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Spring Break – time for fun, and rest, too

April 25, 2018

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, April 25, 2018

I busily wrapped up a morning of work at my office, which started before 7 a.m., then raced to pick up my daughter, Zoe, and my son, Adam, from their elementary school. They had just finished lunch and were seated in the office, eagerly awaiting my arrival. We jetted home, to meet my wife, Lori, and shove our packed bags into the car, before heading to the airport, bound for Chicago for the front-end of the kids’ spring break.

The drive and flight time offered respite from the busy day, and a welcome transition to the frantic pace ahead. From the moment we arrived at our base camp, the home of my dear friend, whose companionship dates back to sixth grade, we packed our nights and days with fun-filled adventures, and navigated frenetic, metropolitan traffic, in our rental car, to enjoy coveted time with friends and family.  We left without regret, satisfied with our choices, fulfilled with a sense of fun and purpose – and ready to rest!

Back home, as Lori and I returned to work, and Zoe and Adam settled into the second half of their spring break, I noticed the familiar post-trip malaise. Fatigue, irritability and restlessness abounded, evidence that personal space and unstructured time were in short-supply. The pattern is similar to what often unfolds at our home on Thursday evenings, when the accumulation of school, work and daily life crescendo in a cacophony of upsets, for kids and adults alike.

This observation, that the daily pace of activity and structured time, when left unchecked, often threatens personal health and well-being, is one that I have long considered. As a teenager and young adult, I filled my days and nights with endless activity, distracting myself as I struggled to feel comfortable in my own skin, especially at rest. My body rebelled, producing episodes of recurring illness and emotional distress, even a period of depression — and desperately seeking a change in lifestyle.

As a father, I’m mindful of those life lessons. I also notice the distressing levels of insomnia, anxiety, depression and dis-ease experienced by children (starting young), and parents, whose lives are often highly-structured. School alone, including arrival and return, makes for a 35-hour work week. With after-school activities, organized sports, homework and weekend schedules, there seems little time for rest and recovery.

In this way, I have come to understand my role as a father to be as much about supporting the natural inclinations of Zoe and Adam, and preserving the time and space required to simply be themselves — on their own terms — as preparing them to successfully compete in the fast lane.

On the final weekend of spring break, when Lori was immersed in her end-of-semester graduate studies, I found myself promoting the idea of an outing, one that would take Zoe, Adam and me away from the house for the afternoon. I sensed resistance and paused to consider the number of hours — or minutes — in the course of their spring break that they were afforded time to make their own choices about what to do, or not do.

I yielded to their interests, taking time to write. They frolicked about, worked on their backyard fort, roamed the neighborhood, returned to make a strawberry slushy and then headed outside for hours of spontaneous play with neighbors. They seemed happy.

A friend of mine once said that making music is as much about learning how to occupy the spaces between notes, as learning to play the notes themselves.

While I’m not a musician, as a father, I have come to believe that in our family, learning to appreciate the spaces between activities is just as important as the activities themselves.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website fatherhoodjourney.com.

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