Surviving Summer

It had been one of those days. Monday. Ely wanted the day to be fun for her three girls. She planned to get up early and get out of the house to enjoy the day. Maybe go to the park or somewhere fun to play. But Ely couldn’t get her act together. In fact, she couldn’t get past breakfast. She wanted the girls to have a healthy breakfast – but the kitchen isn’t her strong suit. The girls hated the smoothie she made and refused to drink it.  Cindy, her two-year-old, knocked the smoothie down to the floor in one of her crying fits. Bella, the five-year-old, hit Sammy, the three-year-old, and took her toy. They each ate a few bites of the pumpkin oatmeal pancakes Ely made, but it certainly wasn’t worth the mess she’d made in the kitchen.

Somehow it was noon and the girls were still in pajamas. Ely was in pajamas. The house looked like a hurricane hit it and her husband hates to come from work and find the house messy. Oh, and the girls were hungry. Of course they were, they barely ate breakfast. 

And then Ely checked her phone.

All the school moms were posting on the group chat what their kids were doing this week.

Suzy was in gymnastics camp. Christy was in acting camp. Lily was having a blast in nature camp. Ely had debated whether to put her girls in specialty camps this summer but since she works three days a week, she preferred to keep her girls home on her two off-days so they could spend time together. Only the summer camp at her daughter’s school would allow her to bring the girls three times a week.

Mia’s mom had also kept Mia home this week. She was posting pics of the scavenger hunt she’d set up in her backyard and the healthy snacks she’d prepared for her daughter. Mia loves all the healthy foods her mom makes. After lunch, they were going to do some school work so Mia is ready for First grade.

Ely was still trying to get the girls to brush their teeth.

Ely sat for a moment on her sofa, watching her little girls run around with disheveled hair and half naked. She felt completely defeated.

I totally suck as a mom.

Not only were her kids stuck at home instead of a “cool” camp, but she couldn’t even manage to do something fun at home like the other mom.

How do they do it?  She thought as her mind went into a downward spiral.

Why am I such a disaster?

I can’t even take care of myself. I don’t exercise. I’m tired all the time.

My kids give me a hard time about everything.

I can’t get it together. 

She spent hours beating herself up, as she picked up the kitchen, put the girls down for nap, fed them lunch, and played with them.

After a very long and brutal day, the girls were bathed and in bed. Ely was laying with Bella reading her a bedtime story. “Ok baby girl,”she said “It’s time for you to go to sleep. Tomorrow you get to go to camp and have fun.”

Bella sat up straight on the bed. “But mommy, I don’t want to go to camp tomorrow.”

“Why not, Bella?”

“Mommy, I just want to be with you.”

Ely couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Bella, you rather stay home with me and do nothing than go to camp with your friends?”

“Yes, mommy. I love being home with you.”

Ely couldn’t hold back the tears. All day she’d beaten herself up for not being as perfect as the other moms, who all seemed to be mothering better than she was. She’d stressed about all the things she wasn’t doing this summer and all the while her daughters got exactly what they wanted. Time with their mommy. 

A friend of mine who has older kids told me once, “I used to think my kids needed quality time with me, but I’ve realized they just want time with me.”

We all have a little Ely in us. We set such high standards for ourselves and we judge ourselves and beat ourselves up for not doing everything perfect. But those are not the standards our kids are holding us too. They don’t need all that. Actually, what they need is so simple.

So next time you’re down in the dumps about how badly you’re failing at this parenting thing – remember Ely.  Give yourself a break. You’re doing the best you can and that’s okay!

A Moment Of Clarity

Don’t worry so much about giving your kids a magical experience this summer. You are the magic.

Be There … Even If Only Through A Window

When I was a little girl, I learned a lesson that’s going to stay with me for the rest of my life– that parents can have meaningful relationships with their children despite the obstacles life puts in their way.

I was 9 years old. My parents were divorced and this was my weekend to be home with Mom. We spent the day working on my closet. My mother and father were both disorganized but disorganized in very different ways so I guess I inherited a “double genetic dose” as a result! 

