For many Americans, the Labor Day weekend — not January 1st — is really the beginning of the new year.
School years begin in late August and early September. Some parents — like us — have just dropped off one or more children at college this weekend. (In Claire’s case, she flew off to California on her own, but we did physically deposit Andrew in his dorm room for his sophomore year.) The somewhat slower rhythms of July and August at work, coupled with vacations, seem to be a bigger break in anticipation of starting over than the December break provides before January 1st. And this year, many Americans are just beginning to focus on the presidential race and the choice facing our country.
So while Candice, the twins and I took a two-week family trip in mid-August to visit with our parents and siblings, we took the advice of those who said family trips don’t equal vacations and decided to tack on four days around the college drop-off to make sure our batteries were sufficiently recharged.
We are ready for a new year.
Three hundred and sixty-five days ago, we were nearing the end of an 8-day, unscheduled stay in the Intensive Neurological Care Unit at Rhode Island Hospital, after Candice fell and suffered a severe concussion and seizures as we dropped Andrew off for his freshman year at college. The Fall – as it came to be called – affected everything over the past year, in good ways and bad. On the down side, we had to grapple with the onerous US health care system (count us among the fans of universal health coverage and the Affordable Health Care Act); unintended side effects of the concussion (such as the inability to exercise and swim for several months, which led to a faster-than-expected hip replacement for Candice); and strains on care-givers and children. I have put on about 20 unwanted pounds, which I’m attributing to my focus being elsewhere. (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!)
But Candice likes to say that the past year has been a blessing…and as much as I hate to admit it, she is right as she usually is in so many instances. Our doctors, nurses, and physical therapists have been amazing. Candice has had time to think and reflect while resting first from the concussion and then the hip replacement. Out of that time, she’s focused on how she wants to reshape her life as we begin time in the empty-nest without the burden of personal health issues staring us in the face. We realized that we could simplify much of what we did and still get by. Our children have been wonderful – and so supportive – during this period of recovery. The greatest blessing of all was the love of friends and family, who fed us, drove us to appointments, and watched over us during the most trying times of the year. We were just reminded of that last evening when we visited with our friends John and Sara, who helped us in so many ways throughout the year. John is the photographer who took the photos of the two of us I included in this blog post.
Candice likes to talk about all of this as we’re sitting out on the porch of the Cranberry Inn here in Chatham, on Cape Cod. I’m more of a listener when it comes to these discussions, but I’ve been thinking about how this year can – and should – be different. What can I take from this experience as I begin a new year?
Claire’s interest in psychology has me reading all sorts of books that I wouldn’t have considered just 18 months ago. Case in point: I recently read Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit, which explores some of the recent scientific study of the brain. I have begun to think about ways to change some regularly recurring actions that I want to lose, and how to strengthen a couple of new habits that can be keystones to reprogramming other routines in life as well. In the past two months, I’ve been much more faithful at the gym, in part because I trigger that habit by laying out my gym clothes at night before I go to bed. Simple, but effective. Yet that unwanted 20 pounds won’t go away on exercise alone. Our children have become much more focused on exercise and eating well, and I want to build on their good routines.
Music fills my soul. More music comes when I practice guitar every morning before heading off to work, and then scheduling regular play times with my guitar buddies. (Sounds like 4-year-olds, I know). I’ve seen the former, because I’ve played every day since early July.
We have been so touched by the kindness of friends this year, and thus have looked for ways to build on that kindness. Candice and I love entertaining small groups of friends, and we’re working on making that intentional all the time – not just when we happen to think it has been too long since the last dinner.
For me, work becomes more effective and rewarding when I delegate and support, rather than attempting to do it all. I could go on and on, but you get the picture.
Duhigg writes that,
“Habits aren’t destiny….(They) can be ignored, changed, or replaced. But…when a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision-making. It stops working so hard or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit – unless you find new routines – the pattern will unfold automatically.”
Part of my new routine is to name the change. I’ve done that before (as when I announced, on my Facebook page last January, that I was giving up all sodas) and it has worked. I’ve named a few more changes needed here. I have others where I want to make the change but I’m not ready to announce them to the world.
September 2011 – August 2012 was a blessing…most especially in that a potentially fatal accident led instead to time for introspection, learning, and more reliance on friends than we’re use to. September 2012 begins a new year where we can claim all that we’ve learned.
More to come…