All in Blended Family Traditions

The Easter Bunny skipped hiding plastic eggs at our house this year - opting for an Easter gift. In years past, if we didn't have the kids - the Easter Bunny usually made a surprise visit the weekend before or after.  You can click here to read a post I wrote last year about how we celebrated the Holiday.  

This morning Raylan and I slept in late - woke up - looked at each other - commenting how nice it was that we hadn't been up all hours of the night assisting the Easter Bunny only to be woken up two hours later by three screaming kids - "The Easter Bunny came!!!!"  

Over the years the night before Easter had become shorter and shorter thanks to Jax.

Last week Raylan and I made a trip to Kauai to sell the contents of our vacation condo we owned before the new owners took possession. As much as we would have loved to keep it - it was quickly becoming a choice between our kids College education or a home we visit once a year.  

It seemed like a no brainer thousands of miles away - until we walked through the front door - It looked AAAMAZINGGGG! Tears started to well up in my eyes as I looked around - a rush of memories came crashing down on me like a gigantic wave.  Maybe it wasn't going to be as easy as I thought..... 

From the very beginning, my Hubby made it clear that he hated Valentines Day so don't expect anything from him.  His philosophy was two fold.  First, if he needed a day to tell me he loved me then he wasn't doing a very good job the rest of the year.  Second, he's likened the Holiday to sanctioned extortion - either you buy your wife a gift or pay the consequences for not doing so!

In all honesty it never really bugged me - maybe it's the two bouquet of flowers he has sent me every single year for 13 years -  three days before Valentines Day, but NEVER on V Day! Or the "Just Because I Love You Day" we celebrate with our kids every year over a special dinner with a small gift exchange just coincidently around Valentines Day.  BUT, don't let any of that fool you because we DO NOT celebrate Valentines Day!

Creating traditions in our blended family gave us a launching pad for building our family unity and close relationships.  Two traditions we started early on have stuck with our family, movie night and bowling! The last two days of the Holiday break we were lucky enough to find time to do both with all three kids.  

Movies have been a big part of our family life.  Since the creation of our family, most nights we have watched a movie together. When the kids were younger, we would split the movie viewing over a couple of nights. The whole enchilada came as they've grown older.

Some movies we've seen a like million times - Home Alone! Ugh! Others we've had to negotiate with the kids - watch a 20 minute preview before they can say no to the particular film - never had a NO after the preview period.  Everyone in our family can repeat any number of favorite lines from hundreds of movie. No background information necessary - just the delivery of the line and we all chime in with the punch line. It's a language that created a bond that continues to grow with every laugh, thrill and cry we share.  

In fact, one of our family trips was inspired from a movie we watched together and the kids fell in love with - namely it's location.  The movie - Italian Job. The location - Venus, Italy.

Our Christmas holiday has been a little upside down and every which way this year. We haven't quite got our groove with the new reality - one home from College determining his own schedule, one almost ready to leave the nest and our youngest - 14- still needing and wanting structure in a Holiday schedule. 

In years past, the schedule simply rotated from year to year  -  one family spent the week before Christmas through Christmas Day at two o'clock with the kids - the other family spent Christmas Day through New Years Day.  No negotiation, that was just the deal we had all agreed too.  Parents and kids looked forward to essentially a Holiday break from the divorce schedule. 

This year when we acknowledged Jax"s freedom to make his own schedule as an "adult" we indirectly gave that freedom to Little Hart 14.

Our family not only survived our first Thanksgiving without a divorce decree, we managed to do it with a lot of fun and humor along the way.  Over the past thirteen years we have done a pretty good job of avoiding the two families splitting the actual holiday, opting instead to rotate between families.  

This year, Jax asked that we change the schedule mainly because of logistics; he was home FIVE short days with a very long list of people he wanted to spend time with including the respective extended families. To squeeze everyone in it meant splitting the holiday.

I have to admit, there have been a number of times over the years I secretly wished for the day one of my kids would turn 18. With my three youngest, it had nothing to do with them, rather the Ex. Specifically haggling with the ex over the "proposed" holiday schedule. One year Dick/Malus got miffed that I dare email a schedule over without "proposed" in the title.

Most of the years we have shared 50/50 custody with our respective Exes.  Agreeing on what was a fair 50% time split was a moving target year after year. By the time the actual Holiday rolled around, it felt like we had negotiated peace in the Middle East. Instead of wanting celebrate, I usually felt like going to bed for a few days due to mental exhaustion.

This year we've added a new twist - Jax turned 18 in July.  No longer a valid divorce decree awarding joint custody to his Mom and Dad. No more detailed spread sheets about what days he will spend at Mom's house and Dad's house.  In my opinion, that was a huge motivating factor in Jax going out of state for College - he could sleep every night in the same bed, his clothes all in one place - just one home base.

Today Jax is coming home for Thanksgiving! This isn't Mom or Dad's Thanksgiving - it's HIS THANKSGIVING!  But what home will he come home too?

This past weekend our Family of Five decided to meet up in Dallas/Fort Worth for the BYU vs. TCU football game at Cowboy Stadium.  Raylan, me, Elle and Little Hart flew in from SLC and Jax flew in from Phoenix. Jax's plane arrived twenty minutes after ours and we met up in the airport.  We had not seen him since we dropped him off at school in August.  It was very cool and strange all at the same time to be meeting our son in an airport terminal.  

The kids immediately fell into their old comfort zone and before we knew it - it was like old times - talking - laughing - teasing!!!!  The highlight of our trip was attending the game at Cowboy Stadium......

Hartman Family at Cowboy StadiumCowboy Stadium is an awesome sight to see!  

There were no tears shed when we dropped Jax off three weeks ago - only a blanket of sadness as we left town without him. In the back of everyone's mind we had Labor Day.  

Jax and Elle the early years

It was like a lot of other goodbyes over the years.  He was simply on vacation with his other family for a few weeks - not living in another state. It clearly had not sunk in.

Long before Jax had left, he planned to fly home for the Labor Day weekend to spend with our extended family. It was a tradition started by my parents long before Raylan and I created our Family of Five. When we introduced  Jax to the tradition he had an immediate connection with the tradition and the family dynamics.