My father’s spaces were always cluttered. There wasn’t a corner or crevice in his home that didn’t contain a book, magic trick, or cherished memento. But, no matter how much stuff there was, he knew where everything he needed was… his financial papers, his work documents, and his books. Within his mess there was order

On the other hand, my mother’s home looked impeccable, but she never knew where anything was! Her approach was to put everything in boxes and line them up so everything looked neat. Then she planned to go through the boxes to see what to keep and what to toss later. But with three children to raise, “later” rarely came.
Mom and I sat cross legged on the floor, stuffing my stuff in boxes and placing them in rows, hanging up all my clothes, lining up my shoes and lovingly placing my dolls and their clothes in boxes. It had been a long day but the result was worth it. I was proud!

The phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Hi mi amor!” My dad said, enthusiastically.

“Hi dad!” 

I was always excited to hear my dad’s voice, but today I couldn’t wait to share my accomplishments.

“How are you? How was your day?” he asked. 

“Great Dad! Guess what we did.” 

“What?” he matched my excitement.

“My mom and I organized my closet! I have all my toys in pretty boxes. My clothes and shoes are all neat. It looks awesome!”

My voice changed when I remembered the rules. See, I had a stepdad and he didn’t allow my dad to come into my house. My mom (who is an angel)  had to deal with his tough personality. One of the accommodations she made was to get me my own private phone line so my dad and I could talk whenever we wanted.

“I wish you could see it, Dad, but I know you can’t come into my house.” 

Hearing the sadness in my voice, Dad responded, “My love, I wish I could see it too but I’m sure it looks great. Tell me more about it.”

I was a little girl living in a different home than her father did, a little girl who wanted him to be there with her when he couldn’t be. It wasn’t fair! I didn’t ask my parents to get divorced. And I didn’t understand why my dad couldn’t come in my house. But I wasn’t one to nag so I tried to let it go. 

We chatted a little while longer and then my dad said, “Ok mi amor, you’ve got school tomorrow so you need to get ready for bed. Sleep with the angels, my love. I will call you tomorrow.”

“Okay daddy, goodnight.” 

“Love you!” (My dad always ended a conversation with an “I love you”.)

“I love you too.”

I showered, brushed my teeth, pulled on my pajamas, kissed my mom goodnight, and headed back to my room to watch TV.

Suddenly there was a tap on my window. It freaked me out, actually. I stood on my bed and leaned over my headboard to peer out. There was a face staring back at me! I didn’t know whether to scream or run. But then I recognized my father’s large hand waving from side to side and zoomed in on his unmistakable smile.

I pulled up the blinds and opened the window. 

“Dad, what are you doing here?” 

He chuckled, “Just because I can’t come in your house doesn’t mean I can’t see your closet. Come on, show me!”

I jumped out of bed, slid the closet doors open, and showed my dad all my orderly boxes, tidy clothes and neat shoes a la Vanna White. Smiling, he gave his signature” thumbs up!”

I jumped back on my bed, stood on my tippy toes and pressed my lips against the screen. Dad pressed his lips against the screen on the other side and gave me a kiss. “I love you, mi cielo. And, I love your closet. Now get to sleep so you can rest.” 

Happy, I closed my window, let down the blinds, climbed into bed and drifted off to sleep. It had only taken thirty seconds for Dad to see my closet through the window, but the memory of his being there for me, in that moment, will be etched in my heart forever.

A MOMENT OF CLARITY

Divorce doesn’t have to destroy your relationships with your kids. You may have to show up in creative ways. You may have to overcome some obstacles. But you can always Be There Even When You’re Not.

The Hardest Promise To Keep- A lesson in Delaying Gratification

Do you ever set a goal like quitting smoking, losing weight, or writing a book, and then decide not tell anyone about it? Why do we do that? Because it’s easier to make excuses when no one else is counting on us or expecting us to keep our word.   

The hardest promises to keep are the ones we make to ourselves. My seven year old, Justin, was confronted with a promise that was hard to keep, and his experience taught me a lot about parenting and self -control.

I’ve invested a lot of time teaching my three boys to eat healthy although they don’t always do so. They love pizza, fries, chips and desserts like other kids. Justin, however, is the one who has most taken to a healthy lifestyle. This year, I’ve found him being more aware of the food choices he makes. He’s learned to read the ingredients of anything with a label on it and he knows whole foods are best even though he still treats himself to the unhealthy stuff.

