Upon quite rare occasion, a post is pertinent to more than one of my blogs. In this case, the new year's resolution proposed by the title came from an essay I published in a collection of vignettes in 2003. I am dual-posting because it is about the Mahlou clan when the current adult crop were children and seems appropriate to a New Year's post.
The people who support and bring us the most joy are often the ones we most take for granted. At the end of their life, nearly no one says, "I wish I had spent more time at the office or on the golf course." Rather, most say, "I wish I had spent more time with my family and friends." I am as guilty as the next person of being a workaholic, but I have found some small ways to be with family and friends. I make sure that no more than a few weeks elapse without communication with each friend. I talk to my close friends who live nearby very frequently. They provide me support, and I think they do like to get that regular telephone call.
One way to find extra time with my family has been to involve them in my work. When my older son, Shane, was eight, I had to work some hours on weekends in order to get a textbook finished at work. All the children would come in with me. Shane, who seems to have been born with his fingers on a computer keyboard, would word-process the textbook, while the others helped with other things.
When Shane was in homeschool a couple of years later, he volunteered as a computer lab counselor-instructor at Doah's public elementary school in the morning. In the afternoon, he attended the local high school until after a few months he reverted to homeschooling because of boredom.
My boss learned of this and offered him an unpaid internship, consulting for her department in the area of computers, working around his homeschooling needs. From this experience came some very funny situations, one of which was a visit from a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland. Seeing Shane instructing one of the administrators in computer functions, the representative asked in surprise, "Do you teach children here?"
Without hesitation and without thinking how it sounded, the escort said, "No, the little boy is teaching the big man."
Clearly, Shane had become just another member of the staff. For me, it was a wonderful benefit of the job that my son could work and learn alongside me.
I have also taken my children on trips with me. In a large family, it is difficult to find time for each child, and at one point, we had seven children living with us. Taking one child along on a trip makes it possible to provide lots of individual attention, the effects of which can linger long after the trip is over. I took my oldest daughter, Lizzie, to Moscow, Leningrad, Akademgorodok (Siberia), Stuttgart (Germany), and Hawaii, and my oldest son, Shane, to Moscow, Kemerovo (Siberia), and Helsinki (Finland). Noelle, who has spina bifida, and Doah, who had a tracheotomy, often could not travel at the opportune time for medical reasons, but things did work out for California (before we moved here) and Hawaii for Noelle and for New York City for Doah. If I had not included my children in my work trips, I would not have been able to afford such family outings and such wonderful one-on-one time.
My husband, Donnie, does not travel like I do. However, he had a boyhood dream that he was finally able to fulfill in 1987: through-hike the Appalachian Trail. When Shawn first began homeschooling and was studying biology, botany, dendrology, and zoology, hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine seemed like a perfect applied learning experience. So, my husband quit his job and prepared to live his dream. He and Shane hiked daily around our hilly neighborhood, building up their endurance and trying out their camping gear. Taking the trail names of Huff and Puff, they set out for Georgia as soon as the trail opened to through-hikers in the spring. Huff and Puff, the latter at age 10 being the youngest through-hiker up until that time, soon became one of the trail legends of 1987. They were interviewed on Georgia Public Television, by Time-Life, and at least one magazine article was written about them. The other children and I got into the act by existing on peanut butter sandwiches and macaroni and cheese for the duration of the hike (the loss of Donnie's income required scaling back on food and I also had take on a second, night-time job). We picked out the trail foods we would package each week and send to the next post office along the trail and put out the weekly "Huff and Puff Trail Notes" for friends and relatives. Although Huff and Puff did not finish the trail, they did hike more than 1000 miles of the 1300-mile total before Huff (Donnie) injured his knees and had to stop. To this day, Puff (Shane) says that this is the most memorable part of his childhood.
I cannot say that Donnie and I spent as much time with our children as we would have liked or as much as they would have liked. It may be that children can never be saturated by parental attention where there's a healthy relationship. Other than the fact that Doah chose to learn from Beaver's escapades from "Leave it to Beaver" rather than from "Sesame Street" (which kept us busy keeping him out of trouble), I can't say that we had a Cleaver-style household, but friends and strangers alike have commented on the palpable family bond. Once, on a short car trip, when I was discussing child-rearing methods with a friend from a different cultural background, we got into a strong disagreement. Shane, then a 17-year-old college student and driving the car we were in, thinking that I was being criticized, spoke up, "If you ask me, I like the way I was raised." Right then, the whole car was flooded with the smell of sweet flowers.
MAY YOU HAVE A BLESSED 2010!
Excerpted from a collection of vignettes, copyright 2003.