love in a tradition

by rebecca on February 15, 2011

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I was a smidge late for Valentines Day at my house. My family woke to the altared space of peanut M&M decor instead of our usual treasure hunt for hearts. That’s OK. It made for a nice moment when everyone gathered after school and I had finally finished that last fabric heart.

          The treasure hunt took all of about 8 minutes. They read the letters I’d written about the new hearts I made. My daughter got teary about her second grade dress turned fabric ornament to remind her that no matter how very much she accomplishes outside our home after she graduates this year, to me she’ll always be my little girl.



          I was a  nervous about the letter I’d written for my son. We’ve had some vehement differences of opinion this year. He’s quite the hunter and I’m well… not. I made him a heart that celebrated our differences and pointed to our laughter instead of rancor. It’s frightening to call attention to where I differ from someone I love so much. Thankfully, he seemed to understand.

          My husband’s heart was made to commemorate the year our union tipped the see-saw balance of marital bliss. Now the flowers in the snow have a permanent reminder.


          Everyone hunted for their remaining hearts and there was happiness and cheer and that cozy family feeling. This has been a great year for the Family Tree. But it hasn’t always been so. Many years I felt I was the only one who valued the traditions held by the  branches in that vase.

          That’s probably because I was. It was my vision and my dream. I’m the one who came into this family yearning for connection. My husband craves adventure and my children have grown up here. They know nothing else. I’m the one trying to fix that little empty spot in my belly.

          It took me a long, long time to realize the Family Tree was for me. I thought I was giving all these gifts to the people who populate my home. I thought I was the World’s Greatest Mommy and I wanted gold stars anointing my head to prove it. I wanted attention. I wanted recognition.



          But the truth was and is the person who wanted this family was me. The Family Tree is my gift to me, and while there are surely others who benefit, I planted this little tree to grow roots in my soul. Roots that would steady the wide branches I longed to bloom above my head.

          I was a martyr many, many years, harrumphing about the lack of attention I got for the Beauty I brought into this home before I paused and opened my own eyes. I could see that Beauty. I could give attention to myself.

          The second I looked and saw was the same second I had the family I longed for. They had been there all along. They were simply waiting for me to love me. I was the keeper of my own gold stars.


          What do you give to others that is really a gift hiding in wait for yourself to open? What gold stars do you withhold from yourself that you could freely give… right now, today? What love was/is waiting for you in this gray month of February?



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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Margaret Reyes Dempsey February 15, 2011 at 6:34 pm

I love those hearts. They are so beautiful. It’s wonderful that you realized the family tree was for you and that you could give attention to yourself. So many people never get there.

This post reminded me of times in my life when people “did things for me” but they were things they valued, not that I valued. Sometimes we don’t take the time to understand what the other person would appreciate or find meaningful.


rachel February 16, 2011 at 3:49 pm

wow. again you have me just kind of exploding/imploding.

i am the gold star queen. though i try not to tally all of the gold stars i’m earning but not getting, i inevitably forget to NOT keep track and start keeping track…and then i get sour and feel stupid and get tangled. not once has it occurred to me to just give the gold stars to myself, to say “hey, that was really awesome” and to be content with the self-recognition.

i think that when i am freely giving love to myself i give it more freely to other people. conversely, when i’m not feeling adequately appreciated by others it’s probably a sign i’m not doing a good enough job of appreciating myself.

much to consider. thank you.


rebecca February 16, 2011 at 5:29 pm


You said: ” i think that when i am freely giving love to myself i give it more freely to other people. conversely, when i’m not feeling adequately appreciated by others it’s probably a sign i’m not doing a good enough job of appreciating myself.” ditto. And this is such a profound lesson for myself because it really, really feels good to love myself. With this as a reason to do it? Why NOT???


SuziCate February 16, 2011 at 10:04 pm

I think you reached a mile stone that it takes a long time to realize…the validation that we long for really has to start with ourselves. Though I don’t have all these lovely traditions that you’ve created for your family, I remember this feeling well. The really good thing is that you’ve come to this realization while your children are still at home. Some day, your children will look back on these traditions and implement similar ones in their own families. Most likely your traditions will carry out and welcome all the new extended family members through the years…probably hard to think in that contest now. But seriously, how cool is that to be the Gramma some day that holds the family tree with the hearts?!


Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities February 17, 2011 at 10:35 am

I am continually impressed by your creativity. And I am now very much intrigued by the notion of withheld gold stars. Really, what are we waiting for? Why do we so often punish ourselves instead of celebrate ourselves?


rebecca February 17, 2011 at 1:36 pm


I don’t know the answer to your question: “Why do we wait?” But I do know this: I’m done. I’m done waiting. It serves no one. Depravation kills everything good. Generosity is the fertilization for everything to bloom. Twenty years ago I set a goal for myself: “To be the most generous person I know.” I set about trying and trying to be that person. And getting tired. Depriving myself more and more. Getting thirstier and hungrier.