We were vacationing in Asheville, North Carolina when we unexpectedly ran into Nick and Chris—Orly and Justin’s best friends from school. They were staying in a cabin in Black Mountain and their parents invited us to come spend the night. The boys had a blast eating Oreo cookies, pizza, chips, and any other treats they could find.  We allowed them to let loose because we were on vacation, but Justin knew exactly what he was doing.

In the midst of hide-and-go-seek games and running around like lunatics, Justin took me aside and whispered quietly, “Mommy, I’ve eaten a lot of junk today so, as of tomorrow, I’m not going to eat anything with sugar for two days. Okay, mommy!”  And he ran off to play again. I admit I didn’t take Justin too seriously. I thought he had said that to please me, but I never thought he’d follow through with his promise.

The next morning was New Year’s Eve. I woke up before any of the children and went upstairs to make my coffee and write. Eventually, I heard their voices echoing and their feet stomping downstairs. Our friends were making breakfast, and a delicious aroma of bacon and warm croissants wafted through the house. Justin came upstairs; I could see the prideful look on his face.

“Mommy, Nick gave all the kids Oreo cookies this morning, but I didn’t even have one.”

“That’s great, Justy,” I smiled.

He insisted, “Remember I told you I wasn’t going to eat sugar for two days, Mommy? That’s why I refused to eat the Oreo cookie.”

“Yes, Justy, I’m very impressed that you’re sticking to your promise. Great job, buddy.” Pleased, he went off to find his friends.

Moments later, a yell sounded from the kitchen: “Boys, breakfast is ready.”  The kids gathered around the kitchen island and took their seats. Eggs, bacon, potatoes and chocolate-filled croissants were arrayed on the table. Naturally everyone migrated towards the croissants. Justin looked at them with a pained expression.

“How are you doing, buddy?” I asked.

“Those croissants look so delicious.”

I could tell he really wanted one. I wondered if he regretted ever telling me about his pledge to avoid sugar. Would he feel judged by me for quitting? He’s only seven years old, I thought. I’m not going to make him feel bad if he wants to eat one little croissant.

“Justy,” I said gently as I stroked his arm, “Don’t worry about the promise you made not to eat sugar. It’s New Year’s Eve. You’re with your friends. We’re on vacation. Maybe today was not a good day to make that promise. You can have the croissant if you want.”

Justin stared at the croissant. His little lips tightened as he thought about it. “No, mommy. I’m not going to eat any.”

I prodded him. “Justin, you realize you didn’t make this promise to me. You made this promise to yourself. I will not be disappointed if you eat the croissant. You’re not letting me down if you eat it. I want you to be happy and enjoy yourself.”

“I know mommy. Can I have some eggs and bacon please?”

I was amazed. My little boy was showing self-discipline and strength. I put a generous serving of eggs and bacon on his plate and handed it to him. “Justin, the hardest promises to keep in life are the ones we make to ourselves. The fact that you’re keeping this promise to yourself shows me that you can do anything. You’re going to be successful in everything you do, son.”

A huge smile came across his face. He enjoyed his eggs and bacon.

Delayed gratification means you resist the temptation for an immediate reward in order to receive a later reward. This concept was proven many years ago by a psychological study known as “The Marshmallow Test.”  My dad popularized this test with his book, “Don’t Eat The Marshmallow…Yet!” Delaying gratification is something we can learn to do, but it’s not always easy.

Although I’m a big proponent of “not eating the marshmallow” the way my dad taught me, here I was encouraging Justin to do just that. I didn’t want him to feel like he was being deprived of something he wanted or sacrificing on his vacation. I didn’t want him to think I was going to be disappointed in him because he broke his promise.  I used every excuse in the book, and then realized, those are the justifications we all use when we want instant gratification. We spend more money than we should, we eat things we should avoid, we sleep in and don’t make it to the gym. And we justify our actions with acceptable excuses like:

“I’m on vacation,” or

“This is a special occasion,” or

“You only live once.”

Those things are true, but they are excuses nonetheless.  

Justin missed eating that croissant for five minutes, but what he gained in those five minutes will last him a lifetime. He felt empowered by following through on his choice, and that made him happy.

It’s hard to keep promises we make to ourselves, because it’s easy to talk ourselves out of it. That’s why I always encourage people to have accountability partners when trying to reach goals. But even your accountability partners can enable you to make excuses for yourself, like I did with Justin.  We’re not perfect and there will be times we make excuses to get out of keeping promises. But the more mindful we are about it, the more control we can take over our own actions. Even if it doesn’t come naturally to us, we can learn how to have self-control.

