It was a great Fourth of July. I took the kids downtown to watch dad march in the parade like we always do. We parked at the church for a quick getaway to Douglas and carried our lawn chairs to meet our parade buddies like we do every year. We always do it that way.
But wait. We headed for a different spot this year, farther from the start of the parade where you don’t get to see the floats go by more than once. We were even questioning if the parade would go past us at all. Everything was different.
Amazing how changing one little thing can change everything. It’s no wonder that folks like things to stay the way they always have — change can be scary and unpredictable. But it is worth thinking about — there’s not much separating routine from rut, after all. Take away a few extraneous letters, and there you are.
Every now and then I try to break out of my routines, to avoid the dreaded rut. A great place to start is in church, that most tradition-bound of institutions. Occasionally I will shake things up with a gutsy, dare I say revolutionary, move. I choose a pew on the opposite side of the church. It gives me a whole new perspective on the service, I shake hands with a completely different group of fellow worshippers who all ask me what I’m doing on their side of the sanctuary, and I’m sure I throw the pastor off his stride when he surveys the congregation and sees the Barnhills on his right hand instead of his left. Not to worry — I’m just shaking up the routine here.
It’s amazing how quickly individual events can become routine and then transform into traditions. Holidays and family vacations are particularly susceptible to this transformation. Try something new once on a holiday, and it automatically becomes a tradition. If you ask the kids the very next year, they’ll tell you we’ve always done it that way.
Christmas traditions are, of course, the most sacred of all. Everything should always be the same from year to year. It took great courage and fortitude the year we set up our tree on the opposite side of the living room from usual. That one time we chose the low end of the sloped ceiling rather than the high end, and had a cozy little tree instead of a big, stately one. It was a different Christmas that year, to be sure.
Family vacations are also fraught with tradition. We just took a short trip to Atlin on the ferry. We’d never been to Atlin before, so already we had stepped out of the routine. But we’ve ridden the ferry before, enough times to establish traditions. We always have Fruit Loops on the ferry. At no other time do we ever eat Fruit Loops (I’m a good mother, right?). But at one time we had Fruit Loops on the ferry, and now it’s tradition. In the same way, we play “I Spy” when standing in line at the post office. The game isn’t necessary in any other line, but once we had a very long post office line and passed the time by playing “I Spy,” so now it’s a tradition.
You have to be careful what you do at all times, for fear it might turn into a tradition. If you serve Fritos just once on New Years’ Eve, it will become your traditional food. Don’t think that the kids will forget from year to year. Kids have the longest memories, and the strongest convictions that things should be as they always have been. You’d think their youth would make them flexible and open to new ideas. Not even close! Kids are the most conservative of beings — they like to do things the way we’ve always done them. Viva la routine!
Well, I didn’t have Fruit Loops for breakfast this morning since I wasn’t on the ferry, but I might sit on the wrong side of church today. Or I might not — I wouldn’t want my attempt at shaking up my routines to turn into a routine!
• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and aspiring author. She likes to look at the bright side of life.