This beautiful world, and the power of traditions

SL mirror

Last week, on our fourth annual trip to Storyland to celebrate the end of school, I learned several things.

I learned that my children are as smitten with tradition as I am.  I had told them weeks ago that I knew they were getting old for Storyland, and this might be our last trip.  Halfway through our day at the park, Grace turned to me, eyes filled with tears, and asked, “Do you think this is our last trip, really?” I hugged her to me and said of course not, it was up to her, as long as they wanted to come, I wanted to take them.

Every aspect of this trip has ossified into ritual.  We stay at the same hotel, we go to the same water park, we eat dinner at one restaurant and breakfast at another, we start and end our day on Bamboo Shoots. I love our breakfast spot for many reasons, including that it’s called Priscilla’s, which was my grandmother’s name.  There was an unexpected wait (the place was jammed with Harley Davidson bikers, one of whose shirts resulted in a long conversation on why you’d have a shirt with b&^%@ on the back) and so we sat on the porch, deciding what to do.  “Let’s just go somewhere else, guys,” I said, glancing at my watch.

Whit looked at me, absolutely scandalized.  “But that would mess up our tradition.”  He folded his arms and sat down.  And so we waited.

I learned, again, that our family’s traditions form a scaffolding on which our life is draped.  I need to write more about this, but the older the children get, the more important some of our rituals, both big and small, seem to be to them.  They provide a reassuring rhythm to life, I think, as well as a space for them to still be children in a world that seems to be pushing them to young adulthood faster than they might want to go.

I learned that Grace is the voice of reason in my life.  As we drove home we talked about what would happen when we got home.  Maybe we can skip showers, I mused.  “Mummy, I think we need showers,” Grace chimed in from the backseat.  “I mean, after a full day at an amusement park?  Don’t you think?”  Good point, I admitted.  Showers it was.

I learned that Caramel Bugles are troublesomely good.


I learned yet again of the wisdom in Storyland.  I take a picture of this sign every single year.  And it just gets increasingly true.

I learned that every year the edge of time’s passage cuts me more sharply.  My favorite part of the (long!) drive up involves 14 hilly and twisty miles through the woods with glimpses of Crystal Lake on the right.  It’s absolutely beautiful.  As we passed the landmarks we know so well (the raft in the lake!  the archery targets!  the stilled ski lift!) I felt a pang of grieving this trip, even as we set out on it.  As I watched Grace and Whit barrel down the water slides, their laughter echoing off the cavernous roof, I felt the familiar prickling up and down my arms that I’ve come to think of as the physical sensation of total presence, as well as the somatization of my distress about time passing.  Even as I lived the moment I’d so anticipated, I was already mourning it.

As we walked through the doors of Storyland, leaving on Friday afternoon, I felt a tightness in my chest.  I looked back over my shoulder and the park’s bright colors blurred because my eyes were full of tears.  I blinked quickly but could not hide my emotion.  The sting of sorrow at the end of something we had looked forward to took my breath away.  I feel this way every year, but it keeps getting stronger.  Surely the day is coming when I’ll sit down outside the gates of some activity or place and simply refuse to leave.  Life’s endings bring me to my knees, face to face with all that is transient.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that my heart regularly breaks open at the constant reminders that these moments I so thoroughly love are flying by.  They will be over soon, and I am not ready.

I learned that I do still remember some college Chemistry.  Whit brought one book on our trip, an introduction to the periodic table.  As we drove up he talked about different elements, and more often than not I remembered the abbreviations, or their color, or their basic state.  He was impressed and I was proud (fun fact: if I hadn’t majored in English at college, I would have chosen Chemistry).  One thing is true, for sure: the conversations with these two just get more and more interesting.

I learned that my children are aware of this life’s poignant beauty in a way I never used to be.  As we drove home through the outrageously glorious dusk light, I said several times, “Oh, guys, look: what a beautiful world this is.”  I pointed out smudges of clouds at the horizon or the way that the dark green trees flared against the hydrangea blue of the gloaming sky.  Not one single time did they shush me, or ask me to turn up Katy Perry.  They always looked, and noticed.  At one point, unprompted by me, Whit sighed from the backseat, “It is so beautiful, Mummy.”  And yes.  It is.

