Back-to-School Memories

Planning for school is quite a task—choosing curriculum, ordering books, purchasing supplies.  It takes a lot of time and thought.  My mother never homeschooled her five children, but her job to prepare us for school was just as challenging.  She had an incredibly organized system to accomplish that goal, but the process never took precedence over making each of us children feel special.
 
A TRADITION IS BORN

In early August we took inventory of our clothing.  Mom sat on the edge of my bed with notepad in hand, recording my needs with the most beautiful cursive writing.  Ours was an extremely frugal family and often my list was short since I had an older sister whose hand-me-downs supplied most of my wardrobe.  My sister was much taller than I and the clothes never fit perfectly, but Mom altered them often by ripping out the seams and remaking the garment using the worn material.  There was one exception and that was the outfit for the first day of school.  Mom always made sure that we had something new to wear.

Our first stop was the upstairs sewing room where we’d pour over boxes of patterns and stacks of fabric my mother had bought inexpensively at a local warehouse.  I’d choose a pattern and fabric for my new shirt, skirt, gauchos, or pants.  If the fabric inventory was low or mom didn’t have a pattern in my size, we went to the fabric store, sat side-by-side paging through pattern books, and searched the remnant table for the perfect piece of fabric.

A few weeks later, with list in hand, Mom and I went school shopping for the things she could not sew.  This was a highlight of my year!  With four siblings, I recognized the treasure of having Mom all to myself for a few hours.  We generally started at Kmart (before the Wal-Mart years) and purchased the “foundational garments” mom couldn’t make.  Sometimes we bought shoes but our family most often went to a friend’s store to purchase everyone’s shoes at the same time.  We bought new notebooks, folders, notebook paper, a new box of 64 Crayola crayons complete with sharpener (I still love the smell of those crayons!), and whatever else we needed that year—a lock for a locker, an assignment book, or a book bag (pre-backpack years).  When every item on the list had been crossed off, Mom let us pick out something special that we wanted.  Once I chose a set of watercolors.  Another time we got a treat from the Kmart food counter—cherry red Icees with pictures of polar bears on the cup.  When I came home with my bags of treasures, I presented them to my siblings and later to my dad when he got home from work.

Our shopping days changed a bit over the years.  When I was in eighth grade, we went to the outlets in Redding, PA.  The following year when I was in high school, there were only three children at home and money wasn’t quite as tight.  We began to buy jeans and a few other things at the mall, but Mom still sewed whatever she could.  I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but she managed to make stylish clothes by combining several patterns for one garment or allowing us to help design our own pattern.  On our last school shopping trip, for college, she helped me find a rug remnant and coordinating comforters for my dorm room.  I remember little of the items we purchased over the years, but I still feel the warmth of uninterrupted time with Mom.

EMBRACING THE TRADITION

Now I am making precious back-to-school memories with our four daughters.  The first year I began to homeschool, I had a five-year-old, a two-year-old, and a six-week-old.  I wasn’t really thinking about shopping.  I was just glad to have my curriculum!  School days were short and we had many opportunities to shop for new clothes or school supplies we needed.  As the girls got older, I recognized the need to spend one-on-one time with them and my heart remembered those special shopping days with Mom.

We adopted the tradition of back-to-school shopping days, but with a Moore family twist.  We still take inventory of clothing, pass along the hand-me-downs (a rare thing since all the girls are now nearly the same size!) and I make a list of what each one needs.  We also take inventory of what school supplies each daughter has and will need in the coming school year.  I schedule a day for each daughter and together we “conquer the list.”  There is no sewing room or fabric or patterns.  I high-tail it to Wal-Mart!  We collect our school supplies first, and then we pick up any “foundational garments” and hit the sales racks.  Depending on what’s on the list, we may end up at our favorite thrift shop.  In our area of Virginia, it’s not always easy to find winter clothes in August, so we often finish our shopping later in the season.

Like my mom, I let the girls choose something they’d like—something that isn’t a necessity.  Over the years, Abigail chose a bendable pink ruler, Anna chose a collapsible ruler, Elisabeth chose a paint-by-number picture of a horse, and Victoria chose a beautifully decorated journal notebook.  If it fits in the budget, we may get some ice cream or even have lunch at a fast food restaurant.  Most of all I make opportunity laugh and to listen.  I don’t want it to be a totally serious time, but if it seems appropriate I’ll ask what they liked or disliked about the school year before, what they’re looking forward to, and what they’re thinking about for the future.  And like days gone by, when we return home one sister joyfully shares her newly-purchased treasures with the other sisters.

