Friday, December 5, 2008

Being willing to modify tradition

We had a great Thanksgiving here, hope you all did. The holiday feast has moved to our house over the past decade because I love to cook, and we seem to have no shortage of family and friends who are happy to contribute and eat. But there is a certain level of stress, and a tad bit of work, to pulling it off.

I was on the bus the other day and overheard a woman say “I think I’m getting to that “Bah Humbug” stage of life where I don’t want to go through all the holiday hassle. I tried to get my family to go out to a restaurant.” This got me thinking about a story some friends of mine used to tell. One year, they headed up to visit her folks for the holiday. It’s was about a 3-4 hour drive to Seattle from Portland in those days, and all the way up they were thinking about drumsticks, mounds of mashers and puddles of gravy. They were anticipating the joy of walking into the house from a cold day and smelling all those aromas melding into a sensory explosion. Imagine their concern when they walked in and smelled…nothing.

Seems Mom had decided that it was just too hard and too much stress to cook the meal the day it was to be eaten. She had a new microwave and she intended to use it. She had peacefully cooked up the components of the meal over the weeks leading up and carefully interred them in the freezer. Dessert was even apportioned and ready to go with dessert spoons on the plate. I’ve tried to banish the thought of Swanson TV dinners with this tale, to no avail.

But while it’s easy perhaps to make fun, thinking back I’ve come to realize my friend’s Mom had done a wise thing for her. She had gotten to a point where what was once easy was stressful; where what was expected of her was not what she wanted to do. So she took control and changed the rules. She decided that doing things the same old way got in the way of her enjoyment of the holiday and her family. It’s really an admirable thing, even if I shudder at the thought of serving turkey dinner from the microwave.

This is what we need to do as we age. We need to recognize that the old ways of bathing, cooking, storing things may have been fine when we were young but as we age, we have to modify our routines. And we should do it in a way that makes us feel proud, not beleaguered. We can use new designs and new technology to our benefit. A walk-in bathtub might carry a connotation, but it’s a safer way to get a relaxing soak. Web cameras and social networking sites can help us maintain contact with friends and family and even make new friends, even if we are less mobile. Removing steps to a sunken living room may be just the way to banish the old Rat Pack era design ethics and create a more modern, safer living area. And deciding that downstairs bedroom is really just as good as the one on at the top of the stairs is a great way to intelligently change the way we do things to adapt to the way we are today.

Tradition is great and we all love to remember “the old days.” But when it comes to traditional, inflexible and intolerant aspects of home design, the sooner we relegate them to memories, the better.