The last 90 days of the year are ripe with traditions. Glorious essentials like traipsing through the apple orchard, basking in a pumpkin patch, digging into a delicious Thanksgiving dinner, and heading to the mall for pictures with Santa. Except this reverie is missing some key players: small children. These are all fall/winter events young children often don’t enjoy but we do anyway. Remember, I’m talking about kids under the age of 5. I thought back over the last few years and realized I’ve pushed my toddlers and husband into a ton of #makingmemories activities that would consistently end with everyone cranky, sweaty, or occasionally terrified. Rarely is my memory of the event a happy one. This year I’ve implemented a “just say no” strategy, but only out of shear desperation. I want to be more intentional with our time in this season, especially during those dark days after the clock “falls back”, days when we are pulled in a million directions with school and holiday expectations.
Am I serving myself or my family by fulfilling the requirements of other people? Probably not. Here are 4 ways I plan on making memories, not making madness.
Just say No to Apple Picking
If you live in the Northeast, then I understand why you and I may have just broken up. No hard feelings. But hear me out. I’m allergic to raw apples. My oldest son is allergic to pollen. The younger one doesn’t like the smell of farm animals. Everyone has the attention span of a butterfly. No one can efficiently climb a tree. What I’m left with is two parents (or, if I’m by myself? yikes…) who are lifting 20-40lbs of squirming sweaty raw power into the air Lion King style to grab one apple. Repeat x 20 apples x 2 children x 1 hour. Like Cross Fit, but in my cute outfit for all the great fall photos we’re supposed to take together. What I need is a sports bra and old sweat pants because everything is dirty in under 10 minutes and mascara is running off my face, along with all my hopes & dreams.
Heres how I will change the script this year: we won’t go apple picking! September is rife with events that they DO enjoy (hello Tractor Show) that doesn’t involve over priced produce or a trip to the chiropractor afterwards. We can visit a farm stand and buy local, organic apples without breaking a sweat. Usually there isn’t a crowd and you can speak with purveyor about the type of apple, its source, etc. I’d rather use our time together to teach my boys the importance of this type of produce. OR I could use that time to reprimand them for not standing in line, surrounded by breakable tchotchke, while we limp along with other families towards the cider donut checkout counter of doom. With all our saved time, we can bike ride, or eat the apples, or head to the park on a crisp fall day. I’ll have a much bigger chance of catching them smiling for that photo I want so badly!
Just say No to The Pumpkin Patch
If you kinda agreed with me above, now I know you’re long gone. Again, my experience here is colored by allergies, crowds, and the tchotchke. Who’s child doesn’t pick up pumpkins by their stem?? Honesty is the best policy friends: you know which child is a serial stem-breaker. Go ahead and gently place that stem back on the pumpkin and walk away. Everyone else is doing it anyway.
Heres what we did last year that I will whole-heartedly do again: We got pumpkins in a parking lot. Yep. Out local pizza place gets a huge delivery of great looking gourds every fall. I can park 2 feet from the selection, we load the trunk, then the boys sit in front of the display and I snap our requisite fall photos. They love getting to chose their own and I love not having to carry their choices over 2 acres of pumpkin patch. Also, since there isn’t an overwhelming number to chose from, no one gets decision fatigue. You can find more research on the problem of too many choices here from the NY Times .Essentially it comes down to this, “…that an excess of choices often leads us to be less, not more, satisfied once we actually decide.” Meaning even once our cherubs DO decide on which pumpkin to bring home from an orchard, they’re at risk of not being happy with it due to the overwhelming number of choices. For toddlers less is absolutely more, and providing an environment that gives them independence without over doing it results in super happy kids.
Just say No to eating Thanksgiving Dinner
Before you panic, I am not suggesting YOU stop eating Thanksgiving dinner. The expectation I’d like to eliminate is the one where young children eat Thanksgiving dinner. We all know they don’t want brussel sprouts or turnip. Somehow neither of my children will eat stuffing. Few children under five enjoy the shrimp/olives/bruschetta/stuffed mushroom appetizers. They eat 1/2 a roll and some cheese crackers. By the time dessert is served, they’re wild with hunger and inhale enough cookies and pie to guarantee stomach issues for days.
Heres what I’ll do this year: toddler friendly options. Does this feel obvious? I mean making sure that, amongst all your other prep work, you’ve planned for the inevitable hunger strike from the under 5 crowd. And not just covering the green vegetables in gravy and hoping for the best. I mean proudly serving the microwavable mac & cheese and applesauce pouches right next to your roasted turkey. Want to up your game? Go for home made. Throw in a decent sampling of fresh fruit and now my Mom guilt over the cookies and pie they’re going to eat is gone. I also know they’re more likely to try new foods (hello, cipollinis!) when they aren’t starving and have something safe to go back to.
Just say No to Santa photos
I have a feeling I’ll have more fans for this one. We’ve tried it all guys. Santa at the mall. Santa at the pet store. A Santa train ride. Santa at daycare. Santa on the firetruck. Each rendition of Santa met with trepidation, disinterest, or terror in varying degrees. Our best Santa encounter? When my husband took a photo of the gifts under the tree and used an app to digitally add a realistic looking Santa into the frame. When he showed the kids that Santa was caught putting gifts under the tree, they were ecstatic! I really dislike asking my children to sit on a stranger’s lap in the first place (isn’t this against everything we’ve taught them?!), but more so I prefer the mystery surrounding Santa. Placing him physically in their lives takes away some of his omnipotent powers of observation, right?
Heres how I’ll improve this year: We’ll focus again on writing letters to the North Pole, which makes communicating to Santa an actually learning activity vs a uncomfortable encounter with a stranger.
According to Krystine I. Batcho Ph.D., childhood happiness is linked to “family traditions, praise from a family member, and interacting (doing things together, sharing secrets, etc.) with siblings, friends, or trusted adults”. Do not interpret this to mean fulfilling specific memory “checklists”! Your tradition can be ANYTHING you want it to be.
As the last quarter of the year unfolds I will view whatever is marketed to me as ‘essential’ through the lens of what I know my children do and do not enjoy. Instead, I will pick apples on a date with my husband and get Santa photos at the mall with my girlfriends, and I will enjoy my Thanksgiving meal with my parents while my children enjoy theirs. I will not continue to waste these early years on activities that make my babies miserable, and I will turn my full attention to what does make the smile (tractors, and more tractors!) and whole heartedly embrace their idea of fall.