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Everyday rituals provide children with sense of connection

The summer wind-down has begun, and back-to-school season is shifting into high gear.

Whether the end of summer inspires dread (hectic mornings and homework struggles) or glee (more free time while the kids are in school) – or both – the start of a new school year is a good time for parents to pause and think for a moment about family culture and how to give children a sense of being supported and connected.

One of the best ways to provide this sense of security is to build little rituals into everyday family life – something that provides a momentary oasis of calm and predictability before (and after) your child goes out into the world.

Just about every family has holiday traditions and rituals for special occasions, whether it’s “we always go to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving” to the ceremonial carving of the Easter ham.

But what can we do to make the mundane and everyday special?

Mornings
In some homes, the morning ritual begins with the wake-up. I have heard of families that play the same personalized music mix every morning, or even sing their own family version of Reveille with silly lyrics incorporating the kids’ names. (The music mix can also act as a motivational aid, letting the children know – without parental nagging – that by the time a certain selection plays, they need to be dressed or at the breakfast table.)

At breakfast, rituals can include the usual items such as a prayer or blessing; a piece of cinnamon toast bearing a happy face; or a greeting using the child’s pet name (I used “Lee-Lee” and “Laniebug” for my daughters Leah and Lanie) or silliest nickname (“Hotdog” for Jackie, my daredevil child).

Even a silly morning joke (“Will you be having giraffes or elephants sprinkled on your cereal today?”) can become a cherished ritual, as well as a source of creative, get-the-juices flowing conversation as kids seek to come up with ever-more-absurd comebacks. (“No, I’m more in the mood for aardvarks today.”)

Another great way to make children feel a sense of security and belonging is to reminisce about their babyhoods – a subtle reminder of their rootedness in the family and the way they have been loved and cherished since birth.

One of my favorite stories about daughter Jackie recalls her habit as a one-year-old of waking up in the pre-dawn hours and letting me know loudly that she was ready to start her day. On one such bleary-eyed morning, I pointed to her bedroom window in desperation and told her that once the sun was up, she could wake me.

The next morning, I could hear Jackie stirring before dawn and knew she was standing in her crib, searching for that first sliver of sun edging over horizon. Sure enough, I soon heard her crow proudly, “Sun’s up, Mommy! Come get me!”

Oh, how I loved to remind Jackie of this in her middle school days, when she would have preferred to sleep in. And even on her grouchier mornings, greeting her with a “Sun’s up, Jackie!” almost always drew a sheepish smile.

Send-off rituals
As for goodbye rituals, I know parents of younger children who give them special wallets with family pictures inside to start the school year, and send them off every morning with the reminder that “I’m in your pocket” and that the wallet can be patted whenever the child feels the need.

Other parents may choose to send their children off with a one-sentence Prayer of Protection, while still others might like to count a few kisses into their child’s palm and add the words, “Now close up your hand, and keep those kisses close all day!”

In my own family, we had a “squeeze you to pieces” ritual that sprang out of a random affectionate moment when I told my toddler daughter, “Oh, I could just squeeze you to pieces!” After a few such hugs, the literal meaning of the statement suddenly dawned on her one day, and she looked alarmed. “Mommy, put me back together!” she demanded.

After that, the squeezing ritual always ended with exaggerated slapping and patting moments as I picked up the “pieces” and put her back together – and even now, the phrase can still elicit a laugh with my grown-up girls.

Homecoming
At the end of a long day, the best homecoming rituals are calming ones, of course. As a tea lover, I can’t think of a better calming ritual than tea time.

When my daughters were in preschool and elementary school – before the after-school sports began – we did tea almost daily. At that age, a simple box of sugar cubes and a pair of silver tongs (only seen at tea time) was a much-anticipated treat, as was the ceremony of steeping and stirring and plunking in the cubes – and talking about our days.

But don’t think for a moment that tea time only works with girls. I had friends who raised two sons with a daily tea time ritual that took place when Dad (an Anglophile) arrived home at 4:30.

From the time they could toddle to the table, the boys were expected to sit in for at least a few moments of the ceremonial pouring and sipping, and to join in the adult conversation. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that both of these boys grew up to be not only the most polite and gentlemanly young men that you could ever hope to meet, but also articulate, accomplished students.

