I realize now that I can take the things I enjoy about holidays and leave the rest. I grew up in a house where a fake Christmas tree was just unfathomable. But just because our families did it one way doesn’t mean we have to do it that way. We don’t need to take the most difficult path just because, “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” So this year when I saw a sale on fake Christmas trees I pointed to the flyer and said to Mr. Tucker, “Do you think we should consider…” I didn’t even finish my sentence before he shouted, “YES!”

My ideal Christmas has fallen heavily on Mr. Tucker’s shoulders these past couple of years. When we were younger and more energetic I could do a lot more of the heavy lifting but since I’ve become more and more disabled a lot of this magic has to be done by him. It occurred to me that it’s a lot to ask of a man who already works full time, cares for two kids and helps his disabled wife to also be responsible for all the traditional stuff. To be fair, now that the kids are older they can also do a lot of the work and that eases the burden somewhat. But I also realized that we can even let a lot of it go and still have all of the magic. A great holiday doesn’t have to include stress and exhaustion…and you don’t have to have a neurodegenerative disease to say no to things that make you miserable, either!

The eldest was kind of sad to not be able to go and get a fresh tree but when we pointed out all of the benefits, she got it. No needles all over the place that get stuck in your feet, no having to water it all of the time and it spins so no worrying that the dogs will knock over and make a huge mess of water and needles. It’s even easier to decorate because the branches are moveable and sturdy. We still decorated the house and listened to Christmas music – the important ritual of a good holiday, in my opinion. All of the magic, half of the work.

This year on Christmas Eve, we are having my brother and my Dad over for Réveillon and instead of a traditional French Canadian feast, we’re going to order in Chinese food and just hang out and play cards. We’ll then curl up with our new Jolabokaflod books & eat chocolate. Christmas morning will happen when we all wake up (probably late), we’ll open presents, have a leisurely breakfast and then drive around seeing family and friends for porch visits. Dinner will be easy, eaten in our PJs and then we’ll probably watch Miracle on 34th street (another tradition).

If covid has taught me anything, it’s to let go. Let go of relationships that don’t serve me, stop trying to force relationships to be what they never will be, let go of my expectations and stop doing things I don’t want to do just because it lives up to someone else’s preconceived notions or sense of tradition. I don’t think we will ever host another large family dinner again. We enjoy a small, quieter holiday where we’re aren’t pretending that these traditions that don’t serve us are the most important thing. The most important thing will be the holiday will be spent relaxed and together.

The routine that saved us

The routine that saved us

Since March break 2020 I think I have been outside of the house less than 15 times (full disclosure: twice was to go to a rental cottage). We made the decision to keep the kids home in remote school because a> I am compromised, so getting covid would be potentially devastating or me; b> I figured in-person school would shut down & that it would be worse to have to transition the kids a back-and-forth. Sure enough, that happened.

In the spring online schooling was a mishmash of trials and errors to figure things out. The day flowed in the same way that a regular school day would and it was a super long day for the kids. In the fall they re-did their online learning and it turned out to be amazing:
– first synchronous session 9-11:00
– 40 minute break – 11:45 – 1:30
– second synchronous session until 1:30
– asynchronous learning with the teachers available to help kids with their work until 2:30+
– In the Bean’s class they even have an art program at 2pm on Tuesdays

This allowed the kids to have the same lunch at 11-11:45 so I send them out for a 20 minute walk while I prep lunch. It’s a pretty good system, really! The kids miss their friends & have had to make due with socially distanced walks (pre- stay-at-home order) and online chats where they play games or just hangout but overall, it is working well. We play a lot of games in the evening to sort of fill in around the edges for social time & we do mandate offline time where they engage in analog activities.

Unfortunately, when the in-school kids were sent home at Christmas they stuck to the same full school day they had when it was in-person. YIKES. That is a really long day staring at a screen as the school day typically runs 6 hours or so. No wonder kids and parents alike have been struggling. Today we learned that those kids will return to school on Monday.

