Traditions vs. chores

Ahhhh! Today is officially the first day of fall. 

This is me embracing autumn: Give me all the pumpkins, sweaters, hayrides and leaves. 

And throw in a fox or two for good measure. 

(If you can knit them into a fair-isle sweater, so much the better.) 

This season gives me all the feels, and it makes me want to squeeze out every last drop in vigorous, color-coordinated, to-the-apple-orchard-we-go style. 

But before I dive in too fast, I'm taking a deep breath and remembering my priorities.

My life-long fondness for traditions took on an added fervor when I became a parent. It springs from such a good place in the mom-shaped heart, where you desperately want to create memories (and frame-worthy photos of said memories) -- bonds that will last a lifetime, the glue of a family. 

But taking on too much, I've come to realize, can make a cherished season feel like an exhausting grind through a to-do list. It's important to distinguish between traditions and chores.

Just because you've done something every year isn't reason enough to continue. I try to give an honest assessment of a tradition with each passing year. Does it delight or drain you? Is it good for your family this time around? Will it be fun? 

If it takes too much out of you, if it makes you cross with your spouse or your kids, was it worth checking off that box? 

Because I'm tradition-driven, I'm prone to being over-ambitious in my autumn agenda. Same goes for Christmas.

So I've devised a little system to keep myself sane: I make a point to skip at least one tradition a season. 

It keeps me flexible. It's a way to ensure that we're not over-doing it. It lets me off the hook.

If I can't identify at least one ritual we did the previous year that we're not doing again this year, that means our tradition list is threatening to get too long. (It's like that policy where you discard old clothes or toys for every new addition you get. Otherwise, you accumulate too much.) 

Last year we had an amazing fall, and you know what? We didn't carve a single pumpkin. Gasp! 

We had a 1- and a 3-year-old and I was pregnant and we were gearing up for a family wedding involving three out-of-state showers and a bachelorette party.

One of those showers fell during Stillwater's Harvest Fest, which we have never been to. Ted and I have always wanted to see its famed giant pumpkin weigh-off, which features some of the nation's biggest gourds, and the pumpkin drop. This year's festivities take place Oct. 14-15, including a pie-eating contest, chili cook-off tasting, a parade and a kids tractor pull. And we're free! We're going. I'm so excited. 

It's OK if you're not feeling a long-held tradition. It doesn't mean you're abandoning it for good. It may just mean you're taking a break -- perhaps, you could consider, out of respect for the tradition, for what it was at its best, so you can revisit it later rather than ruin it. 

For instance, I love decorating for Christmas, but each year as I dig out boxes from beneath the basement staircase, I ask myself if I'm having fun. And am I up for all the take-down? Each year doesn't have to be bigger and better than the last. 

But if you're feeling it, great! Go for it. 

Jane was due on Jan. 6, and several well-meaning people eyed my big belly and ambitious Christmas plans and urged me to scale back. Perhaps, one said, this might be a December to skip the tree. 

But I wanted to continue. I had the energy, and most importantly, I knew the twinkling decorations would sweeten the final weeks of my pregnancy.  

They did.

They made it feel like Christmas for our little family of three. (Plus I had help removing those far-flung ornaments after Christmas.) 

I'm excited for fall and I'm trying to hold the space, to keep things loose and open as much as possible -- especially given my kids' young ages. 

For our toddler and our preschooler -- who has been so mature about this year's transition to four days in a row of school -- their preference is often to stay home and play. To remain in PJs, assign a doll to each family member and slip into an imaginative world. I can see how it restores them.  

Recognizing this preference of theirs is a relief. It takes the pressure off. We can do this -- we can play together, I can stay in my yoga pants and nurse Archie readily. We can enjoy our home, this little cocoon of ours. 

No admission fees, no new toys or treats needed. Just the old familiar, the worn-in and well-loved. 

It fuels and fills us up, helping us get more out the outings and orchards. 

If I look at this upcoming autumn as Archie's first fall -- rather than a chance to maximize our family photo ops -- it puts everything in perspective.

What does this sweet boy with two bottom teeth want? For me to be a rested, present mama. For me to kiss him and sing to him, tickle and talk to him. To experience new sensations and familiar comforts. To try out solids. And to keep the milk a flowin'. 

What do I want to remember about these coming weeks? 

So here's our reasonable-for-us Autumn 2017 Bucket List: 

  1. Pick apples at Afton Apple Orchard.
  2. Paint pumpkins.
  3. Go to a Trunk-Or-Treat at a neighborhood church. (Last year we did two. This year we'll likely opt for just one.) 
  4. Attend the Stillwater Harvest Fest.
  5. Head south to ride with Grandpa Kenny in the combine.  
  6. Head north with Grandpa Paul to watch a Johnnie football game. (Collegeville in the fall is postcard-pretty.)
  7. Read our favorite fall books.
  8. Take a day trip to Wabasha for SeptOberfest and swing by Lark Toy Store in nearby Kellogg for a spin on the indoor carousel.
  9. Book a mini session to get professional photos of the kids. (Done, thanks to the talented Eva Hagel of Grape Soda Photography, who took the above photos of Jane and Archie. I'll be sharing more soon! They're gorgeous.) 
  10. Go the RenFest. The mermaid cove is the biggest draw for our family, and this year's new addition is right up our alley: a unicorn
  11. Trick or treat.

Here's our maybe list: 

  1. Bake an apple pie 
  2. Enjoy a fall picnic beneath my favorite maple in Inver Grove 
  3. Have a bonfire 
  4. Take a moonlit walk on a self-declared "bimulous night

If we get to any of these, great! If we don't, no big deal. 

A fall tradition we're skipping this year is heading to my favorite pumpkin patch in Iowa. I love it so much, but it doesn't fit comfortably into our schedule this year. And it gives me something to look forward to for next fall! 

I'm also going to try not to take too many pictures of the kids. Yes, the crimson-and-gold backdrop feels to me like one ongoing, irresistible photo op. But I don't want to always be sticking a camera in my kids' faces.

There's no giant checklist here -- just a lot of opportunities for fun, some that are better suited for us this season than others. 

I want to look back on this fall and remember that we were together -- relaxed and rested, soaking up the slanted sun and the crisp air, rolling in the leaves, tickling and hugging and present to each other. 



Christina Ries is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and three young children in Inver Grove Heights. Write her at