Ready, Set, Relax!

for the week of April 1, 2002
by Rubel Shelly

Have you ever had reason to complain about the pace of life these days that too often leads to neglecting the most important part of human existence relationships? One New Jersey town finally did something about the problem of the overly committed, overly scheduled, and overly stressed. The people there handled it the only way that made sense to them. They calendared a break.

Ridgewood Family Night on March 26, 2002, grew out of Marcia Marra's distress. Recognizing how over-scheduled she and her family were, she wouldn't you know it formed a committee to study the problem. Enough people identified with it that they came up with a proposal that could be appreciated only by other workaholics. They planned a night on which nothing would be planned.

Subtitled "Ready, Set, Relax," it was designed to let families do whatever they chose to do together. "This being Ridgewood, someone asked for a list of suggested activities, but that was rejected as too, well, planned," reported USA Today (03/26/02, p. 1A). "And everyone laughed when someone else asked whether there'd be a prize for the family that had the best night off together."

Powerful impetus for the event came from the 9/11 terrorist attack. From a high point in Ridgewood, the collapse of New York City's twin towers was visible. Twelve residents of Ridgewood died in that awful episode. According to a local pastor, Douglas Fromm, "People began to think about what is really important."

So for one night at least, Ridgewood had no choir practice, no club meetings, no homework, no basketball games or practices. Affluent, competitive parents led their goal-oriented, gung-ho children in slowing down, smelling the roses, appreciating the people closest to them, and simply enjoying one another. In the fast-paced lifestyle of the twenty-first century, it is called balance or sanity.

What a great idea! I hope it was successful enough for Ridgewood that other communities will test the same scheme. I can visualize wonderful outcomes such as conversation, discovery, appreciation, connection, or even reconciliation. The good news is that you and I don't have to wait for our hometowns to hear about this and implement Franklin or Montreal or Washington County Family Night. We can initiate special weekly or monthly times for ourselves unilaterally.

But here is a warning: It will never happen for you without a conscious and deliberate decision. Whether single or married, empty-nester or harried parent of three tonight would be a good time to talk it over with all the key players whom you'd to participate in the experiment. Just be sure everybody brings a calendar!

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