Tiny dog with green hat on

Good luck is a tradition.

My mom is of Irish and German ancestry and my dad is full-blooded Italian-American. Mom wanted her children–all six of us–to appreciate our Irish heritage. So on St. Patrick’s day, she had a good luck tradition: putting green food coloring in the milk for our morning cereal.

Although the surprise wore off after a few years as I got older, I loved it. It made the whole day special. School was more fun. Even math was tolerable. The morning ritual put excitement in the air like a brewing snowstorm gave me hope for a snow day.

When I had my own children, I chose to carry on the tradition.

The good luck continued.

The night before St. Patrick’s Day, I waited until my two boys were in bed. Then I snuck into the kitchen and gathered my supplies: green food coloring, disposable latex gloves, and a half-gallon of milk in a cardboard carton.  (Plastic milk cartons don’t work–you can see the green milk, which completely ruins the surprise.) And don’t skip the gloves. Nothing screams “mom playing leprechaun” more than green-stained fingers.

After I did the dirty deed, I went to bed smug with the satisfaction of being a fun mom.

In the morning, I hurried down in the kitchen before my kids. When they were, say, four and nine, as they sat down to eat and the milk splashed onto their Wheat Chex, the drama would unfold like this:

Sons: Ewww. Green milk. 

Me:  Oh no! Green milk? Really? Lemme see.

Sons: Haha! Oh yeah, it’s St. Patrick’s Day.

Me: The leprechauns must have been here! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Sons: You’re the best mom ever!

(My memory may be a little fuzzy on that last line.)

When my boys were more like 12 and 17, as they poured the green milk over their Lucky Charms (I got lax on my healthy cereal rules), the tradition would unfold like this:

Sons, eyes rolling: [Cue sound of crickets chirping.]

Me: “Hey, is that green milk? Wow, the leprechauns must have been here! Happy St. Patrick’s Day, guys!

Sons, eyes rolling:  [Cue sound of crunching.]

Maybe they didn’t care. Maybe they forgot all about it as they went to school. Maybe they told their friends about their wacky mom and the gross milk.

But maybe, deep inside, they drank in the love their mom put in that green milk. Maybe they got a taste of how simple and yet how important it is to make a day special, how important traditions are–good luck and otherwise.

Maybe they knew it was less about luck and all about love.

If I accomplished only that, I’m a wee bit more magical than a leprechaun.

Now 25 and 30, my sons are adults. They eat breakfast in their own kitchens, so I can’t sneak in to color their milk or monitor their cereal choice. They have no kids of their own and none on the horizon. When they visit, they don’t roll their eyes, even when I may deserve it.

Through the lens of time and the miles between us, I see that the good luck tradition has sprouted some pretty beautiful growth. Just like it did in me so many years ago.

Some people are always chasing after the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, but the best in life is not that elusive. It’s within us, waiting to be discovered and celebrated.

Just like green milk on St. Patrick’s Day. (THIS is totally cheating!)

Many blessings and the luck o’ the Irish to you today, no matter your heritage.


  • Karen DeBonis

    Karen DeBonis writes about motherhood, people-pleasing, and personal growth, the entangled mix told in her memoir "Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived" forthcoming in spring 2023. Subscribe today to receive Chapter 1: A Reckoning.

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  1. Jack Herlocker on March 17, 2018 at 8:18 PM

    Karen, I remember this from last year. I read it shortly after I started following you on Medium and Well Nested Life. With a year of knowing you better, I now react with, “Yup, that’s Karen being Karen!” rather than “Well… interesting.” Perspective is everything. 🙂

  2. Karen DeBonis on March 17, 2018 at 8:33 PM

    You know me so well, Jack! Better than much of my family, sometimes. Hmmm. I’ll have to mull that over. Maybe I only share the true me in my writing. Hmmm.

  3. Sarah Dahl on March 17, 2018 at 8:49 PM

    Love that story and the tradition.

  4. Anne Moore on March 18, 2018 at 1:16 AM

    Love this Karen ! Brings back so many memories from my childhood . My mom did the same for all her 11 kids and each have enjoyed passing along traditions to our own kids !

  5. Janis on March 18, 2018 at 12:29 PM

    Wish I could remember things in my kids childhood like you do Karen. When Matt and Stephen read your stories it must bring a little smirky smile to their faces! But also bring back the memories of how wonderful childhood must have been with such loving caring parents to raise them. This is priceless in their lives to have these written words.

    • Karen DeBonis on March 18, 2018 at 6:52 PM

      Aw, that’s so sweet, Janis. Well, if you need memories, just open one of the dozens of photo albums and scrapbooks you’ve made for your kids! I have to keep my memories in my brain, as I’m so bad about pictures. And, what makes you think my sons read my stories???? LOL.

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