Next time you want to break a promise you’ve made to yourself, and no one is watching or someone is encouraging you to do it, remember you have the power to delay gratification. See yourself empowered by your own self-control.

A Moment of Clarity

It’s “the little wins” that set us up for “the big wins.” With every choice we make, we’re creating our own success story. My little boy taught me that.

Bold Conversations, Funerals, & A Bright Yellow Dress

Yany was ten years old when her Cuban grandma, Abuela Fifi, began taking her to the cemetery. An only child with working parents, Yany spent a lot of time doing “old people” things like going to the doctor and running errands. But by far, Yany’s favorite outing with her grandma was their monthly trip to the cemetery.

Yes, the cemetery.

Yany didn’t understand why grandma would drive to the burial ground office to deliver a check once a month. They would engage in this brief transaction and then be on their way.

Then came the best part:

Yany would beg Abuela Fifi to drive around the plots.  Moving at a snail’s pace, Abuela Fifi would lower the windows as Yany read the names on the tombstones and created elaborate stories about the peoples lives.

“Oh look, that’s Maria Victoria! She was a beautiful singer, and she loved to wear polkadot dresses.” Yany would proclaim. Grandma would smile and move on to the next plot. “Fernando! Fernando was a grouch. You know he didn’t even like talking to his neighbors.”

Plot after plot, Yany and grandma visited real people and told stories of their pretend lives. Children are like that. They don’t need much to spark their creativity. They can make believe, tell stories, create drama and humor, conflict and triumph – and do it effortlessly. They don’t care if it makes sense or not; it’s just fun.

One day, Abuela Fifi encountered a situation that got her thinking. Her granddaughter loved the cemetery. She willingly accompanied her month after month, but she knew nothing about the reality of why they were going. Abuela was a powerful woman who believed in telling children the truth about life. Though she loved to indulge Yany, she also wanted to prepare, educate, and guide her.  So on the next trip to the cemetery, she decided to have a very honest and bold conversation about what this all meant.

“Yany, do you know why we come here and why I write a check and hand it to the gentleman at the desk?” she asked gently.

“No.” Yany shrugged, eager to get to storytime.

“Well, the reason I write a check is because I am paying for my funeral arrangements. You see, I am going to die one day and the tombs we drive around looking at… there will be one for me.” Yany’s eyes opened wide.  Abuela put her arm around her and said “You don’t have to be scared. Death is part of life. We all die. And though this is the place I’ve chosen for my body to rest, I will not be here.

“Where will you be?” Yany asked.

Oh,  I will be with God, and in your heart and mind. I will always be with you, even though you won’t be able to see me anymore.”

Abuela Fifi was inspired even though Yany was nervous. They were sitting on a couch in the lobby of the funeral home and surrounding them were different rooms where viewings were being held.  Abuela Fifi stood up and grabbed Yany’s hand. “You see that room? There is a coffin in there with a person who has died in it. Walk on over and look inside. You should see what a dead person looks like so you are never afraid of death. Go on.” Yany looked into the room and saw lots of people dressed in black gathered together. “Abuela, I don’t want to go in there.”

Abuela smiled, “Come on, Yany, you have nothing to be afraid of, go on in. You can do it.” 

“But Abuela, I’m not scared; I’m embarrassed. I’m wearing a bright yellow dress!”

Even at ten, Yany could sense that she wasn’t dressed appropriately. “Oh, that doesn’t matter. Go ahead, Yany. It’ll just take a minute.” Yany hesitated, but she walked up to the coffin in her bright yellow dress, peeked inside, counted to ten, and ran back to her grandmother.  

Abuela waited for her with open arms, “There. It’s done. You’ve seen a dead person. You no longer have to be afraid. The day I die, you will remember this moment and you will know it is only my body in that casket and not my soul. And don’t come visit me at my tombstone when I die because I won’t be there. Make sure you visit me while I’m still alive! Now let’s go drive around the cemetery so you can tell me all about the different people.” 

Now you may be thinking that Abuela Fifi was insane. You could be judging her for exposing a ten year old to such morbid realities, or comparing her to how your grandma would’ve handled the situation. Regardless of how you feel about what Abuela Fifi did, Yany learned a lot from this experience. 

