Monday, July 19, 2010

On Purpose

When Jeff and I were first married we lived in a small cabin by a lake in New Hampshire. The only grocery store within an hour’s drive had everything you could ever need. From yogurt to rain boots, you could get it at the Stop and Save. One day I was checking out the revolving rack of books that sat next to the magazine and newspaper display. One book cover caught my eye.

It wasn’t a striking book, as far as graphics go, but the words jumped right out at me. “Raising Kids on Purpose, For the Fun of It.” I repeated the words in my head a few times. It seemed like an interesting idea. Raising kids on purpose, with forethought, and also making a deliberate effort to have fun in the process.

Being newlyweds, Jeff and I were a few years away from meeting our first child, but we’d already talked a lot about what kind of parents we wanted to be. I had definite ideas about the kind of father I wanted for my children, so even before engagement rings entered the picture, we’d had discussions about children and parenting philosophies.

I bought that book and read it cover to cover three times in the next few years. It was written by a couple who didn’t have a lot of money, but really wanted their kids to have a deliberate upbringing. The book was full of ideas about how they managed to do just that.

I have to admit I haven’t read the book in over 15 years, but it still sits on my bookcase. It’s been packed up and moved to the dozen houses we’ve lived in, and I refuse to give it away. It’s presence reminds me of the goal we had eighteen years ago, when we started down this parenting road.

Jeff and I have never had much extra money to take vacations. At least not the kind that others call a vacation - week long trips to the beach, cruises, or yearly tours of Disneyland. In fact, I can’t remember a single time we set off on a ‘vacation’ that wasn’t directly tied to a cross country move or three state drive to visit family. Following Jeff on his work trips has also led us to many fun adventures.

A friend of mine recently asked me which weeks we’d be gone on vacation this summer. I hesitated with my answer. “Umm…we don’t really take vacations,” I said.

She didn’t believe me.

“I see the pictures of all the fun stuff you guys do. What do you mean, you don’t take vacations?”

I immediately thought of the book I’d found so many years ago. The one that put into words the way Jeff and I wanted to raise our kids. On purpose, for the fun of it. I gave her a quick answer, “we take lots of little trips, just rarely take big ones,” then thought about the topic for a good part of the rest of the day.

We’ve had almost 19 years to try out the parenting ideas we had before we even conceived our first baby. How had we done? Had it worked like we’d hoped? Would our kids say they felt like they’d been raised with purpose? Would they say they had a stable family, but even more than that, a fun one? I’ve thought about those questions a lot since that day.

And I think we’ve come pretty close. The decision we made ten years ago, when Jeff accepted a job that would require moves to other states, has played a big part in our plan. Nothing teaches you more about a state than living there for a year or two. And we’ve treated every move as a chance to explore the states in between. There are many interesting landscapes and local novelties to discover every time you hit the road.

But it does take forethought. The year we lived in D.C. I opened up the Thursday edition of the Washington Post every week and circled which events we’d go try that weekend. I spent the weekdays keeping laundry caught up and the house in order, so weekends could be all about jumping on the Metro and discovering our nation’s capital.

When we lived in Utah it wasn’t hard to find new places to visit. The state is the perfect mix of beautiful mountains and valleys in the North, and red rock arches in the South. Miles and miles of Salt Flats cover a large chunk of the state. Fortunately we converted to a digital camera in those years. The cost of print film alone was starting to take its toll.

And now we live in New York. It was a place we deliberately sought to move, because of its easy proximity to family in New Hampshire, but also to great places like the Adirondacks, Saratoga, Boston, Cape Cod, Montreal, New York City, and the whole beautiful state of Vermont. We’ve been here four years and have just begun to dive into all this region has to offer.

And it still takes a lot of planning. When we’re not travelling up to New Hampshire to hang out with active aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, we’re planning our next day trip. It’s easy to let weekends, or long school holidays, become all about catching up on house stuff, or a marathon of movies ‘just to veg out’.

We still have weekends like that too. But I’m always on the lookout for the next fun thing we might find. There are amazing fairs, museums, hiking trails, and kid friendly locations all around us. I just need to make sure we’re making the effort to find them, then explore them.

Because while I still have kids living under my roof I’m doing all I can to raise them on purpose. Just for the fun of it.

1 comment:

Vitale said...

We finally got a chance to spend some time reading your blog -- you've got some great advice and funny stories! Can the new parents next door borrow that book? Can't wait to read about more of your adventures.
- the Vitales