Hanging on the wall at my parents is a funny family photo from a 90's mall studio; I'm sitting in front in a pink frilly dress and bowl-cut bangs, posing with my elbow on my mom's knee. She's seated next to me, straight-backed like a proper lady, looking tall with her permed bangs, and my dad and older sister are standing behind us. My older sister is wearing a dress with a big ribbon and glasses, and in my dad's arm is a very small, teary-eyed toddler who has clearly had better days. Everyone is smiling but my little sister. I don't think we took a formal family photo after that—no printed proof of it anyway.
I've been thinking about tradition lately. Like the tradition of family photos; we very well could have been one of those families that gets dressed up every year to schleps the whole gang to a strip mall to pose for the camera. While I'm glad we didn't suffer through that each year, I can see how it could be kind of cool to hang the portraits in order on the stairwell wall and see how our family stayed the same over time. We all get taller and our hairstyles change but our eyes and our smiles (or not-smiles) will always be the familiar vein. Yeah, I can see the value in starting that tradition.
How does a good tradition begin? Is it like a fine wine, maturing over time? What will a tradition look like 3, 10, 20 years from now? Was it a spontaneous decision, an organic repetition that subconsciously became the norm? Was it something so full of deep meaning that it would be missed if it ceased to exist? And what was the impetus? Why did it begin, and when?
Normally, I don't invest this much time thinking about the past or too far in the future. When I try to plan far in advance, the intangible inevitably becomes blurry and faint and eventually I lose sight of the original purpose, and if I can't connect to what I'm doing, things start to lose their value. But my son is the definition of "tangible" to me. He is a force-of-nature, with me in my present moment and my future. So even though I don't spend a lot of time thinking about my future, I think about his.
I love honoring "firsts". I keep a calendar/diary of our kiddo's firsts to recognize that everything he does is uniquely brand new to him, to me, to this earth. And that's cause to celebrate in my book. That "first" only happens once and it may mean nothing, but it may be one of those firsts may be the start of something incredible for him. Every long-lived tradition was once a "first". Something new that happened once, and then it occurred again. Then again. And down the line we'll look back and want to remember where it all began. We're planting the seeds now and then we wait and see.
Photos by Marita Madeloni at Piedmont Park in Oakland, CA