New Year Reflection and Resolution, Part V: Focusing on Family

Last year I didn't publish my resolutions publicly, or post such lengthy reflections, either -- but I did do the reflecting, and I drafted some resolutions, too, and wrote them down on an index card which I kept at the front of a file holder on my desk, which occupies one corner of our living room. I thought that each time I sat down to write or check email I'd see my little index card and be reminded of the important things, the things I'd deemed important enough to write down, and that I'd work (more) actively to stay true to those resolutions.

Of course, one of my resolutions should have been to "keep a tidier house," but it wasn't, and as I only really act when my actions have been dictated by an official list, my desk stayed buried under several inches of piled paper (miscellaneous pages of catalog, things identified as "to read" but rarely read, misplaced bills, and returned school/artwork from the kiddos), and so I didn't use my desk much. I'm sitting at it now -- I've removed the inches of paper to the floor beside the desk, and perhaps today I'll work on going through those piles and disseminating them to their proper places (filing cabinet, storage closet (the babies' artwork), and the fast-growing hill of recycling in the sun room) -- but for most of 2012 I spent my mornings either working at our kitchen table or from the comfy cushion-y folds of our bed. I'd bring the laptop and my legal pads and pen and my coffee and sprawl out for an hour, or for however long my children let me work uninterrupted.

Anyway, I mention this little note card (and then digress, of course, into details of my slovenliness) because my very first resolution was to "focus on the kids when I'm with the kids." The second was to "focus on A. when I'm with A."

It's not that I didn't keep this resolution simply because I couldn't see it under the mountain of junk piled high on my desk. I found it, however, a difficult resolution to maintain. I don't know if this is because I have a tendency to become easily distracted unless I'm reading or watching TV (it's sad but true -- if I'm reading something it takes me almost a full minute to refocus my brain and become a part of the conversation, or to answer the phone, or to fully comprehend what is being asked of me. And if I'm watching something -- particularly a movie -- I can become so engrossed it's like I don't hear any noise other than what's coming out of the television) . . . but it seems sad and shameful nonetheless. 

I'd like to be more mindful when I'm with others. This is important when I'm in a conversation with anyone, but it's particularly important when I'm surrounded by those people, big and small, who mean the most to me. And it's easy, in this era of electronics (not just iPads and Wiis and Playstations, but tiny toys, too -- I mean, almost everything lights up and makes noise!) to let the kids become immersed in their game-playing or TV watching or LeapPad/iXL and just go about my business.

It's easy, too, to get so wrapped up in my writing in the mornings that when the children do get up,  I take advantage of the fact that they want to watch cartoons before breakfast and just keep writing -- something that 1) usually makes us behind schedule and 2) encourages them to take advantage of my inattention and do things they shouldn't, like begin epic wrestling matches or run screaming between each other's bedrooms, slamming doors (and they are, of course, having lots of fun, right up until the moment when they aren't having fun because someone has physically hurt or emotionally injured the other) which results in 3) my hysteria & tears, sometimes matched by their tears, and a frantic run to the bus stop or to the car. 

I'm a big believer in children being allowed to play without having their parents hover over them, and even in the benefits of loneliness and boredom and the way it encourages a child to use his or her imagination and be a problem solver and, eventually, a self-sufficient and independent human being  . . . but this philosophy, like most philosophies, has its limits when applied to the real world. I don't really want our household to operate like a bunch of strangers who happen to coexist and occasionally come together at mealtimes. Unfortunately, when both parents in a household work full-time, and as children become more independent and willful, not to mention immersed in their own after-school activities, this can often become the case.

I guess I'm saying that I would like to take more "time outs" with the kids -- that when I find I've been doing my own thing for a half hour or an hour, and the kids have been doing their own, that I manage to tear myself away and reconnect with them: ask more questions about their respective days or about whatever they're doing at that moment, or even ask them to help me if I'm involved with laundry or dishes or tidying the house. Whatever, I suppose, that helps us interact with each other more and stay involved in each others' lives. 

All cliches spring from some small grain of truth, and it's no small truth that the kids are becoming not-kids very fast, and that if I'm not careful they'll become adults and I won't have had much to do with that process. I am grateful for the "village" that helps me raise my children -- and I could never have my career(s) without our network of grandparents, aunts & uncles, neighbors, daycare staff, and friends -- but I want to make sure that my children know I love them the most, that I am happy to spend time with them, that I enjoy and hold dear that time I spend with them, and that, above all, they should chew with their mouths closed when eating. Just kidding. (Kind of.)

Anyway, so my resolution regarding family for this year will be the same as last year -- as all resolutions are basically revisions of the ones that came before, if not exact replicas. Resolutions are simply self-exhortations to live more mindfully, and so once again, I'm going ask myself to try to live more mindfully -- if not for the sake of my own sanity and well-being, for the sake of my family's.

Self, live more mindfully. And chew with your mouth closed, please.

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