Thursday, June 11, 2009

Creatures of Habit

We are creatures of habit - we love routine and familiarity. Things get crazy in our little family, what with school, activities, playdates, work, etc. -- but there are little rituals we have that are so woven into the fabric of our lives that sometimes I forget to notice them, to appreciate how special they are. They are the touchstones we have to each other, something that is uniquely ours.

Since my daughter was about two years old (she is now 6) - we have done "kisses and hugs" every time we part. I don't remember how, but somehow this little ritual evolved into four little kisses on each cheek, one big smack on the top of her head, and ending with a big bear hug. Actually - the person leaving is the "kisser" and the person staying is the "kissee" - so if my daughter is heading out somewhere and I'm not going with her she stands on her tiptoes and gives me the kisses - four on each cheek and one on the top of my head. I'm treasuring this ritual, because I know it won't last forever. Even now, when I drop her off at school, she wants me to sneak off and do kisses and hugs around the corner so her friends can't see.

Our bedtime routine is full of little rituals. Sure, we do the regular stuff, like a brushing teeth and a betime story. But each of my kids has added their own little touch to the bedtime routine: Greta likes "fresh water" - not just your average water, mind you - but FRESH water. Finn asks for a "back skatch". If I forget either of these things, I'm sure to hear little feet padding downstairs, asking for water, or a skatch.

When Greta was 3 or so, bedtime also involved a thorough monster check - in the closet, under the bed, even in her bureau drawers. Finn's 3 year old obssession is bugs. Every night before climbing into bed, he scans the walls and the ceiling for the slightest trace of insect life. He's like a hawk - the merest wisp of a spider web must be removed before sleep is possible.

My husband and I have our own quirky rituals, too. They are so familiar to us, I don't really even notice anymore. For example, we never say "good bye" when we are leaving each other. We say "see ya" - it feels more optimistic, I guess - less permanent. And for some reason I've never been able to explain I simply must have my alarm clock set for 6:14am, or 7:14am -- any hour, as long as the last two digits say 14. I'm holding the universe together this way - I'm sure of it.

But I have a favorite ritual. It happens after all the bedtime routines are done, backs are skatched and fresh water is delivered - right before I leave the room and click off the light. My daughter started it - I can't even remember when - and now my son has picked up on it, too. She likes to wish me a "Happy Something", depending on which holiday is coming up. For example, in February she says "Happy Valentine's Day" .. until that holiday has passed, and then "Happy St. Patrick's Day" starts up. She likes it to be the last thing she says before I leave the room - I have to say the same thing back to her, too. Finn figured this out about 7 months ago, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. So they would each say "Merry Christmas, Mom" before I left the room. Finn, however, hasn't quite picked up on the whole progression-of-holidays thing.

So last night Greta said "Happy Fourth of July, Mom", and I wished her a Happy 4th right back.

Then I hear this little sleepy whisper coming from Finn: "Merry Christmas, Momma".

I'd love to hear about some of your rituals, too - what are they?


  1. Those are great! I just realized that my son and I have rituals but they are very quick... especially bedtime ones. As a single mom I had no time for a drawn out bedtime routine. NEEDED MY ALONE TIME ASAP! But we do a kiss and a hug and say the same things every night.
    I still remember mine as a kid so these are definitely important.

  2. My little sister (she's now grown and married with a small son of her own) used to tell my mother and father at bedtime, "I love you more than the WHOLE UNIVERSE forever and ever!". My mom and dad still talk about that very fondly.

  3. hey, ellie...really digging your blog here in providence

  4. Love the post Ellie! These rituals and routines are important for everyone. I, too, go through them. With the 2 yr. old I have to say the same exact things, every night as I am putting him to bed. He likes to keep his door open, I know this but I still have to say "Keep you door open?". He'll say it if I don't. The 4 yr. old pretends she is a cat....still (3 yrs. now). She paws at her bed and meows as I cover her up. The baby well....I know it's only a matter of time. My work this semester focused on domestic routine & ritual. Crazy! Keep em coming....C

  5. You are so right ... it's the special things we do as families that the kids remember to adulthood.

    Here's one from our family "do you know how much I love you?" The other says "there's no number big enough".

    I work hard to make holidays, vacations, birthdays (and half birthdays) special and memorable and full of traditions.

  6. Ellie,
    Your blog and writings are so fresh and bright. I am so happy to have found a new blog to read(:

    As far as rituals in our family we have plenty.
    We have two girls ages 3 and soon to be 5. Each of the girls picks a new dolly or teddy to bring to bed with them. Never the same doll or Teddy bear two nights in a row. Each stuffed animal gets there turn to have a dream as my 5 year old says.
    It's something that must be done only at bedtime and must be done every SINGLE night(:

  7. Every night, I tell my son: "Good night, my sweet boy!" and he answers me "Good night my sweet mommy!"

    I just love that.

    Then I tell my kiddos " No lights?" and they answer "no talking!"