Friday, March 23, 2012

Where Will Our Summers Take Us?

Spring is the time when we start dreaming about our summer vacations. Signing kids up for summer camp, planning a family vacation, or perhaps opting out of travel and instead, looking into what summer programs are available close to home. Some of us are planning gardens, while some of us might decide to acquire a new skill this summer like learning to knit, type, or skateboard. Many of us are simply looking forward to staying up late and sleeping in late, just because we can!

It’s important to be realistic about how much time, energy and money we actually have to spend on any potential plans. I had thought about making the drive back home for my high school reunion with four kids in tow, but after a few episodes of my two year old getting out of her car seat and jumping around the car unrestrained, the idea of 18 long hours on the highway started seeming like a really bad idea. I also opted out of the annual extended family gathering, because it seems important for me to find out what the kids and I could come up with for fun on our own!

Traditionally, Americans scrimp and save all year in order to go on some wonderful summer vacation which then leaves them in debt. It’s true that nothing can replace a camping trip to the Smoky Mountains or hiking the Grand Canyon and those memories would probably mean a lot to your children, but there is also a valid argument that you should not invest so much effort in escaping your everyday life. Rather, why not invest your time and energy in making your everyday life more interesting and fun? 

The more free time we spend away from home, the fewer opportunities we have to make a valuable impact on our local communities. Instead of giving money to gas stations and McDonalds on the Great American Road Trip, we could be strengthening our ties with neighbors through frequent visits to the playground or invigorating local business by going to restaurants, art exhibits and films in our own city. At least, we could be working together as a family to catch up on home repairs and maintenance.

Our growing children will probably need some serious sleep repair time. I recall when I was in Junior High, the first week of summer vacation meant sleeping 12-14 hours at a time. Gradually my body would get to the point where it was satisfied with 8 hours of sleep, but this gaining of healthy equilibrium would be a process that took several weeks. 

Physical growth spurts demand a lot of sleep. Emotional upheavals also require sleep to heal. I have noted that when I give my body the permission to experience as much REM sleep as it wants, my dreams are initially disturbing but as the days go by they become less threatening. It seems that as I allow my body to heal from stress, my emotional state also improves. The mind needs to work out all its inner conflicts subconsciously during the dream state. Eventually, we wake up feeling refreshed! 

It seems today’s generation is even more sleep-deprived than mine was. The governmental school systems have steadily increased the homework load upon young people since the Vietnam War, partially in an effort to keep up with the Asians and partly in an effort to keep the kids away from political protesting. In an era of increased economic competition, schoolwork overload also seems to be a way of weeding out those who really want to attend college from those who don’t care. 

Perhaps even more worrying is the lack of play time for today’s young people. I notice that my teenage son, like me, really needs time to unwind or else he gets so cranky he can’t focus. One of the things preventing young people from truly unwinding is the TV. The constant interference of TV prevents anyone in the room from forming their own thoughts. I noticed that if I just demand that the TV be turned off, pretty soon the children start playing with their toys or reading quietly. My son seems to have an almost physical need to create things.
As much as I want my children to succeed in school, it is perhaps even more important for them to be able to create neurological pathways using their minds in more self-directed ways. Focusing on things they enjoy teaches kids how to focus. And at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you earned A’s or C’s in seventh grade, it matters if you can put food on the table for your family. A lot of that earning capability comes from developing the unique gifts and talents God gave you personally. 

Those of us who are unable to have any great adventures this summer can find excitement through living through others who are embarking on exciting and wonderful journeys! There is a caravan leaving from India heading towards Gaza to bring humanitarian aid. There is a Bosnian man, 47-year-old Senad Hadzic walking to Mecca on foot. There are so many worthy endeavors we can tune into! 

We can also bring good fortune upon ourselves by aiding the traveler. If you know of someone that needs a place to stay, or you see someone at the side of the road who needs a ride, let them into your life! You would be surprised at how invigorating such an action can be. By providing a traveler with a meal, you will gain access to some very interesting personal stories and gain far more than you have paid. Likewise, if you leave your home with nothing but a backpack, you will be surprised by all the generosity and kindness you will receive from strangers. Americans are truly great people to meet.

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