She became aware at a young age that life is fleeting and temporary, and therefore you must embrace it.

Through the stories she told abut the names on the tombstones, she learned to value her imagination. As adults, too many of us lose our ability to make believe and be creative. Ironically, adulthood is when we need creativity the most. Try making up creative stories about real people. You may find a storyteller lives deep within you. Use that gift.

She learned that in life you have to be pragmatic. There is no use in sugar-coating things or hiding truths, even with kids. Knowledge gives you the power to make informed decisions, think for yourself, and overcome obstacles with courage.

She learned the importance of confronting life with humor. This story offers just one example of Abuela Fifi’s wackiness. The old lady is simply funny. Funny makes life easier and lighter.  It makes hard things easier to swallow. When Abuela Fifi is no longer here, Yany will laugh whenever she retells her grandma’s stories, and, let’s face it, there’s no better way to remember someone than with a smile.

Lastly, Yany learned to shine. There will be times in life when you will not be dressed appropriately, you won’t fit in with the crowd, or you will be the only one standing up for something you believe in. There will be times when you’ll look like a fool and want the Earth to swallow you. You may feel like you’re wearing a bright yellow dress at a funeral.  You’ll be afraid. You’ll be embarrassed. But you’ll get through it.  

And then there will be times of tragedy and of grief – maybe in your circle, or your community, or the world.  Times when it will feel like you’re navigating in black seas. During those times, I want you to think of that same bright yellow dress. I want you to wear it. I want you to be the light that shines in the darkness, like Yani did that day. It takes courage and confidence to wear yellow when everyone around you is wearing black. Like Abuela Fifi would say “Go on little one, there is nothing to be afraid of.” 

(Abuela Fifi’s tombstone has long been paid for, but she is still alive and probably reading this blog post laughing at how crazy she was back then. Yany visits her often and is thankful for all the time she’s had with her.)

Create meaningful relationships with your kid with this resolution

Let Go of Presumed Resolutions This Year!

January is notorious for increased gym memberships, fasts, diet plans, and energized people ready to tackle the year to come.  We tend to make resolutions that are tangible – like losing weight, exercising, or traveling. And then there are what I call,  “presumed resolutions.” These are resolutions we should make to achieve an intended result, but we leave those results to chance.  For example, I would guess we all want to have meaningful and close relationships with our children, but we assume that happens automatically if we are “good” parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles. Yet, good people don’t always have great relationships with their kids, do they?

I want to share with you a resolution you can implement today that can help you have a meaningful relationship with your child in the years to come. It’s based on a true story.

On December 13, 1979 – five days after I was born – my father sent me a postcard. Yes, only five days after my birth my father had to travel for work. The truth is that I didn’t need my father during my first week of life, nor would I miss him if he were gone. The only thing a baby needs is to be fed, changed, wrapped in a blanket, and loved. My mother was doing a perfectly fine job of caring and loving me, so I didn’t need anyone else.

I did not read that postcard or even know that he sent it until I was 36 years old.

Over the years my father sent me hundreds and hundreds of postcards. Many were thrown away or lost in the mail, but when I was old enough to read them, I would wait for the cards to come in the mail and I collected them in a cardboard box. I loved receiving those cards and even though I didn’t realize it then, it was through those postcards that my father consistently communicated his love for me.

One day my mother came over to my home holding several large, old photo albums. She’d been doing some spring cleaning.

“It’s time for you keep these in your home; I’ve held on to them long enough!” she said handing me the albums. I flipped through the pages, seeing pictures of myself as a baby and little mementos my mom had kept –the hospital card, the hospital bracelet, a little card that came with a bouquet of flowers. And then I saw it, Dad’s First Postcard, preserved for 36 years in a self-adhesive photo page.

building relationships through postcards
I wasn’t surprised to see a postcard from my father, but what I couldn’t believe was how soon he started sending them. Why would he send me something he knew I couldn’t read or appreciate?

My dad knew he’d always be traveling because of his career. He wasn’t going to be physically with me every day, but he wanted to be close to me regardless. He made a promise to send me a postcard from everywhere he went so I would always know he was thinking of me.

My father couldn’t control whether my mom would save the card for me or read it to me when I was older. (Luckily for him– and for me – she did save the card for me.) He couldn’t control whether the card would be lost in the mail or if I would ever know that he sent it. The only thing my father could control was sending the postcard.

