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What’s missing in our community is what matters most

March 24th, 2005 · 4 Comments

Many responded, commenting on and linking to the post I wrote quoting a study on family lifestyles Families: living apart while living together. In addition to the excellent comments added to the post, I discovered others who had remarked on their own blogs.

I liked the questions posted by Kevin Briody

All the buzz in the tech world today is around the increasingly “social” nature of our software, our photo sharing, our online conversations. Millions of blogs have been created, with thousands more each day – people sharing their lives, stories, and ramblings with a largely unseen and impersonal readership. I know I take time at home to be a part of this social interaction…but with all this, are we simply transferring what was the substance of our home life and relationships online? As we go digital, groove with social networks, are we forgetting to take the time out to be with the people that matter most, face to face?

Good point. Are we tuning in through technology to others around the world so much that we are tuning out around those who share our home? I know I’ve been distracted at times from what is most important.

dave lucas, Steven Noels and Master Maq all linked and commented on the article also.

As if to provide a practical example of local lifestyles, Wednesday’s Bainbridge Review featured a column by Bainbridge Buzz editor Cathy Nickum in which she wondered about the role of fathers in family lives. She pointed out that the island is in effect emasculated – my words, not hers – when many fathers work in Seattle for 12 to 14 hours a day, leaving moms to function alone as single parents. Summarizing her column: 1) fathers are “absentee” on Bainbridge 2) why is it a surprise then that teen boys are drawn to risky behaviors? 3) American work life is demanding and draining of parents. Cathy is continuing the conversation in a post on Bainbridge Buzz, asking for comments: Dad-less on Bainbridge.

Ted and I tried the daddy-commute-to-Seattle lifestyle for the first year we lived here while he worked at a startup. Some days he didn’t see Abigail at all. We didn’t like it. Since then he’s tried to work from home. We’re grateful that now he has a great situation where he can work remote for his San Francisco employer. Many of our neighbors also have concocted creative solutions to the work dilemma. Some commute to the city for the day. But some consult from home. Some commute occasionally to other states. Some work swing shift. Some work on Bainbridge. Although many moms also work off the island, I suspect it is statistically more often the father who is absent. Cathy Nickum’s column, once again, highlights another aspect of island life that helps isolate us and lead to loneliness, one we should examine, discuss and see how we can change.

Her column appeared on the editorial page beside the main opinion piece critiquing an advertisement for a condo development our community (I believe it is this one but I can’t see the video at this time). The writers of the editorial mock the tranquil scenes painted in a promotional video contrasting the romantic images with the reality of soccer mom driving mania and a collapse at the end of the day.

The editorial made me smile but it also made me wonder. The juxtaposition of Cathy Nickum’s column with the opinion critique created a confused image of this place we call home. If it is so miserable here, why does anyone stay? And why in the midst of affluence and beauty are we so unhappy? Why do people move here? What are the images for our island and how do they differ from reality?

Another article from the Review came to mind, one that I quoted in a post titled ” …you are only as sick as your secrets…”

On the Bainbridge Buzz site, reading the new segment added to a fiction story added more fuel to my fire: the main character and her friend discuss depression and its solutions, including someone’s $1000 a month therapy. Fiction it may be, but I imagine it is also based in fact. I can’t quote from the site but the dialogue between the two characters reveals what we believe, how tired and worn out we are from the way we live. On the island, we may be materially rich, relatively, but we are emotionally poor.

Driving up Madison Avenue (yes that is its name) yesterday I saw a sign asking When was the last time you had fun?. I happened to be following behind an expensive SUV. All the juxtapositions, the combination of the situation on the street at that moment and the writings I’d read earlier in the day upset me. Here we are, relatively rich, among the wealthiest people in one of the wealthiest nations, yet we have to wonder when we are having fun. Something must be really wrong here. Either that or island simply illustrates the adage that money can’t buy happiness.

In today’s column, the Review staff distinguish between lifestyle and community in their dissection of the marketing of Bainbridge: You buy into lifestyle. You grow into community. Okay, true. Why do people move to the island? For the lifestyle. That’s one of the main reasons why we moved here. After surviving Silicon Valley’s surf, Ted and I were longing for a different kind of community. Seattle, especially the eastside, seemed all too familiar with its frenzy but the island offered its rural character combined with the fantasy (illusion?) of a slower pace of life for families.