This year I thought we’d try something different.  Since time was limited because of our Guatemala missions trip, I thought we’d do a joint shopping day at an outlet center sometime in the fall.  It seemed like a good idea at the time since two are at the community college and didn’t really need much in the way of supplies or clothing.  But here I am, three weeks into school, feeling the loss of those special moments with my girls.  I don’t miss the shopping, but it’s not really about shopping.  I miss the one-on-one time with my daughters, one way I can communicate to them how precious and valuable they are to me.  It doesn't matter that we’ve already started school.  I’ll squeeze in some time with my girls between Chemistry and Algebra 2, and thank my mom for taking time to make back-to-school memories with me.

Christmas Traditions

Traditions are very important to our family.  We all look forward to events and celebrations, especially during the Christmas season.  I believe traditions are important to God.  God gave the children of Israel specific instructions for annual feasts of celebration.  He asked them to start the New Year with repentance, to celebrate the first fruits of the harvest with thanksgiving, and to remember the Passover and His salvation of the Israelites in Egypt.  Each celebration was designed to remind the Israelites of their identity and the identity of God.
Today, our celebrations aren’t called feasts, we call them holidays.  The word holidays comes from “holy days,” days that are set apart.  The purpose is still the same—to remind our families of our identity in Christ and the identity of our Holy God.  Here are some things that our family does to celebrate Christmas and set this season apart from the rest of our year.

Deck the Halls The day after Thanksgiving our Christmas season begins.  We turn on the local radio station that plays all Christmas music, haul the decorations out of the attic and begin to transform our home.  The first decoration to be put up and the last to be taken down is the baby Jesus in the nativity.  I want our family to always keep in mind why we are celebrating.  Harold puts lights up outside and the girls and I decorate inside. One of my favorite things is hanging the stockings.  Several years ago, the girls sewed their own stocking as a sewing project.  Each stocking is made of different fabric and represents the girls:  Victoria’s is Asian satin with a bead fringe, Elisabeth’s is gold felt with a horse patch, Anna’s royal blue stocking has a curled toe with white snowflake buttons sprinkled throughout, and Abigail’s is red with a snowman complete with a carrot button for a nose.

Away in a Manger In our culture it’s easy for the true meaning of Christmas to be lost amidst all the commercialism. When Victoria was about three years old, I bought a plastic nativity complete with Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, shepherds, sheep, wisemen, and an angel.  (Would you believe that fifteen years later we still have all the pieces?!)  As Daddy read a child’s version of the birth of Jesus, little Victoria made the people do whatever the story said.  As the girls grew, the youngest one took the role of moving the people and we graduated to reading from the Bible.

O Christmas Tree The tree is the last thing to be decorated, which brings us to one of my favorite traditions.  Before we decorate the tree, each girl receives her ornament for the year, based on what has happened in the past twelve months.  We have quite a collection:  many musical instruments, ballet dancers, a stuffed tooth, a girl with braces, a girl on roller skates with a cast painted on with nail polish, a license plate, frames with photos, and more unique ones that would take much longer to explain.  Some are homemade and some are from a gift shop.  Often, we purchase ornaments while we’re on vacation. (After all, I have to have something to put on the tree after the girls leave and take all their ornaments!)  Our tree doesn’t look like anything from a magazine, but I love looking at the ornaments each year and reflecting on the memories they hold.  Now that the girls are older, each girl puts her own ornaments on the tree.

Angels We Have Heard on High There are so many special events going on in our area during the month of December.  One family I know always goes to the see the Nutcracker ballet, another goes to a Handel’s Messiah sing-a-long.  Our family enjoys cultural events (and of course the girls love to dress up!) so Harold and I look for a cultural event to celebrate the season.  Through reduced rates for homeschoolers and generous grandparents, we’ve been privileged to attend the Nutcracker, another ballet from a local Christian ballet company, the stage production of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, the symphony, just to name a few. One thing we never miss is the Grand Illumination in Williamsburg, VA—about an hour from our home. We love to walk through the restored area any time of the year, but at Christmas time it is especially beautiful with decorations on each house made from God’s creation—dried fruits, flowers, and even oyster shells.  On the first Sunday in December, they light electric candles in the windows of the houses, there are various musicians playing, bonfires burning and the then the finale—grand fireworks in three locations and synchronized perfectly.

