Monday, December 31, 2012

My Favorite Holiday

My family and I have never spent much energy celebrating the New Year's holiday -- no loud parties, horn blowing or confetti for us this time of year.  Instead, we tend to prefer a quieter approach, usually involving a nice dinner, a couple of glasses of champagne, and a normal bed time (often before midnight even rolls around).  This doesn't mean, however, that the beginning of the new year isn't significant for us.  In fact, it's probably my favorite holiday.

After the busyness, excitement, and fast pace of of the weeks from Thanksgiving through Christmas, a quiet New Year's Eve is something I look forward to, not just with a sense of relief that there are no more gifts to be wrapped or elaborate meals to be planned (although there is some of that), but mostly with a sense of anticipation. I know many people, most of whom are still high on Christmas adrenaline, get excited about making resolutions for the new year, and even more seem to enjoy making snide remarks about the practice, but I take genuine pleasure in the process of reflecting on the year that has passed, and especially like the sense of starting fresh in a new year.  It's like spring cleaning, but on the inside.  

New Year's Day is when I sit down with my old calendar and my new calendar side-by-side and, while writing in the birthdays and anniversaries for the coming year, I also reflect on the events and highlights of the past year -- the "moments".  While this could be construed as a melancholy or overly-sentimental ritual, for me it's a tradition that gives me time to think about what went well this year and what didn't, to take stock and put to rest any lingering regrets or concerns. It ends (rather symbolically) with me putting the old calendar in the trash and hanging the new calendar on the wall. I always come away from the process with a feeling of lightness, a sense of having a "clean slate" with which to start the new year (the same feeling I have when my closets are clean!)

And so, as my internal cleaning process begins on the final day of this year, I can say that 2012 has been a pretty good year, with significantly more positives than negatives.  I truly have a lot to be grateful for -- there's really not much I would change in my life.  It's also been a year of a few challenges and losses that I am happy to put behind me.  My personal intentions for 2013 come primarily from these challenges and the insights I gained from them, with an emphasis on decreasing the things that cause stress (an overly busy schedule, worrying about unimportant things) and increasing the time I spend doing things that make me happy and give me energy (writing, painting, hiking, reading.)  Also on the list, and more in the category of "goals" are:

  • Performing 100 random acts of kindness (this is a family goal that our boys will be doing this with us, and we've already begun!),
  • Developing my new "Teach Your Own" web site, and
  • Writing and publishing a homeschooling curriculum.

I hope that you are also beginning 2013 with a sense of hope and excitement.  May you have a smooth and happy transition into the new year, whatever your New Year's traditions might be.  

Every man should be born again on the first day of January. Start with a fresh page. 

-Henry Ward Beecher

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Our Children Are Watching

My initial shock and horror about the tragic events this week, beginning with the mall shooting near where I live followed by the even more horrific school shootings in Connecticut, are slowly giving way to hope today.   As our elected leaders take the first tentative steps to discussing gun control, and public demonstrations demanding more reasonable policies grow in number and strength, I am optimistic that maybe, finally, we've reached a turning point in the United States.   

Sadness and fear (especially fear), however, have been my predominant emotions over the past few days, particularly as the first reports of each of these events were breaking.  And for a short time, I actually considered the possibility of buying a gun.  If violence in formerly-safe places like shopping malls and schools is going to be more common, shouldn't I take steps to protect myself and my children? My husband and my brother (a police officer) have been encouraging me to get a gun for several years now, and I have resisted so far, but this past weekend my resolve began to wane.  And apparently I wasn't alone -- several news outlets reported record-breaking gun and ammunition sales in recent days, many to first-time owners.

I have decided that I will not be joining the ranks of gun owners, though, for one main reason:  I do not want to be a person who succumbs to fear. Buying guns out of fear perpetuates the problem by putting more guns on the street.  The only way out of this is to recognize and accept that we cannot prevent bad things from happening, and guns do not guarantee our safety.  As scary and difficult as these events are for all of us, I strongly believe that this is a time for us to find our strength, disengage from the cycle of violence and fear, and act based on what we value.  This is an opportunity for us to connect with our better natures, not just for our own personal growth and peace of mind, but also for our childrens'. 

Child development experts are advising us to help our children through this time by reassuring them that they are safe, that these events are rare.  This is true, and I know many families are having these types of conversations with their kids.  But how can we deliver this message in a believable way if we are reacting to our own fear, arming ourselves and our teachers (as some people are proposing)?  Our words become meaningless and our actions are what our kids will remember -- they are watching us closely.  In short, how we respond to these events will significantly impact how our children view the world and, perhaps more importantly, how they will manage difficult times when they are the adults. 

So, as I've been working through my own emotions I also have been talking to my boys about fear, describing the differences between healthy fear and irrational fear, and how to manage each.  I have shared only the smallest amount of information with them about the recent shootings, and have emphasized in each conversation the wonderful advice that Mr. Rogers left us:  "In any tragic event, look for the helpers. They are always there."  I will also make sure that they see me taking action to support what I believe in -- writing letters and signing petitions for gun control laws, advocating for more support for the mentally ill.  This is the only healthy way through tragedies like this, and this is the example I want to set for my sons.

We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience 
in which we really stop to look fear in the face... 
we must do that which we think we cannot.

~ Eleanor Roosevelt