Why should people stay on the island? For the community. But what kind of community are we offering? A quote from the Seattle Times article on family lifestyle stood out to me:

“People just don’t come together very frequently in our society,” Ochs said. “They might say they want community, but they don’t seek it.”

We say we want community but it is rare when we make the sacrifices to create it, even in our own homes it seems. I’m wrestling with this myself at the moment, determining priorities and seeking to simplify. Island living provides a tangible example of how we are separated from each other within our own families: dads work in the city; moms survive as chaffeurs and shoppers; kids overdose on extracurriculars and drugs.

How can we build relationships? How can we fix families? How can we create community? I believe it begins at home. And I believe it begins with counting the cost.

Modern work is intense. But we have choices. We can try to choose other careers or jobs. Like the American office, we can downsize. We can choose to live with less. We can choose alternative lifestyles including homeschooling or working at home/consulting to help find more time for family. Conformity isn’t the only option.

We don’t have to send our kids to expensive exclusive schools. Or to numerous activities. We can do and spend less so we have more for what matters most.

The other day I started scolding myself: my oldest daughter is almost seven and she hasn’t yet tried aikido. What kind of mom was I? Neglectful. Then I stopped and counted, realizing that she has tried four different sports, each one for at least one season. I don’t believe we need to pursue every possibility as parents. I’ve never tried aikido and I turned out fine. Yet this attitude of activities and abundance, acceleration and achievement is strong and contagious.

Here on the island, many of us may have paid a high price for our houses. We may have paid a high price for our cars. And I fear we are paying a higher price to pay these high prices.

Life is the most costly commodity we have. I want to spend my time wisely. Sure, I like my house. I like my garden. I could enjoy spending my days decorating and planting, pursuing perfection. But when I die, will it matter what kind of yard I had? Will people say she had such nice tulips in the springtime? Will they comment on my choice of colors in my home?

Will my kids care that they had piano lessons or karate? Will it matter the activities where I took them? The way I was stressed and sleepless, yelling and criticizing them for my own mistakes, running late to yet another stop on the Leung family Express route? Or will it be the attitude I had, the way I held them and hugged them, the moment I took for a cuddle or kiss, the kind word I whispered, the quiet time spent reading books to each other on the sofa?

I only live once. I want to give what I have to others, to my children especially while they are at home, to my husband, to my family and friends and neighbors. Love is the legacy I want to leave behind.

So how can my kids inherit love? When we have fun together. When Ted and I take time to be with them and others. Fun should be our daily drug of choice.

On the page in the paper besides Cathy’s column and the opinion piece was an article written by the executive director of the Boys and Girls club, Jennifer Wood, exhorting parents to set aside time for the family this Monday March 28 for Ready, Set, Relax Family Night

For reasons we adults rationalize, kids and parents are often too tired to make time for fun.

On this night teachers don’t assign homework and no after-school activities are held, so that families can spend more time together. Local businesses host, offering games and fun in the freedom. I hope this is only the beginning. To quote Wood:

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a child never had to say “I miss my parents” again?

Tags: family · island

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kevin Briody // Mar 24, 2005 at 12:23 pm

    As someone who is about to become a parent for the first time, and has a demanding job to boot, this is a great conversation you got started.
    The larger topic is about making time for those you love, but I admit I’m incredibly curious about the weird irony that all this “social software” may actually be making us less social offline. Something to explore more in future posts. 🙂

    I’m definitely looking forward to your presentation at Gnomedex this summer!

  • 2 Mike Houser // Mar 24, 2005 at 11:36 pm

    I just posted about this on CasdraBlog: http://casdra.com/blog/index.php?p=608

    Here is one of the few times where our odd night-owl genes is an advantage. I’ve been commuting to Seattle on the ferry every weekday since I moved here over ten years ago. Now it’s certainly not ideal, but we are a family of night people. Our kids are never in bed before 10:00. I get home from work at around 6:30. We eat and can do homework and some fun stuff. I then handle the getting the kids to bed chores every night.

  • 3 Julie // Mar 26, 2005 at 12:12 am

    Another related post


  • 4 DrErnie // Mar 26, 2005 at 10:48 am

    Hi Julie, Great post, as always. As we finish five years of marriage (yesterday), I’m re-committing to pursuing community and a Sabbath. We’ll be starting 40 Days of Community http://www.purposedriven.com/en-US/40DayCampaigns/40DaysOfCommunity/40+DOC+Overview.htm at our new church http://www.goharvest.org/ next month — I’ll try to blog about it.

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