That’s the thing about relationships. You cannot predict how the other party will respond. You can’t ensure that the other person will appreciate your efforts or sacrifices. The only thing you can control is your own actions.

So what can you do to create a special relationship with your child this year? Start today. Make a promise to your child you know you can keep. That promise will depend on your personal circumstances. Are you divorced and only see your child every other weekend? Do you live far from away? Do you live with your child but work long hours? Do you travel often?  Is the child a niece or nephew or grandchild?

Call every day. Facetime. Skype. Send a postcard. Send an email. Do whatever works for you … but do it consistently. Don’t worry whether or not your baby is old enough to know the difference. This is as much a promise to yourself.

It doesn’t matter what route you choose or what promise you make as long as the message to the child is clear: I love you.

Don’t leave your relationships with your children to chance. Not this year.  Take control of that which is in your control, regardless of the circumstances. Do that and you’ve already won half the battle.

In the years to come, your children will grow to cherish the promises you make and keep, and they’ll know you will always be with them—even when you’re not

The Expected Surprise

Surprises are often used as a way to communicate love or appreciation. Regardless of your personal feelings about surprises (some people claim they hate them, these unexpected events are proven to increase dopamine production in our brains. But surprises don’t always have to be unexpected. You can actually create “surprise traditions” that can strengthen your relationships and bring incredible joy to your loved ones. Let me give you an example:

Twelve Decembers ago, I was in my boyfriend’s apartment studying for my law school exams. I heard the front door open and knew he’d arrived, but I did not expect what I saw next. The door slammed open as my boyfriend shoved in a large, bushy Christmas tree.  All I could see was his smile behind the fresh green branches that covered up his whole body.

“Surprise!”

I was indeed stunned.  This was our first Christmas dating and we didn’t live together so the last thing I expected was for us to decorate a Christmas tree at his place.

Amazed, I muttered a “Thanks babe!”

When I was little, my mom and my stepfather put up an artificial white Christmas tree every year. It was pretty, didn’t make a mess, and was a one-time expense. There was nothing wrong with it. But in all the Christmas movies I watched, I’d see families going out to pick their special tree at a local farm. I dreamed of how it would look and smell in my home if I had one of my own.

“You said you always wanted a ‘real’ Christmas tree when you were growing up so I figured, why not get you one this year. Even though you don’t live here, we can put our gifts under this tree and celebrate Christmas together.”

Now, thanks to my boyfriend, I finally had a real tree. I was touched.  Excited we purchased a box of Christmas lights and candy canes to adorn it.

That boyfriend became my husband and now, twelve years later, he still “surprises” me with a Christmas tree every winter—even though it’s an expected surprise.

You see, I was sure that after we were married, we would go together each year to buy our tree. In early December of our first year of marriage, he told me he was going to the store to pick up something we needed. But guess what he returned with instead. Yes. A tree.  

The following year he did the same thing. Then we had kids. I wasn’t sure how he was going to handle that. Would we start buying trees as a happy family, or would he surprise the kids as well? Neither. Year after year, he takes the kids with him and they all surprise me!

Every winter I know that my husband, Orlando, is going to buy me a Christmas tree, but I never know how or when it’s coming. This year he bought it the day before Thanksgiving. Other years he buys it the first week of December, or the day after Thanksgiving, or on the day of my December birthday. The “surprise day” the tree arrives is part of our family tradition.

This tradition brightens every Christmas holiday. My kids look forward to conspiring with their dad to ensure that I will be surprised, and I feel so special that they go through all the trouble.  Knowing they are going to buy me the tree doesn’t make the surprise any less special. It’s more special because it is also a tradition. Every time I think of Christmas, I think about how wonderful my family is. When my boys grow up, they may repeat our tradition with their own families, or maybe they will come up with surprises of their own, but they will carry our Christmas tree tradition in their hearts when we’re no longer around.

Create a “surprise tradition” in your family. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. All you need is a simple surprise to communicate “I love you.” Surprises are repeatable. As you do surprise your family again and again, your special act will become a tradition. You will plant seeds in the hearts of your loved ones that will be there even when you’re not.

Please tell me in the comments below what “expected surprise traditions” you have in your family, no matter what the occasion. Include as many details as you can so you can help someone who needs a boost.