author Jackie Madden Haugh talks about Family TraditionsMy mother instilled family traditions in her children with an iron fist and demanded we follow, or else. One such practice required me to kiss my three brothers before bedtime. Traveling from oldest to youngest, I was to leave a peck on their cheek before I made my way to my bedroom. It was a ritual she thought cute and one I grew to abhor.

In the early years, it wasn’t too bad because I actually liked them, plus no one had developed cooties or rancid body odors yet. But in high school, it felt incestuous. I was supposed to be making out with boys in parked cars and behind the bleachers, not kissing my brothers. Unfortunately, college didn’t prove to be any better. Despite the fact I was ready to let loose and swap spit with any agreeable non-family member, I learned quickly I wasn’t what guys considered dating material, but rather the proverbial buddy who they confided in or shed their tears on when dumped by a pretty co-ed.

But, when I met my children’s father, I finally got some action and shortly after, with the arrival of my four children, the kissing has never stopped.

In their youth, this ancient bedtime custom became crucial for me. It was my last chance in the day to connect with them, let them know they were safe, and immensely loved.

Finding my way under the covers as I tucked their small bodies in, I’d dust butterfly kisses all over their sweet, innocent faces. When that became a little too weird for their liking, I’d pretend I’d something extremely important to say. Leaning over their maturing bodies, I’d plant one last quick one on their slightly blemished and snarly mugs before they turned their heads and told me to go away.

But late at night, no matter what age they were, when the house was still and all that could be heard was rhythmic, peaceful breathing, I’d creep into their rooms, gently graze their foreheads with my lips one last time and silently pray, “Please God, keep them safe.”

In their teen years, this nightly custom took on a new meaning for me. Having morphed into superhuman creatures that needed little or no sleep, their late night outings left me exhausted. Lying in the dark waiting for their return, I’d silently pray, “Please, God, where the hell are they? Are they safe?” And when they finally arrived, to be sure they’d been behaving as expected, it was mandatory that they not slither to their bedrooms until I received one last smooch. This final kiss of their day also came with a sniff test. If there was even the slightest hint of peppermint gum on their breath, they were busted.

My kids are adults now. They make their own choices, and when they spend the night, I don’t have the power to tell them what time to be home. But without asking or expectation, the routine remains the same. In the wee hours of the morning, no matter what the time, each tiptoes into my bedroom, kisses me on the cheek, and says, “I’m home, Mom.” I then sleep contently for I know they’re safe.

It’s funny how a simple tradition starts innocently in childhood as an expression of love but turns into something incredibly deep and heart-warming as the years go by.

This Thanksgiving, I’ll be thankful for the uncomplicated gestures my children bestow on my life every day. The giggles, smiles, re-told stories, and kisses that take me back in time to the lovely memories of our life’s journey together. These are a constant reminder of why I consciously chose to become a parent in the first place and for that I’ll be eternally grateful.