I come from the land of people who save the best for last. New Englanders. Puritans. We are known for squirreling things away until they fall apart, at which point we can fix them and then use them.

My grandfather embodied this principle. He was a farmer, a carpenter, and a collector. He saved the best for last even with his farm. Would he take a bite from a delicious red tomato hanging on the vine? Of course not. He'd pick that tomato and bring it home. He'd then eat the tomatoes that had been sitting there for a while and that had, in the meantime, gone bad. The new tomato was next in line to be a bad tomato. Our family spent years caught in the cycle of rotting vegetables, unless we could sneak past him and pick something fresh for ourselves.

He did the same with his building materials. He'd take a splintered piece of wood to patch something up around the house, saying he wanted to save the good wood out in the barn. He had scrap nails, tools, wood, and windows, which he used daily, but he had a barn full of excellent materials, which he did not use at all.

When he died, his children cleaned out "the good barn" only to find that all of the good stuff had gone bad. His beloved wood was full of termites. Not only could they not use it or sell it, they had to pay to get rid of it-"the good stuff."

Maybe we're not all as extreme as Gramp, but how often do you use your china? Wear jewelry? Dress-up "just because?"

When my grandmother died, I inherited her collection of china teacups. I'm not a woman who is known for hosting teas nor am I a woman who has ever owned a piece of china. What was I to do with these delicate gifts?

My at-the-time-five-year-old daughter knew. "Ooooooo," she said. "We can have a tea party!"

I only paused for a second before I said, "Yes. Yes, we can."

We planned our first annual Valentine's Tea Party three years ago for a bunch of little girls who love to get dressed up and drink hot chocolate out of china teacups. They came bedecked and bedazzled in tiaras and tutus, boas and faux jewels, and they sipped from my grandmother's china, which, to my knowledge, had never been used.

They had a glorious time toasting one another and lifting their tiny pinkies into the air. And I thought, If the teacups break, they break because I'd rather have something broken in a time of absolute delight than have it intact, gathering dust on the shelf.

My daughter has helped me live this way in other ways, as well. Like many children, she has never needed an occasion to dress-up. Little ones don't need to be going somewhere fancy to wear something fancy. She often heads to school or even the playground in a skirt with a sparkly holiday shirt. She wears patterned tights with patterned dresses and considers black and gray (my old staples), "blah."

A few days after the tea party, some mom friends and I went out to dinner. Like many moms, we don't get out much. Although we weren't going anywhere elegant, we dressed for more than the occasion required. We've learned that if you keep waiting for the right fancy occasion to wear your faux leopard vest or your sparkly earrings, you might be waiting a long, long time.

I learned what not to do from my grandfather's piles of "good stuff" gone bad. I learned what to do from my daughter's seizing the moment, china and all. With that in mind, I say:

Use the pretty wine glass, even when you don't have guests.

Wear your sparkly earrings, even to carpool.

Rock your red boots, even to your very own dinner table.

And please, eat the good tomato first. You're worth it.

About the Author

Amy Cooper Rodriguez

Amy Cooper Rodriguez is a parenting writer, physical therapist, and mother of two. Her work has appeared on Babble and in numerous parenting magazines.

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