It is an astonishingly beautiful world.  How grateful I am that Grace and Whit can see it.



15 thoughts on “This beautiful world, and the power of traditions”

  1. Oh how this made me stop in my tracks. Just moments before clicking to your site, I contemplating the photo I would take for my own blog post tomorrow (which is part of a series documenting the 25 Thursdays leading up to my own daughter’s 6th birthday and first day of (gulp!) kindergarten in September). I envisioned the dining room table filled with our things to be packed into the trunk as we head to OUR annual trip to Storyland tomorrow. A trip that has so many traditions for us too (and the other folks we go with). It made me tear up, as so many of your posts often do. I too wonder whether this will be the “last year”, yet we always seem to return each June because she wants to. Kindred lives…thank you again for your writing.

  2. We had the long lovely pull of StoryLand in our family too; by the end, it got to be little “best of” visits, skipping along to the big-kid rides, hitting the Hawaiian ice stand. But even when my boys would seem to have outgrown that place, we’d still go, and we’d always slow down and stop for the guy who plays Heidi’s father, dressed in his lederhosen, with a chipmunk on his shoulder, minding the baby goats. I suspect I could get my twentysomething young men to visit today if they thought he was still there.

    I have the same sad-but-grateful feeling driving by StoryLand that I have when I drive by the little league baseball fields in our home town. Loved it, miss it, and adore seeing new families in both places, keeping the traditions alive.

    The good news is that there are traditions that we don’t age out on. Candle time, when everyone’s home for dinner. Favorite breakfast haunts. Balsa wood airplanes, even at college commencements!

  3. We love Storyland too! So many wonderful memories. My kids are older now and we may not go back there until we have grandkids, which makes me a little sad. I remember going to Storyland and smelling the mixture of pine trees and mulch – we all loved that smell. Several times throughout the years, if the boys smelled a similar smell somewhere else, they’d say, it smells like Storyland here! That would make me so happy:) Having teenagers who still remember these little things. That piece of childhood that we don’t want to let go. Maybe we should go to Storyland again, hmmm…

  4. Lindsey, of course this brought tears — and memories. We only went to Storyland twice, always thinking we’d return, never quite getting there. Reading your post makes me wish for what wasn’t (never a good idea), but it also makes me grateful for what was: our own family traditions, burnished by the years and increasingly precious. Grace and Whit see the beauty of this world because you’ve dedicated yourself to revealing it to them each and every day. They see through their own eyes, but also through yours, and that is love indeed.

  5. Goosebumps. So lovely, my friend. The awareness, the reflection, the bear-hug embrace that the three of you have for your tradition, and the reverence that accompanies it. xo

  6. It IS beautiful. Such a loving description of a true ritual ~ not routine, but something that you have made separate, special and sacred.

    {And how have I never heard of StoryLand?}

  7. I love traditions, and what you said, about how they “form a scaffolding on which our life is draped,” is so true. We are heading up to Storyland in July. I will be sure to look for your beloved sign. xo

  8. Love the traditions of family, both big and small. In CA we have Disneyland, and we did take our kids when they were young once. To our surprise, they wanted to go back last year as teens! I think it’s not only the big, but also the small traditions and routines that make kids not only feel loved but also safe in the nest of the family.

  9. I love that moment where you took the time to point out the beauty of the world, and Grace and Whit acknowledged it, too. I feel like this life, this world (my world, anyway!) is so rush, rush rush that even when I’m (trying) to be fully present, really appreciating those moments, the beauty, is challenging. I need to take in the little moments more calmly, with more stillness.

  10. I regularly say to my kids ‘ isn’t it beautiful ‘ about trees, the sky, the moon, whatever. I think it’s so important to let them know we feel that way. xo

  11. I love so much about this post I could make a bullet point list. Your writing for one. Oh, how I love your writing. I love how you’re able to express your family traditions, both big and small, so eloquently and intimately, yet these reflections are always universally steeped in parenthood and accessible to childhood.

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