Then I began to be generous to me.

Suddenly I cannot stop myself from pouring M & M’s into everyone’s outstretched hands. My hunch is that’s just how it works. Go figure.


Kelly February 18, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Love those fabric ornaments. What a wonderful way to capture a moment in time — and imagine what a treasure they’ll be when these days are distant memories!


Stacia February 19, 2011 at 1:24 am

I still yearn for someone, anyone, to notice that I emptied the dishwasher or changed four poopy diapers today or managed to put away three loads of laundry or let the kids play with Play-Doh and didn’t worry about the mess. Why do I do that? Do I need someone else to tell me the life I’m living is meaningful and important? Deep down, I know it is. But I still yearn.


rebecca February 19, 2011 at 5:57 am

Oh Stacia,

The life of motherhood, the role of nurturer is rather invisible. And maybe a little boring. Don’t let me put words in your mouth, but what you described here…it doesn’t make me leap out of bed eager to get on with it. Yet I don’t think I ever did anything that mattered more than feeding and tending to my children. Making people is such big work. Our world of magazine covers and reality television doesn’t find it sexy or juicy.

So I had to find it important.

I think it was that: the valuing of my own life, no matter what anyone else said or thought, that came to be one of the great lessons of my time as a mother. It helped me to see too that there are so many who go unthanked for the lives they live that contribute to mine. Now, as my husband leaves for work each day, I thank him. When anyone does the dishes I thank them. Not because I think any of it is my responsibility, but because I benefit. And I know how wonderful it is to be appreciated. It comes from the yearning you describe. I know this yearning.


shirley February 21, 2011 at 10:41 am

quite a powerful post of self-discovery. thank you! and thinking through your questions – for gifts to others, i enjoy people reconnecting with things that bring them fond memories. so for instance, when my friend talked lovingly her childhood collection of hello kitty goodies, that story stuck in my head. when i came across hello kitty PEZ stuff, i picked them up and gifted as a surprise. and you know what, i have a few other tidbit goodies for other friends. the sharing of stories – i LOVE hearing people’s stories and dreams and creating a place for them to realize that even as an adult, wonderment is fun!

as far as gold stars for myself? … this post makes me think that it is my writing of short stories. i have not given myself gold stars for those – so this week, i will do so, by sharing with others.

and as far as february’s love … certainly it is spending some time with my mom, whose wedding anniversary was the 17th. my dad died in 2002, and mom has time that she carves out for herself – and then there is the time that she carves out with others. it is a very special month of reflection for her – i love her and she loves me … and that would be one of my february moments of love.


rebecca February 21, 2011 at 10:51 am


I’m sorry about the loss of your father. So glad to know, however, that February is a month dedicated to his loving memory and that you and your mother have such a special bond.


Yvette Francino February 22, 2011 at 10:08 am

I love your hearts and this tradition of yours! And though it may seem that your family doesn’t appreciate it, those special moments and traditions are sculpting who they are — being surrounded by love is a blessing that many people — particularly children — take for granted, because that’s all they’ve known. When they get out in the world and recognize the hardships of those who grew up without love, they will begin to know more how much those hearts and the love you’ve brought them through all your actions, have shaped their lives.

I think when we give a gift from the heart (in this case, quite literally) we are giving a gift, both to someone we love and to ourselves. We are celebrating our love, paying honor and tribute to that love. We want those people who we love to feel the same way… to feel that same warmth and tear-filled feeling of being moved by our precious symbols.. that we feel.

I know I’ve made all kinds of scrapbooks and photo albums and written letters of love for my children which I would look at over and over again with such love and pride. I’d give them as presents, thinking I’d get a teary-eyed Hallmark-moment “heart-felt, “I’ll love you forever, Mom!” kind of reaction, when usually I’d get a smile and a ‘thank you’ and the gift most likely stashed away somewhere never looked at again… One the other hand, the gifts from the heart that I give to my mother… those are the ones that are met with tears.

I think we have to be a mother to know that love. Kids are getting the wonderful gifts of love, without realizing how special it is, until one day… they will.


rebecca February 22, 2011 at 9:17 pm


“being surrounded by love is a blessing that many people — particularly children — take for granted, because that’s all they’ve known.” Well, when you put it like this…I think it’s easier to handle being taking for granted isn’t it?

And you’re right, mommies (and daddies!) melt when we offer photos and stories of love.


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