Holiday selfie with my brother Matthew and our sister Rebekah’s kiddos

December is a month full of traditions. You may recall, I started talking about the concept of tradition this year in my October column. My family has rituals around Halloween, and without question, Thanksgiving, plus the rest of the winter holidays — all certainly wear the mantle of tradition.

For some people, or at some times in our lives, tradition is nourishing. It feeds our souls. For others, or at other times, it’s not comfortable. (Or worse, boring, staid. Predictable. And dare I say, leads to excessive consumption of alcohol to medicate the difficult feelings that sometimes arise when we are following the unspoken family rules of doing what’s always been done!)

This year, at Thanksgiving, my husband was in an introverted mood, not willing to uphold the cultural expectation that he show up to a family gathering out of obligation and duty. He decided at the last minute not to attend our big extended-family dinner at the Wolf.

My sister Rebekah and my daughter Jett making cranberry sauce in the kitchen at The Wolf Oakland

At first, I was disappointed. A feeling which quickly turned to anger and resentment. I allowed it to cloud my festive mood. How could he not show up?! I had a million reasons why I thought he should and as I ran them through my mind, I got madder and madder.

And by the next morning, I understood. This man, who chose his own needs for quiet, alone time in the face of tremendous pressure to do otherwise, this is the man that is in my corner, choosing us, choosing me, on the regular. Choosing to nurture himself and stay home that day was a bold act of self care. And not a popular one.

My perfectly-perfect plus-one for Thanksgiving dinner, Rebecca Mattice

We are so conditioned to follow the rules; go when you don’t want to go because you are supposed to. I could have been celebrating him for the choice, not making him wrong. It took me a night of rest to make the shift toward compassion and arrive at this new perspective — the realization that if he needed to take that day to take care of himself then he would be doing what I preach every day — practicing self care.

We are all on the airplane, and if you listen to the flight attendant you’ll hear the advice: put your own mask on first before assisting other passengers.

Not coincidentally, my therapist shared this Barbara Tober quote with me: “Traditions are group efforts to keep the unexpected from happening.”

The quote points to a phenomenon. Tradition is about keeping things the same. Breaking tradition opens up a space for something new. It may be uncomfortable, or even painful, certainly aggravating to others, if we break tradition. But if we feel we have to do it, if we feel pulled or pushed by something deep inside, something real, authentic, true, we take that risk.

And then, we may be surprised.

As humans, in some ways, we have an addiction to certainty. We want to know outcome; what to expect. We want to be safe, in control.

But how is that survival instinct, that drive towards safety, robbing us of new experiences?

What if we allow tradition to break down? What if having tradition break down is part of a breakthrough?

I’m realizing that my own life, as much as I’ve worked hard to get here, marriage, homeownership, motherhood, business ownership, my friends, my exercise routine, while all good, hasn’t left a lot of room for the Mystery.

As a teenager, I struck out early. I broke away from my own parents in a way that I hope my children won’t have to. I wasn’t alone though, I had mentors, protectors, and friends — new family.

After a recent trip to New York that shook some of my assumptions and complacency loose, I am realizing that I want to stir things up. I want to experience the Mystery again. Because mystery and newness create awe.

Awe is what makes me feel the most alive.

In those moments, I realize what a miracle it is to be a human.

So I’m back to asking myself, in a way I haven’t since my adventurous, rule-breaking, life-creating teens and 20s, what would it be like if I could invite and allow the unexpected?

How does this relate to interior design? If you have been reading these columns for a while, you know that I advocate for making space for the unexpected in design. I experience this push-pull with many clients, how they might want what’s familiar, but they’ve hired me because they crave something new. We ride that edge together, choosing objects, textures, colors, furnishings, all the things — that is just enough familiar and just enough unexpected, so that there is a breakthrough, a transformation, something they couldn’t have thought of on their own.

Making space for Awe: That’s my life’s work for homes AND for the people who live in them.

A version of this article appeared in the Piedmont Post