My granddad and my aunt (after he passed away) used to own a little blue boat, named Poseidon. The boat was originally purchased in the aftermath of a painful divorce and the desire was to let loose and have some fun together as a family. Every summer as kids, my mom and her siblings would be out on the water making memories and enjoying one another.
I also remember every summer my family would make the long road trip to Oklahoma from wherever we were living at the time to spend a couple of weeks with my aunt. The long days out on the boat were my absolute favorite. We would all be sunburned, exhausted, and sore but those were some of the most exhilarating and enjoyable days of my entire childhood.
We all LOVED that boat and have hoards upon hoards of memories and hilarious stories from spending countless hours out on the water together as a family.
But the point came when my aunt had to sell that beloved boat. It was very old and it wasn’t being used as often. It sold within one day to another family, which made for a quick release to something that had been held so dear. Because of the history and the decades of many memories, to get rid of it was like losing a family member.
My aunt, and a handful of her friends, came up with an idea to go back out to the lake one more time. On a Sunday evening in early September, these friends with picnics in hand met at the same familiar spot. One friend made a cake, and another brought little origami boats (blue of course) that had a small candle in each one.
As the sun began to set they went down close to the water, sat on the rocks nearby, and shared stories about the blue boat. Their stories included memories of the boat filling up with water from forgetting to put the plug in, the joy and excitement of having three skiers up and going simultaneously, and watching the stars late at night.
Had I been there that night I would have included my own: the time the battery went dead and we were stuck out on the water for hours and hours, the time my sister took a handful of chicken wings and jumped in the lake holding them high above her head so they wouldn’t get wet and somehow managed to get up on skis using only one hand and ate her wings while being pulled behind the boat, and the time when my brother and I got onto a huge blow up bird together and almost swallowed half the lake from laughing so hard.
While the sun went down my aunt and her friends released those little glowing boats onto the water, a moment my aunt describes as “magical.” The boats spread out across the water as they continued sharing their stories and memories through tears and laughter as each person said goodbye to Poseidon in their own special way.
I’d like to tell you a little bit more about my aunt. Her name is Mary Diane, but we, and everyone that knows her calls her Aunt Di. Literally, the post man even knows that’s her name. So if you ever have the pleasure of meeting her in person, please just go ahead and call her Aunt Di. 🙂 She’s never met a stranger.
She absolutely spoiled us rotten as kids, treating my brother, sister and me to waterparks, amusement parks, museums, campgrounds, and lots and lots…and lots…of pizza every summer. She loves people better than just about anyone I’ve ever known. So let me take just a moment to publicly say, I love you dearly Aunt Di.
Aunt Di is a Parish Nurse for the Catholic Church in Oklahoma. What is a Parish Nurse you might ask? I’m so glad you did. Parish means “to walk with” and nursing means “to nurture the soul.” Put simply, she literally has a job with a description to “promote health with intentional care of the spirit.” (If I’m honest, that sure sounds a lot like motherhood, doesn’t it?!)
Aunt Di recently wrote a book called “The Blue Boat” where she shares this same story of the Blue Boat as the introduction. The remainder of the book is about the benefit of rituals in our lives.
Wait what??? Hold on…Rituals???
Just stay with me…I’m going somewhere with this…
Rituals can be defined as “actions that have symbolic meaning” or something that we do which has meaning for us. They are a set of actions. It may be how we open Christmas gifts in a certain order or how we choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day as the biggest holiday of the year with all of the family and a huge feast. It might be having family over for birthdays or any kind other kind of special occasion, a special time of prayer or reminiscing, or eating dinner together with friends or family. Rituals can be used to say goodbye, to include, to support, to cope, to heal, to move on…honestly, the list could go on and on.
My aunt writes,
“In using them (rituals), I noticed life transitions seemed to occur more gracefully, and seeds of hope and caring were planted for those confronting difficult or painful situations. Rituals bring meaning within the mystery of life…unite people, form community, and are essential in the process of healing.”
