Booting up for the New Year

Article originally appeared in the Gatehouse family of newspapers.

“Booting up for the New Year” by Saelen Ghose

After a long, restful vacation I feel like one of those old internet providers—the kind you’d dial-in, then go make tea and read the paper, before it finally connected. It always takes a while for me to “boot up” for the New Year. But my kids, even longer.

I’ve been hearing cries of rebellion for the last few weeks as school and extra-curricular activities have resumed again, squeezing hours out of the day, that for a while were filled with just sitting around being bored. I no longer hear, “Dad, I am bored.” It’s more like, “Dad, I wish I were bored.”  To which I respond, “Me too.”

Boy do I wish I were bored. Or rather, had time in my day where I could choose to be bored if I wanted to. But instead I find myself right back in full swing, making lunches, signing permission slips, working, chauffering to practices, making dinners, cleaning up dinners, helping with homework, putting the kids to bed, and working more. And of course there’s the ever-present dog to take care of.

So I’m wondering how to stop from falling into familiar patterns? Is it possible to ignore what everyone else is doing, and make decisions that work specifically for my family? Is there a way to make life flow in a more congruous way, rather than being so fragmented? Can I find balance?

I think a good start would be to impose a simple family rule: my wife and I make the decisions for the family. I do believe it’s important to empower kids to think for themselves and also important to encourage them to make their own decisions. But while those are important qualities to impart, sometimes those teachings can backfire, especially when the kids think they’re running the show.

Just the other day, my wife and I wanted to take a family hike in the woods. Instead of cheers from the gallery we heard moans and groans as if we told the kids it was time to go get their flu shots. We ignored their cries and went ahead with our plans. We knew that once we were surrounded by the clean, wooded air, everyone would have a great time. And we were right. The dog playfully roamed free for once, the kids explored streams and rotted tree trunks, and my wife and I took it all in and relaxed. We were all able to decompress and dial out for a moment, which needs to happen more often. But for me, the best part was that we were all together.

Too much of our family time is spent dividing and conquering. We have to because our schedule is insane, like most modern families. Weekends sound like this. “I’ll drive to soccer, then pick up the presents for the party.” “Sounds good. It’s my turn to carpool to basketball. Then I’ll pick up the boys from the party later.” “Great. I’m helping sell Girl Scout cookies this afternoon, so we’ll rendezvous at the pizza joint some time this evening.” “Perfect.” And by the time the day is done, the kids are fried, and my wife and I barely have enough energy to get up off the couch and go to bed.

Believe me, a part of that schedule I love. My favorite activity is watching my kids participate in the activities they love. But these types of weekends often revolve around individuals in our family, rather than our family as a whole.

I’d like to change that this new year. When we asked the kids what their highlights were for 2011, most of their responses involved some sort of family outing or vacation. And seeing that those particular activities took up a very small percentage of the year, that was quite telling. Sure, it’s difficult to get five people on the same page at any given time, but bringing the family together as a unit is vital for our collective well-being. We are a team, and the best way to gel like a team is to play together often.

So here’s to 2012. Same people, but hoping for some new habits. More time together, arguing over which station to listen to, who leads the hike, and what restaurant we’ll go to. But somehow I know all those arguments will be forgotten as memories form, prioritizing the good times. My guess is, we’ll all only remember what mattered most: time spent together as one.

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