(Today I passed by the rooms of my daughter and my son. Both of them are empty, for they have both moved out of our home now, one in graduate school and the other just starting college. There is a twinge of sadness in my heart. For the sake of happy memories, I am reposting an article I wrote almost 10 years ago now.)
Rituals. Since the dawn of time humans have formed rituals and traditions that defined our civilization and our cultures.
The Mayans are known for the seemingly cruel rituals of human sacrifice, self-mutilation and blood-letting. The Native Americans have the Sun Dance, where they perform their ritual dances, use the traditional drums, with passing of the sacred pipe and tobacco offerings, and in some cases, body piercings.
Then there is this people, that dye their hair different hues, put mud on their face at night, then washes it off and paint their faces with pastel colors during the day, and hang stones in their pierced ears. This last ritual that I mentioned is not of any ancient civilization, but of modern-day women. And men too.
Then there is the family traditions and rituals. Most of these are quite endearing. Each individual family form their own, and sometimes these traditions are passed on to the next generation like a family heirloom. I would say, my family are making our own.
For so many years now, my son would not sleep without me reading him a book. When he was much younger, I read him bedtime stories or poems which are simple and short. But as he gets older, we are reading books from big complex machines to animal oddities, to science adventures and space exploration. And even if its late or we are all tired, he would not get me out of this ritual, and he would still urge me to read (even if he can read very good now!) to him before he sleeps.
By reading to my son in bed, I would have a quiet moment with him, and my way of tucking him in for the night. Though, after I read to him, he would ask his mom to come too, and have his blanket pulled up over him and its edges stuffed under his side pillows (he only wants his mom to do this, not me). So it was literally tucking him in.
Few nights ago, I was on-call. I left before eight in the morning, and was not able to come home until about one o’clock in the morning the next day. My wife told me that my son anxiously waited almost till midnight for my return. I guess he missed his bedtime story.
For my daughter, it is a different ritual. Unlike me who wakes up early, my daughter is not a morning person. If she has her way, she will sleep until the sun is halfway up in the horizon. Even though she has an alarm clock that has a loud annoying sound when it goes off, but still she would sleep through it. So I have to help her get up in the morning.
Many mornings, I would come to her room to wake her up and then leave, only to come back to her room half an hour later, and she would be still sleeping or she had fallen back asleep. What does a father do? Drag her literally out of bed. She actually gave me permission to do it. She even told me to just carry her out of her bed and dump her in the bathroom. But I can’t as she is too heavy now for me to carry.
Every morning, after I hear her alarm clock, I would go to her room, throw her blanket off, and pull her by the feet out of bed and prop her up. Then I would be greeted by a sleepy head with eyes still close, that says “Thanks Dad.”
I do have different rituals with each of my kids. One I have to settle down to bed, the other, I have to crank out of bed. I know these rituals will not last forever. Sooner or later, my son will be older and will not ask for a bedtime story anymore. I would be really surprised if he still ask me to read to him if he’s in high school or even college! And for my daughter, maybe soon (hopefully!) she’ll get up on her own, as she becomes more and more independent. I know I cannot be there to wake her up in her college dorm.
For the time being, I will cherish these tender rituals while they last.
One of these days, my kids will be out of our home and will be on their own. Maybe they will form new rituals with their own family and their children. Or maybe, just maybe, they would miss their old man, and would pass these rituals to their kids.
And someday, when my wife and I are old and weak, I hope they would come and visit, and read to me, and help me out of bed. And we will reminisce, that is if my memory is still intact, our tender rituals.
(*original post: Tender Rituals, published March 17, 2012; photo taken today with an iPhone)