In the last post, I shared a glimpse of how my family hit the reset button after a very stressful period. Even some of our friends who helped us through that phase were surprised by some of the details. Indeed, when you are slogging through the mud, it’s hard to examine or talk about that trek. A decade later, that murky path and the route we took out of that mayhem is transparent. What we learned, and what many families learn as circumstances slowly or rapidly provide a reality check, is how we define ourselves.
We were never one of those couples who had a 6 month, 1 year, 5-year, or 10-year plan. Maybe we had a 6-month plan and even a fuzzy idea of the long-range plan. But really, how many couples put family and work obligations on hold long enough to really engage in the kind reflection and long-range planning? (If that’s you, then big cheers to you!) We thought it was a good idea, but never had our act together long enough to take action. We were pretty much about getting through the day, the night and perhaps, the week ahead.
The truth is, defining how we wanted our family to be was a pretty simple and organic process for us. As a parental partnership, we were mostly in sync, and we recognized the diverse pieces we brought to the table. We became quite adept at problem-solving and crisis management, with little time to savor the joys of life for more than fifteen minutes at a time.
When we did sit down to think about how we wanted our family to me, it felt a whole lot like creating classroom rules, al la Responsive Classroom. I had worked with students in prekindergarten through upper elementary grades to determine our hopes and dreams and how we could support each other so everyone had a fair chance at achieving those. We read and reflected on how we’d take care of each other, our classroom and ourselves. Every year, we’d embark upon a process that was unique to the class but began with the same idea of creating class guidelines or “Ways We Want to Be”.
In doing this with our family, it was both familiar (in addition to my classes, our children went through this process with their teachers) and challenging. There were countless ways my kids had been my guinea pigs, willingly and reluctantly, as I tested teaching methods and materials. This “ways we want our family to be” task had to be authentic. Sooo authentic they might not even know what we were doing. Kind of tricky with tweens, but I was feeling smart and optimistic.
It all started with the down time, first in Florence then at home. The expectations were minimal, and we engaged in real play – the kind of stuff with no end game, no purpose. Conversations started and continued. After the fire, we practically had a new house and new “stuff” so there was motivation to take good care of things. We had experienced the generosity of so many people who came to our aid, and now it was time for us to help others. We want –and need – to do something for others, whether it’s donating items we don’t use, volunteering in the community, or welcoming home our veterans. We rescued a sad but loving black lab from the SPCA, and the kids quickly learned what it means to love and care for someone else with no expectation of reciprocation. And that dog walking may not always be on your agenda, but it’s part of the game.
Our first-hand experience with deployment and loss made us appreciate how fragile life is and how spending time together is a priority. There had been too many nights spent apart, too many queries about when an email would come or when we’d be in “our real house”. The challenges of deployment and rebuilding a home taught us how different we each are in our temperament, needs, and strengths. Each of us handled the loss differently and we learned to give each other the necessary space and to be supportive. Family and friends scoffed at the idea that my tweens regularly slept with us, but there is something to be said for waking up and night and knowing everyone is safely nearby because you can feel them breathing inches away from you.
We had a lot of catching up to do and a lot of time on our hands in our sparsely furnished rental house. There were stories to tell – orally, in writing and through art – and time and space to do so freely. There was laughter and tears and all the messy emotions of life that we had become accustomed to bottling up. We needed to be active in mind and body, and we found time to get outside or debate issues or tell jokes – often just to forget about the to-do lists or worries. We didn’t need external rewards or recognition though occasionally those can be nice. What we wanted was and is to be recognized by our family for who we are and what we might yet do.
We wanted to be those nice people in the world and we certainly wanted our kids to be kind, responsible, and passionate about their interests. After dinner one night, we gathered around the kitchen table wrote our family “Ways We Want to Be.” Our ten-year-old utilized her tech skills and typed it in power point, we added some art, our signatures and coached my husband (who lacked experience in the classroom with the process) on what it all meant. We hung it in the kitchen, and while it often led to jokes and giggles about mom being in teacher mode, it guided us as we settled into our new, old home.
How do you define family and how you want to be? Is it a feeling in your heart and head or is it something you invite your children to reflect on and talk about with you? Drop a note in the comments.
If you don’t already subscribe to the blog, won’t you take a minute to do so above? Give us a like on Facebook, follow and Twitter and share with your colleagues and friends. Many thanks!