Overall though, what I think has saved us is our routine. Sure, the school day builds in some routines naturally but we’ve also had to carve out routines for the whole family. We all roll out of bed between 7:30 and 8, eat breakfast, get dressed & brushed. While the girls eat breakfast and get ready, Mr. Tucker and I sip our coffees and chat before he gets ready for work. So while the girls eat breakfast and get ready, Mr. Tucker and I sip our coffees and chat.

In the fall, I bought the girls Big Life Journals so that they would have a prompt for their feelings and a place to write them. So they start and also end the day with journaling to write down any challenges they face. I mean sure, we do discuss their lives but sometimes you need a private place to put your thoughts (and full disclosure: I am an avid diarist & find it super helpful). If they get all of that done they are allowed to have access to their phones to chat with friends until school starts (they are pretty good at getting things done because of this!).

After school they have what we refer to as CHAMP: chores, homework and music practice. They are each supposed to practice their respective instruments for 20 minutes a day and chores can be anything from doing the dishes (they alternate) to checking the mail. Since we get weekly updates from the teachers on what assignments are due, we always know what is happening. Although, they’re pretty great at getting their projects done. After their CHAMP is all done, they have free reign until dinner with their phones to chat with their friends although the Sprout is more likely to be found listening to music and rollerskating in the basement.

Mr. Tucker and I make dinner after he gets off of work & we always eat dinner together (no devices). After dinner cleanup we usually sit down and play games together until bedtime or the odd occasion we will watch movies or shows.

That pretty much sums up our weekdays! Our weekends are more of a free-for-all as the kids have access to devices and generally spend it playing video games and on calls with their friends. We do almost always eat dinner together & we try and do a movie night.

Before the pandemic our schedule was similar but more lackadaisical. It was easier when we could visit friends, go out to restaurants and shop whenever we wanted. But since we are doing all our cooking at home but are minimizing grocery trips we’ve become better at planning. If we run out of eggs, we just eat something else until the next planned trip. We also had a no-devices-on-weekdays rule but since they don’t see their friends as often, we had to bend the rules but still maintain some offline time. But having a schedule that was more rigid in some ways but looser in others demarcates the week so we don’t all lost the plot and spend all of out time watching Netflix.

I think in terms of how we are faring mental health-wise, the routine has helped because at least we know what to expect, and when. We are also talking a lot more and discussing more mature topics than we would have had we not been stuck together more often than not. Of course, we’re still facing challenges and the picture isn’t always rosy but given the current state of the world, we’re pretty ok. Hopefully when the world gets back to normal (or a new normal) we can keep some of the positives we’ve learned such as the importance of building a good routine.

Pandemic positives – Trivial Pursuit

Pandemic positives – Trivial Pursuit

By now we are four months into the lockdown that started in March & it looks like life as we knew it has changed forever. Of course, after September 11 life changed monumentally as well but because we have 19 years distance between that event and life today, most of the changes seem normal now. Life does change, sometimes slowly and sometimes drastically but not all of those changes are for the worse. While we are still managing the fallout from recent events, some people are saying that they appreciate things like being able to work from home, not rushing from activity-to-activity all the time, and spending more time together as a family (although, some people feel the opposite is true).

One of my favourite pandemic activities has been getting together once-a-week with friends to play Trivial Pursuit. Now, I am a HUGE trivia buff but I have terrible recall. My friends on the other hand are trivia masters & one of them has even been on Jeopardy. So while my chances of winning are low, that’s not the point. The point is that I get to virtually see my friends – in three different time zones & two different countries – and we get to laugh & joke and play games. For a very small window of time I get to connect with my friends & it feels almost normal.

We all know that online meetings lack the intimacy of in-person connection but it’s better than no connection at all. I’ve gone from seeing all of them in the past year to probably not seeing them at all for at least a year. That is the problem when some of your closest friends live far away. But we are no strangers to distance: our connection was brought together because of the internet and so we are used to most of our communication being digital. So our weekly TP game is just in addition to our interaction both online and via group chats.

Honestly though, our weekly game is one of my favourite nights of the week. It can be chaotic with dogs, kids, and people eating dinner (that pesky time zone issue) but for me, it’s become one of the best things to have come out of this pandemic. I really hope that when things get normalized and when we can do other things with our evenings that we really make the effort to continue our game night on some scale. It’s really nice to connect with your friends even if it is only virtually.