The Need For Rituals In My Own Life
I have vivid memories struggling as a child if I didn’t know what was next…especially if I perceived that whatever was next could possibly be scary, uncomfortable or difficult. We moved a lot as I was growing up and every new school and every new neighborhood was frightening to me.
If I’m honest I STILL struggle sometimes. I strongly dislike walking into a room where I don’t know anyone. I am sometimes still hesitant to try new things. I hate having so say goodbye to friends and loved ones.
When we left our home in Albuquerque before moving to CA, I literally had a tiny ceremony in our old home before we left it for the last time. I
like (okay I’ll stick with the full honesty thing) NEED to create memories, mile markers, keepsakes, or even little monuments for moments that are special, meaningful or difficult…otherwise there’s a deep struggle in my soul.
It’s hard for me to move beyond one thing without fully letting go of the other. Although I can say that there is more growth in understanding how I deal with transitions, I still wouldn’t consider myself an expert…or much of a fan.
Sometimes my “ritual” is through writing, sometimes it is through talking with others, sometimes it is taking pictures or having a small “ceremony.” It’s different for every circumstance. After our miscarriage the need for closure was critical. My heart begged to find peace and rest after such a loss.
After the loss of our church, the need to say goodbye was crucial to be abel to move ahead. I needed some way to deal with the great loss and grief from that experience in order to even consider that there might be another thing next.
But not all rituals have to do with grief or lament. Having rituals, whether small or large, is a way to cope with or even celebrate one particular moment or season, then with intention, hope and anticipation move toward the future.
The BIG Secret
So here we go…what is this BIG secret?!?!?! It has to do with motherhood and it’s HUGE. A secret to help understand quite possibly 70-80% of the problems you might have with your young ones. It is for just about ANY area in our kids lives. No really. It’s that big. It’s true for bigger issues like moving to a new state, starting a brand new school, making new friends and even potty training. It is also for all of the small issues too, like getting into the car, putting shoes on, turning the favorite movie off, calling for dinner, leaving a birthday party, or getting out of the bath…and a plethora of other situations.
The BIG secret: Children struggle with transitions.
As a new mom it didn’t take me long to realize that my children are a lot like me. They need help in transitions too. Let me define what I mean by transitions: Transitions are moving your child from ANY activity (or location) to another. And believe me, I mean any.
Our kids are people. They’re small people, but they are still people. Our children have feelings and emotions and preferences. They have fears and hesitations and quirks. And, for little people who haven’t even learned how to keep the toilet seat down, their hands clean, say the word “encyclopedia,” or tie their shoelaces, I’m pretty sure its safe to assume that dealing with more complex issues like transition would be a major struggle.
Rituals and Transitions
What would it look like to use this idea of rituals as a framework to help not only ourselves but those who have been entrusted to us move from one thing to another? What would it look like to help our kids, no matter how small, how young or how immature learn to cope with, deal with, and excel in times of transition? Raising children who can handle the stresses and transitions of life as well as teaching our kids to deal with their emotions is our responsibility as parents. And it starts with the very, very simplest of transitions.
In no way am I suggesting that we create a ritual for every single thing our kids struggle with. Sometimes kids are simply being disobedient. But I am suggesting that we use this idea of rituals as simply a back drop or framework for us to parent in a way that is most helpful to our young ones.
Rituals can be viewed as one tool in an entire tool box. There are sometimes many different tools to be able to complete a project, and it is no different with raising children. It will take discernment to know which tool to use and when to use it. Nobody knows your kids like you do, which means no one will do a better job than you in learning what matters and what has the most meaning to your kids. Each family and each child is unique.
This post is the first in what has kind of turned into a series. For the sake of keeping things as brief as possible I’ve chosen to save the second half for later this week. My next post will be about some practical ideas of how to implement the concept of rituals and ideas to get you started in thinking of how to equip your children to handle life through transitions.
Genesis 35:7 “He built an altar there…because there God had revealed Himself…”
Exodus 17:15″ Moses built an altar and named it The LORD is My Banner.”
Genesis 26:25 “So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the LORD…”
Joshua 8:30 “Then Joshua built an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel…”