Over the River and Through the Woods As a girl, we traveled nearly every Christmas morning so we could be with my grandmother, about five hours south of us.  We did get to celebrate Christmas early, but I missed being home.  When we got married, Harold and I established that we would travel to my family the weekend before Christmas (about 6 hours north) and to his family the weekend after Christmas (about 5 hours west).  We get to see everyone and we get to enjoy Christmas in our own home.  It hasn’t always been easy to pack up the kids and travel, but I know it has been a blessing to our parents.  Someday, I know I’ll be on the waiting end of those grandchildren running in the door just waiting to give hugs.

Here We Come a Caroling Christmas just isn’t Christmas without carols.  For the past ten years, Harold and the girls and I have caroled to our neighbors.  We used to carol on Christmas Eve, but many of them weren’t home.  Now we keep an eye out during the week before Christmas to see when our neighbors are home.  The neighbors really seem to look forward to it.  It’s a great way to keep connected to people that we otherwise rarely see.

O, Holy Night Christmas Eve has always been a family time, but each year has looked a little different.  When the girls were very small, we were part of a church plant that did not have a service on Christmas Eve.  Instead, we baked cookies in the afternoon, had a quiet dinner and took the girls to a live nativity scene.  We put the kids to bed early so Harold and I could wrap and assemble presents. Years later, our little church merged with an established church (that’s a story for another article!).    This new church began a Christmas Eve celebration with music and worship dance that continues to this day.  We traded our quiet Christmas Eve dinner for being a part of celebrating our Savior’s birth with our church family.  Over the years, our family has played handbells, the girls have been angels and dancers, and Harold, Victoria, and I have been narrators—thankfully not all in one year!  Many years we’ve had two different services and left church quite late, but we always take the long way home and admire the lights in the city.

Birthday of a King My mother comes from a family of eight children who continue to get together every Christmas.  Some years there were as many as 80 uncles, aunts, and cousins at the reunion.  Though many of the families were following Christ, my grandmother made sure she made the most of every opportunity to continue to plant seeds in the lives of her family.  Each Christmas baby Jesus was removed from her nativity and put on the cake she had made.  Then all the children would gather round as she lit candles and we all sang “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.  My grandmother now celebrates Christmas with her Lord, but my Aunt carries on the tradition for the great and great-great grandchildren. When the girls were younger, we made a special, very symbolic birthday cake for Jesus from information that my friend Lucinda gave me.  I have posted our special “recipe” in a separate document. (click here) I’ve used this cake for our family Christmas celebration, for Sunday School groups and Bible study groups.  This year, one of the girls asked if we could do it again.  You’re never too old to sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.

From March of the Toys to Simple Gifts I will never forget the year of the ungrateful Christmas.  God had blessed us immeasurably.  Harold, our two oldest girls and I had moved into a new home and we were excitedly expecting daughter #3.  Money was tight, but Harold and I sacrificed so the girls would have a great Christmas.  (Read:  lots of presents to open)  On Christmas morning, Harold reminded the girls of the baby Jesus we were celebrating, why we were giving them gifts, and then we prayed together.  From that moment on, they were out of control, running from one present to the next, calling out to us, “What’s next?” “Is that all?”  Harold and I were dumbfounded.  Whose kids were these, these ungrateful preschoolers?  We knew something had to change. After much prayer, Harold and I decided to try something new.  We would open one present at a time while everyone watched.  Then the girls had time to thank whoever gave the present.  And the big one…each girl would receive only three presents to open.  It was hard for me because I like to give presents, but it helped the girls to know how many presents they had to open and no one asked, “Is that all?” (Truly, the girls had more than three presents to open, since they bought presents for each other that we also opened on Christmas morning.)  It also helped me to choose carefully and to set a limit instead of picking up just one more thing.  Today, we still carry on the tradition of three presents to open, but now we’ve added one in the stocking so technically that’s four.  (Sometimes we’ve included two closely related items wrapped in one package such as a doll and a doll outfit or a boombox and batteries.)  These aren’t three expensive presents, like ipods or other electronics.   Last year, Anna and Abigail each received a red felt cape that I made.  Elisabeth got a cookbook I made.  Victoria got a scrapbook of pictures from her trip to Asia.  Simple, but the girls loved them.

Click here to read more about the Three Gift Policy…

Now it’s your turn… Our family looks forward to our Christmas traditions with great anticipation.  We love to tell stories of our traditions and we love to hear the stories of other families.  If you have a tradition that you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you.  Please post your ideas to this article.  May God bless your family, however  you choose to celebrate the birth of our Savior.