Favorite Family Rituals

Every morning before my husband leaves for work, the four of us huddle up for a clumsy multi-limbed family hug. Dylan, the 3-year-old, shouts "I'm the lettuce!" Riley, the nearly-6-year-old, says, "I'm the hamburger." I say that I'm the ketchup, John says he's the tomato, and Dylan announces that, actually, he's the bun.

It goes from there: "I'm the waffle!" "I'm the jelly!" "I'm the syrup!"

Every morning, we declare ourselves to be some sort of ensemble food item. Like most of our family rituals, I can't remember how it got started, but now it's hard to imagine saying goodbye to anyone without triggering a cacophonous list of condiments.


At dinnertime, we recite our version of grace. With hands outstretched on the table and thumbs pointing up, the four of us chant, "Good food, good meat, good grief, let's eat!"—then we raise our thumbs skyward and shout, "TEEEEAAAAAM SHARPS!" before fist-bumping the person on either side of us. At that point, Dylan comically lowers his eyebrows and says, "Hey, who said sharks?" while we each shake our heads and proclaim our innocence.

As is required by tradition, I then turn to Dylan and say of our connected, fist-bumped hands: "We made a nonagon!"

"No, we made an octagon!" he says, grinning.

Riley rolls his eyes in fake exasperation, "You guys, we made a square. Do I have to say this every time?"

Whenever we're driving through a tunnel, everyone in the car starts howling. "Owwwooooooooooo," we intone solemnly as we pass through the darkened concrete. As soon as we emerge on the other side, one by one we say, "Oh! Not a wolf anymore."

Every other night it's my turn to tuck Riley in, and after our bedtime story, he smiles at me and says, "Can we do that loving thing?"

"Of course," I say and straighten up in order to stroke my chin and peer thoughtfully in the distance. "Okay, I love you one million, five hundred thousand, four hundred and forty-two, and eleven and a half."

"Well, I love you ... million billion hillion, and infinity plus three, and two quarters, and a jillion twelve, and fifty pennies, and infinity infinities, and seventy thousand hundred billion, and five, carry the two, plus a million."

"Wow," I always say. "That is the hugest number I ever heard of. I'm going to go study a math book so I can beat you next time." I shake my fist dramatically. "One of these days, Riley Sharps ... one of these days ..."

"You'll never beat ME."

When it's my turn to put Dylan to bed, he drags out his Magna-Doodle and says, "Can you draw my night-night horse?" And I do: a horse, a saddle, a cowboy. A sun in the corner. Three apples and a carrot, in case the horse gets hungry.

"Aw, Mommy, I love my horse."

These things we do every single day. I don't remember how each one came to be, but for whatever reason, they stuck. They're all silly, and they're all as meaningful as a prayer. I don't know how to describe it, really, but somehow bursting into a wolf howl while driving through a freeway tunnel is like a happy ode to our family. Fake-arguing over what geometrical shape our arms make is a way of saying, I love you. I love you, and you, and you. A million hillion.

Someday, I suppose, these little rituals will be long gone. My husband and I will hold out our hands and say, "Good food, good meat ..." and the kids will be like, oh GOD. So it goes, but please: let me remember what we used to do. Let me remember how comforting and joyous it was. Let me be able to tell my grown children someday, and let them get a faraway look in their eyes and say, "Oh! I remember that."

Do you have goofy family rituals that make you smile?

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