It was 10:45 pm the night of the Fourth of July last week; my toddler was clinched to my arm, whimpering gently as her little sister bawled from the next room over as fireworks continued to rain down across the neighborhood. We had called it quits much, much earlier, trying our best to preserve a decent night’s sleep for our little girls. I had taken mercy on Eliza, who normally is not allowed in Daddy’s bed, as the reverberating concussions of illegal fireworks outside frazzled her nerves. We left our family’s celebration early (before it was even dark) and ended up a cuddling family mess awake into the late hours. As my toddler finally fell asleep and I immediately started receiving errant blows from her sleeping elbows and heels, I realized that holidays looked a little different these days now that my wife and I started a family…
My wife and I are a tad bit overzealous in the protections of our girls’ routines. It is probably the innumerable nights we have suffered through with next-to-nothing sleep that keeps us on our toes when trying to keep Eliza and Everly locked into their normal schedules. Live a few months on less than 4 hours of sleep every night and then question why I start to panic when Eliza doesn’t get her nap on time. That being said, carving a holiday into those routines can be incredibly difficult and often results in a less-romanticized holiday. What once were ‘free’ days off from work and no responsibility have morphed into events needing a minute-by-minute itinerary. A simple day of ease somehow becomes a challenging day of survival.
My daughters have this weird habit where they like to eat regularly—strange, right? I occasionally take for granted that while I can go several hours without eating and not mind missing a meal, I have these miniature humans in my care that will quickly let me know when food is needed (which seems like all day). I never thought I’d live in a world where I had to schedule when and where each and every bite of food will come from for myself and my family. I used to operate under the notion that the holiday dinner would be huge so I might as well skip breakfast or lunch. My wife apparently thinks that is not an option for her and the kids.
As my oldest daughter has gotten older, it has been a constant journey of evolving thoughts and feelings. When she was a baby, it was hardly a consideration on her experience with a holiday. Now that she is irrepressibly mobile, intelligent, and impressionable I have noticed that my wife and I treat each holiday much differently than we did before. First, all consideration for our own holiday experiences is completely gone; we basically had our chance at selfishly enjoying these celebrations but that time is over. I’d like to say that was a totally unselfish and inspired decision, but the reality is probably just that we don’t have enough energy for ourselves after the kids are taken care of. Second, we started actively thinking about our daughter’s experience. What would she remember? How would she like to celebrate? What would make the best memory?
We’re not talking about doing anything extravagant (I’m too cheap to let us go down that route) but simply considering what she would value most in a holiday. While we want to protect their routines (and thus our sanity) and enjoy the holiday ourselves, we focus mostly on how we envision their experience will go. As it happened this Fourth of July, it turns out that Eliza enjoys fireworks about as much as most house pets: not in the least. It’s not necessarily about providing the cliché or ‘correct’ celebration but rather just finding some experiences and traditions that will land hard in her growing memory.
I can remember a time when a holiday was about my memories. I can also remember the next phase where holidays became less about memories and more about a relaxing chunk of free time. Then my wife and I took the plunge into parenthood and the rules changed and somebody ripped the training wheels off our blissful marriage bicycle. Holidays these days are long and exhausting affairs that we somehow survive, and yet we wouldn’t have it any other way. When a toddler is still speaking about the holiday several days later, you feel content as a parent and already begin looking forward to the next opportunity with the kiddos. Another Fourth of July down and I still have my fingers, my eyesight, and my daughters…so we’ll call it a win.