Then and Now : Jennifer Bennett of Rey to Z
As our families grow we try and find ways to make sure our children stay connected to their roots. We draw from our own childhood experiences and build new traditions with our partners, children and the friends we make along the way. In our Then and Now series we talk to moms and dads about how they channel these rich customs, that have been passed down through the generations, in their parenting today.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and other than spending a few years working in California, I have spent most my life in either Michigan or Chicago, where my husband and I are currently raising our children. My parents grew up in very different places – with my mom from Ohio, and my dad born and raised in India. They met at work when my dad moved to the United States after graduate school. My full-time job is at an e-commerce retailer in Chicago, and I also run my own baseball hat company, called Rey to Z. We make monogrammed baseball hats for kids & adults. I have two children – my two year old daughter Reagan, and newborn son, Archer.
What were your favorite traditions growing up?
I loved doing special things with my family during the holidays. Every Christmas, my sister and I would decorate gingerbread houses with my mom. For Thanksgiving, we would do a big puzzle as a family with everyone participating to finish before the holiday weekend was over. Another fun tradition was my dad cooking Indian food every Sunday for our family. As a child, I loved trying the foods, and as I grew older, I loved learning how to help cook the dishes as well
Now that you have kids, has the way you embrace traditions changed?
I still enjoy traditions I grew up with, but have to adjust them to fit our family today. I tried making a gingerbread house with my 2 year old daughter this year, and it flopped, so we enjoyed eating the candy instead. She is also a picky eater, and hasn’t embraced Indian food the way I hoped, although I am optimistic that will change as she grows older! To me, it’s less about forcing a tradition, and more about creating new ones that feel right for your family.
How do you explain other families cultures and celebrations to your little ones?
We often read books about other cultures and traditions, even ones we don’t celebrate ourselves. My daughter responds really well to stories and pictures that she sees in books, and these days there is an abundance of literature available that share so many traditions, holidays, and different cultures.
Do you have a favorite recipe you’ve gotten from your family that your kids love?
Yes – I love making recipes that I grew up eating, and want to share with my kids. My grandma has a recipe for a Dobos Torte which is a sponge cake with a ton of thin layers and chocolate frosting. Growing up, my grandma baked it every year, then it was something my mom, sister and I did together, and now whoever can make it each given year does, but we always eat it together and it is both delicious and holds special memories. I know my kids will love carrying the tradition of baking as well.
How do you use clothes and accessories to teach your kids more about your heritage?
We celebrate Indian holidays such as Rakhi and Diwali with our family, and always try to dress our daughter in traditional Indian clothes so she can fully experience the holidays. As both my children grow older, and continue to celebrate with all their cousins, I think they will love how special these Indian holidays are, and appreciate how lucky they are to celebrate traditions from so many cultures!