Some parents save the most precious after-school treats for rainy days, and keep special books and games in reserve, only to be used when weather is dreary and children are feeling confined. Or they bring out the special snacks and activities for rainy days, like popping popcorn (the old-fashioned way).

Random moments
Among the best everyday rituals, in my opinion, are those that are unscheduled and take place at random moments throughout the day. One of the coolest random rituals I’ve heard of is the family dance break. In this musical family’s home, whenever a good dancing song comes on, any family member can call out “dance break!” – requiring everyone to drop what they’re doing and meet in the den for some spontaneous dancing and laughing.

In my own family, we had a random ritual known as the hug alarm. Anyone who had a sudden need for a hug could simply start making a noise like a fire engine siren or other alarm, and everyone was supposed to drop what they were doing and come running to supply a hug.

As for bedtime and dinnertime, we will have to save those those rife-with-rituals times of day for separate columns to allow enough space for the topic. As always, I hope readers will write and share some of their family rituals, and perhaps help other families who are searching for inspiration to develop their own.

And as you develop these rituals, keep in mind that some will grow out of spontaneous moments (like squeezing to pieces) and some might be developed by your children themselves.

One of my favorite ritual stories is about the harried single mom who came home from work one day to find that her preteen sons had, on a whim, set up a “happy hour” of lemonade, cheese and crackers.

Now, at the end of a bad day, she will call and ask her boys, “Could we have a happy hour today?”
Community

Celebrating 106 years

Former Sandston resident Mildred Taylor celebrated her 106th birthday Aug. 9. Taylor, who now lives in Powhatan, is still a member of Sandston Baptist Church. She was visited the day after her birthday by several members of the church, who played for her a recording of the entire church membership singing happy birthday to her during worship. > Read more.

YMCA breaks ground for aquatic center

YMCA officials gathered last week to break ground on the new Tommy J. West Aquatic Center at the Shady Grove Family YMCA on Nuckols Road. The center, which will featured 7,600 square feet of competitive and recreational space, including water slides, play areas for children and warmer water for those with physical limitations, is the fourth phase of a $4 million expansion at the facility. West was president and CEO of Capital Interior Contractors and a founding member of the Central Virginia Region of the Virginia Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors. > Read more.

Rotary donates to ‘Bright Beginnings’

The Sandston Rotary Club recently donated $1,000 to the Sandston YMCA for its Bright Beginnings program, which helps provide children in need with school supplies for the new school year. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Journey to mediocrity

‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ fails to capitalize on tasty concept
The Hundred-Foot Journey is a curious little Romeo and Juliet of a film. A family, forced out of their native India, begins a trek across Europe.

The family’s sole mode of transportation sputters and dies in a sleepy little French town, but the town’s food culture is high, and that’s a perfect place for a family of restaurateurs to settle down. There’s only one problem – the family’s rustic “Maison Mumbai” is right across the street (a hundred feet away, if the title didn’t clue you in) from a prestigious French bistro with a Michelin star, run with an iron fist by the dreaded Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren, pictured).

It’s here that a particular Romeo and Juliet story begins to develop, with Hassan (Manish Dayal) on the Indian side and Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) on the French side. > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


Enjoy the final days of summer with comedian Guy Torry, the Sam’s Club National BBQ Tour or mystery writer Mary Miley Theobald at Twin Hickory Library. Another great way to welcome the beginning of fall is to check out the UR Spider Football season opener with man’s best friend. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Bottoms up

Short Pump brewery offers more than just beer
I am still (happily) thinking about my entire experience at Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery last week. Knowing nothing about this new brewery out of Denver, I was leery of brew-pub in the heart of Short Pump Town Center – this is not what I’d usually think of as a perfect fit, and yet, it was.

The restaurant and craft brewery opened in early June and features 10 beers made by female brewmaster Becky Hammond (pictured). This is the restaurant’s second location in Virginia; the first is in Arlington. Behind glass walls, customers watched the beer brewing in massive steel barrels. For our up-and-coming beer region, it makes sense that Short Pump would jump on board.

As I walked up to the back of the mall near the comedy club, I was taken aback by what I saw: at the top of the stairs was an overflowing restaurant with outdoor seating, large umbrellas and dangling outdoor lights. > Read more.

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The 1978 film “Superman” (PG) will play at 7 p.m. Sept. 5 and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sept. 6 at Henrico Theatre, 305 E. Nine Mile Rd. Tickets… Full text

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