When my kids were little our weekly pre-weekend routine involved a trip to a wine and fine foods store called Ronnie's. For a couple of toddlers, going to a wine store might not strike you as an appropriate outing. But there was something special for them about this place: the best ciabatta ever, with samples aplenty. Or at least that's how the children remember it. When Central Market moved in up the street and crowds flocked there, Ronnie's soldiered on but eventually was out of business. CM has good bread with samples, too, and I can often coax one or both of the kids to tag along on my weekly trip. But though my daughter and son are into their second decade, they have a wistful recollection of our Friday morning ritual.
I know this because they always mention it when we are enjoying another ritual, a weekend breakfast at Yogi's, which is across the street from where Ronnie's was almost a decade ago. As enjoy our food (always the same: they have "everything" bagels and chocolate milk, I have migas or a Greek omelet) we talk about the week, say hello to the friends we inevitably run into, and then one of them sighs and says, "remember how good that bread was?"
Since my teenage years I've learned that to stay grounded I need to do a few things every day. Exercise, even if it's a half-hour walk with the dog, is critical because I blow off nervous energy. If I don't do this, I get irritable and brood more than usual. I also need to read, not just the news but also something with language that satisfies me, usually a book but sometimes a blog or a magazine, because it helps me remember the beauty in the world. And nearly every night I take a hot bath, which tells me it's nearly time for bed and rest. Most important, I need to make time to see friends in person, not just electronically. As a busy person with an inclination to put ticking off my to-do list ahead of human interaction (I confess I just don't understand people who make friends at the gym--how can they waste all that time?) I need to book appointments to see my friends. It doesn't just happen as part of my day, but if I don't schedule it I spend way too much time in my own head, which gets pretty stuffy and rather bitchy after a time.
Rituals are touchstones that help us remember who we were and understand who we are now. They keep us grounded when life changes rapidly. My kids have those breakfasts and reading time with me, and Saturday night is always movie night at their dad's house. These things have helped sustain them through a huge and irreparable change in their young lives.
Eating a meal with them at a place we've gone for years is sort of like the pencil marks on the wall in the kitchen in the house where they've grown up. I lived there with them for eight years, but don't anymore (their Dad is the keeper of the pencil marks) and sometimes feel as though I've lost part of their childhood because many of the familiar places in their lives are no longer where I belong. But when we go into Yogi's and I see parents there with their teenagers and college-aged kids, talking with friends and enjoying each other, I know we're sharing something that feeds us all in lots of ways.