Keeping Tradition

Traditions are important. For the past eleven years, my husband and I have reserved one weekend to travel to a Lions football game, choosing a new stadium each season. We’ve remained dedicated to this tradition every year (with the exception of Year Seven when our middle son arrived five weeks early and we gave up 7th row seats for a hospital room with a 27” screen and bad reception). This away game vacation started years before marriage and kids, and has oscillated between trips with friends and just the two of us, depending on what our relationship needed at the time (and who we could con into coming with us).

Over the years, I’ve watched these trips evolve as our finances and then our children have dictated. We started simply in 2008 with a couple friends and a visit to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, our temporary hometown at the time. No hotel bill, no gas money necessary. The following year, we carpooled to nearby Cincinnati with a group to bar hop, tailgate, and watch another Lions’ loss. Year Three led us to Detroit, our team’s home-base where we crashed with my husband’s little sister and watched yet another defeat against the Chicago Bears. We dined at iHop and snuck drinks into the stadium. Those first few years, in the early stages of our careers when money was tight, we kept things pretty local and pretty cheap.

 

In Year Four, newly married and with joint bank accounts, we expanded our horizons and jumped on a plane for a romantic weekend in California, taking in San Francisco and Napa Valley before closing our adventure with a game against the Oakland Raiders. We may have been spit on and verbally assaulted, but our guys came out with a big win securing a playoff spot and inciting a mob of hostile Raiders fans. This weekend also stands out in my mind as it was the first time I ever bought a pregnancy test (and by “I,” I mean I made my husband do it because at 28 and on the other side of the country, I was still convinced someone would see me and call my mom).

Year Five brought our first child, and knowing I would be very pregnant by fall, we bought tickets to a game in Nashville, a 4 hour drive from our Indy home. The week of the game, I landed in the hospital with kidney stones and was confined to a morphine drip until Friday when I was released. On Saturday, we drove to Tennessee anyways and sat in 90 degree heat to take in another Lions’ loss. We had started a tradition, and I take these things seriously. Exhausted, sunburnt and defeated, I still felt victorious. We had held to tradition.

Without the expansive support system around us, family and friends who are always obliged to lend a hand and love on our babies, the tradition would have ended there. Five good years, one Lions’ victory, and then years of watching from the couch. But we have Grandmas and Grandpas and Aunties-by-Blood and Aunties-by-Love who rarely bat an eye when asked to watch our kiddos, so with a one-year-old at home, we lined up a road trip to Philly in 2013 and watched beneath a blizzard as the Lions slip-slided their way through a Snow Bowl and into another losing game. The roads were shut down, flights cancelled, and the city came to a near stand-still, but we soldiered on, driving at a snail’s pace through the night and back home to our baby – albeit a few days later than originally planned.

 

Again, in Year Seven, we knew we’d be in the final stages of pregnancy, so we planned a trip closer to home, but when my water broke 5 weeks early and 36 hours before game day, we tossed our 7th row tickets and spent Sunday in the NICU with pizza ordered in and a brand new son. It was another Lions loss, but I don’t recall watching the game.

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The following season, pregnant again and not wanting to fly given the pre-term birth of our second baby, we drove to Minnesota. Engine troubles developed a few hours into the trek. We kept going. Our truck finally broke down somewhere in Wisconsin, but we found a dealership to get us back on the road and to Minneapolis by Sunday. Golden Gopher Stadium, the temporary home of the Vikings that year, provided a close up view of another disappointment from our 12th row seats. Had we known the outcome (which we should have by then), we could have saved some cash and ate our nachos from the nose-bleeds.

 

We upped our game again in Year Nine and drove the 14 hours to New Orleans (this time, we made our friend drive his truck which also ran into engine trouble in Nashville). There are worse places to break down. We took in Music City and by the next night were drinking ourselves down Bourbon Street, splurging on steak and seafood larger than our heads and a French Quarter hotel room equipped with a spiral staircase and indoor garden. There was an unfortunate incident involving a stranger’s vomit and my open-toed shoes but after a thorough scrub down at the hotel, we managed a few hours’ sleep before game time where we cheered Detroit on to their second win across our years of travel.

 

Last season, following an eventful (and expensive) Mardi Gras style party the year before, my husband and I were ready to quiet it down, so we flew to stay with friends in Baltimore.

baltimore

We sampled local oysters and crab cakes and walked the harbor, Fed Hill and Fells Point. Game time proved festive yet altogether disappointing for the Lions, but the beautiful December weather and friendly fans kept our spirits high on that 48 hour trip to Maryland. We came home to three happy babies and one exhausted Auntie on Monday morning.

So this year, when all signs pointed to cancelling our long-standing tradition, I did not waver. We’ve remained steadfast through hospital stays, pregnancies, blizzards and breakdowns both mental and mechanical. This was our thing, and I would not be moved.

In the two weeks leading up to this Year Eleven trip, we were thrown a few curve balls. My grandmother, sick with Alzheimer’s for many years, lingered in the space between heaven and Earth. The active dying process had set in and we all waited for the end to finally come, making last minute trips north to sit at her bedside and help with arrangements. Her funeral was held the day before my flight. Simultaneously, we had welcomed our first foster child into our home and were adjusting to the demands of a smiley but equally needy infant as well as everything else that comes with foster care – the home visits, the carting back and forth for parental time, the copious amounts of paperwork.

But with a mother-in-law and eager Auntie on the ready to watch our four boys, I rallied and got myself on a plane to Arizona because I am committed to this tradition my husband and I have built together. Our unusually valiant efforts were even rewarded with a Lions win, the third of our eleven years, chasing them and each other around the country.

 

I recognize that what originally began as a fun afternoon has, over time and the subsequent growth of our marriage, morphed into days that need to be protected. In 2008, with two twenty-somethings in the early stages of dating, a day spent at a football stadium required zero effort or sacrifice. It could happen with little to no notice. In 2018, finding even a couple hours together without distraction requires planning and commitment. It involves third parties whose schedules also need to be considered. It takes work and dedication to be together at this stage of the game, and unlike our Lions, defeat is not an option.

These weekends are our time to remember where we started and why we continue to hold on to one another and to the traditions we have built in this shared life full of children and long hours and arguments and responsibilities, full of days when we don’t want to hold on to each other at all. These weekends, these days of tradition, are carefully planned and then fiercely guarded, providing us an opportunity to relish in the things that keep us together and in love. A football game in the deep of December. A glass of Pinot in the hills of Napa. The brassy sound of a New Orleans street corner. A desert vista in the haze of morning sun, the dusty breeze pushing us back together where we belong.

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