There are somethings that are important, and yet they never make it to the calendar. I want my kids to know where they come from, know why certain traditions are important, and understand that their lives are part of a bigger picture than just them as an individual.
Enter: Family Day.
It’s an idea I grabbed from The Life-Giving Home book. The idea is to take one day a year as a family and reflect on your family history, share stories, pour over photo albums and scrapbooks, and end the day with taking your own family pictures.
Ours didn’t go quite according to plan, but it was worthwhile nonetheless.
I scheduled our family pictures, but due to the fact that my kids are covered in mosquito bites at the moment, I decided to delay. Our photographer was dealing with some sick kids too, so it all worked out.
But I decided to press forward anyway.
Then Knut said that he couldn’t get out of farm work that day, but I decided to press on anyway. In hindsight, I should have delayed for the weekend, since the photographer was the main appointment on why I had picked that day. But at that point, I had already arranged to meet with various grandparents, and I didn’t want to rearrange all of that.
The day started out with a big showdown between Knut and one of the kids. This kid was having a meltdown, and Knut was desperately trying to hold him/her together so I could have this big day I had planned. I finally told him to just go to work, and let this child figure out that they were missing out. We just started without. About an hour later, the child joined us as was fine the rest of the day.
So while that was going down in the kitchen, the other kids and I were up in my bedroom, where I have a little cabinet filled with all the family trinkets, awards, albums, etc. I just brought out all the scrapbooks and photo albums and the kids spread them out all over the bedroom, and were asking questions. I was answering the questions with stories, and the kids were getting more and more delighted. The giggles and laughter are what brought the cranky child back to us (after their morning chore was finally completed).
We did face-time with my mom down in Arizona, and she shared stories of when she was growing up in Japan as a missionary kid. She talked about the 12 hour train rides alone to her boarding school in Tokyo, and how lonely she got. She told some funny stories too. When they were recently up here, she was nearly non-stop storytelling. My kids love a good family story.
After that we drove over to Knut’s parents house, where my mother-in-law had surprised us with a gorgeous tea-party laid, and told the kids about the time she broke her wrists as a preschooler, and how they would dress up their kitties. After our snack we went to another table, where there were photo albums and she told us story after story about the people that she remembered in them.
We went home after that, had some lunch, and had our quiet time.
After quiet time, we headed out to Knut’s paternal grandfather who is now 100 years old. His mind is still as sharp as a whip, though he can’t see much anymore. The kids gathered around him, and he shook all of their hands with a big smile on his face. The kids asked him questions. We learned one of his chores growing up was helping his dad milk their 12 cows.
Silje has been learning to play the violin. This last year she grew into a full sized violin, and as Knut and I have been debating whether or not we should rent one, or if it would be smarter to buy her one, a cousin of Knut’s offer to let Silje use the old family violin (that officially belongs to him) until we decide. He was excited to have the instrument be used again instead of in storage, as instruments are made to be played. This family violin is a bit beat up, but still gorgeous. It belonged to the father of this 100 year old grandpa that we were visiting.
So we asked him where his dad bought the violin. Did he bring it over from Norway? He said that his dad purchased the violin in Minneapolis…for $15. When we got home and told Knut that, he wondered out loud how big of a splurge that must have been. He wondered what that would be compared to the price of a plow back then. Next time we go into visit Bestefar, we’ll have to ask him how much a plow would have cost back around the time the violin was bought to get a better idea of the extravagance of such a purchase.
Bestefar, (that’s what Knut calls him. The kids call him “Oldefar” which he prefers they do. It’s Norwegian for “oldest grandfather” or “great-grandfather”) well he got to hold Bjorn for a few minutes, and spoke to him in Norwegian for a bit. Since family members who speak Norwegian better than me weren’t there, I had to ask him for a translation. Basically he was telling little Bjorn that he had gotten so big since last time, and he thought that he was going to grow into a big, strong man like his father.
After that we went to visit Knut’s grandmother on his mom’s side this time. She lives in a different nursing home. We were so blessed that she was very alert and able to talk that day. Many times when we visit her, she’s so confused that she can’t speak, or she will start the first few words of a sentence, and then get lost, and when she realizes she’s lost, she gets frustrated or sad. Sometimes she doesn’t talk back at all.
When we showed up, she was alert, and greeted the kids. She was able to answer so many questions that they had. I haven’t seen her this good in months, so I felt like that afternoon was just a special blessing from God for our special day.
I was able to draw some family trees for the kids, so they could learn who their cousins were and who their second-cousins were, and how to tell the difference on the family tree. I was going to do more with them, but I was getting tired near the end of the day.
It wasn’t a physical tired, though I know I have reason for that. I wasn’t expecting family day to be so emotionally exhausting.
It didn’t occur to me that looking at pictures of people I have loved who have died, and holding tender gifts from family members I haven’t seen in many years, though they are still alive, thinking about my nieces and nephews who I haven’t seen in over a year, living so far from my family who were just here visiting me.
It was all emotionally exhausting. I cried more than once. Once in front of the kids because it just spilled out. 2 all out cry-fests when they were resting. When you grow up in a broken home, or when people you love have passed away, even recalling the good stories can bring tears.
And yet, I don’t regret it.
Family day was one of the best things I think I have done as a mother, and I hope to make this a yearly tradition. There were so many stories we didn’t get to. I feel like we just scratched the surface of all I wanted to do. Talking about loved ones who are gone, sharing both the good stories and the bad, so there’s a balance to their perception, was so rewarding. So deeply hard, but so rewarding.
I can’t wait to do this again next year. Hopefully with time, I will be able to pull off a Family Day without crying. It was probably a good thing I rescheduled the family pictures that night!