Happy New Year in two Parts (or from the ridiculous to the sublime)

Part I: This has a lot to do with ‘happy’ and almost nothing to do with ‘new year’.  Can you guess how long it took me to decide that Wii games are more fun than anything attached to a TV really has a right to be?  Maybe 30 seconds.   The Wii was our gift to ourselves this Christmas.  Kind of a for the whole family gift.  I’d never played one.   We got a package that included Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort.  And then I bought Gotta Dance 2.   As the kids say,  OMG!     First of all, the sports are beyond fun.  My kids have been jumping, punching and dancing all day – this is real exercise, people!   I took a turn at Mario Kart, and was promptly crashing into walls and shooting off cliffs, all the while contorting my body from side to side in a vain attempt to keep my car on the road.   Hilarious!   Then we switched to Gotta Dance and within about 3 minutes everyone was putting on short sleeves and taking water breaks.   My favorite is the dance to Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” followed closely by an African style dance to “Iko Iko”  (one of the all time great songs).

Somehow, even though I’ve heard people talk about Wii Sports and Wii Fit (which was my portion of the gift and which I now cannot wait to try), I never thought it would REALLY get you moving.  I thought it was like playing video games, only on the TV.  Lots of finger and wrist action on the controller, but nothing more.  Boy was I wrong!    If my kids spend even an hour on this thing – even just until summer rolls around and we’re outside more – I  can’t complain….

Part II: My kids and I started a tradition two years ago where on New Years Day we write our goals and wishes for the coming year on a piece of paper which we then seal in an envelope, not to be opened until the following New Years Day.  Upon opening we read them out loud, and see how close we came to achieving the things we wrote.   Were we successful?

I’ve been thinking about ‘success’ lately and what it means.   Success in our lives, of which our learning in a constant and integral part.    With my kids, I’ve come to measure success differently now that we are unschoolers.  It is not centered around a curriculum, or whether or not Maya can add and subtract fractions, or whether Ben knows all his punctuation marks.   It is measured more by their general growth as individuals; their perceptions and their ability to do more and more for themselves.   Knowledge of the world and how things work is of course a large part of that.

There is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson on success which I’m sure you have all heard, but which I am going to repeat and dissect here.  I’ve found doing this helps me find more meaning and relevance in the words.   Maybe you will agree.

“To laugh often and much” How often do you laugh every day?  I found a study that said children laugh around 400 times a day, adults only about 17.  I think that 17 may be quite generous, in a lot of cases.  But laughing truly is the best medicine, lowering stress levels and releasing all kinds of beneficial stuff into our bodies.   Don’t you kind of look with envy at people who are always cheerful?

“To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children” I love that Emerson put these two things together, because on the surface they are very different.  How does one win the respect of intelligent people?   By holding forth on subjects about which we are knowledgeable?   No, don’t think so.   By showing true empathy, being kind, generous, honest and sincere (and maybe funny)?  Yep,  I think that’s more along the right lines.   Especially since children couldn’t care less about how much someone knows.  In fact, when an adult begins to ‘preach’ about a topic, children will often find something else to do or get a sort of glazed look about them.   Respect from intelligent people and affection from children – it’s a good thing to think about.

“to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends” We will all have adversity in life.   It is those people who continue with dignity and integrity despite their troubles who earn the appreciation of honest critics, and who will endure betrayals from false friends.   There is nothing here about revenge – revenge is not cathartic and wins no appreciation from anyone.

“To appreciate beauty” My friend Anna is the best at this.  She can find beauty everywhere, and truly, truly appreciates it.   Her enthusiasm for the wonder in the world is something we should all model.    You cannot appreciate beauty if you are too wrapped up in your own concerns, troubles, goals or desires.   Only the calm in spirit can appreciate beauty.

“To find the best in others” Boy is this a good one.   Much of our media, reality TV, sitcoms and social commentary is all about pointing out the flaws in others and ridiculing them for those flaws.   Finding the best in others is something at which our society is woefully out of practice.   Bono was once asked how he can deal so successfully with the ultra right wing conservatives in our government, getting them to back huge donations to his charities.  He said, “I find something about them I like or can admire.  Then I start from there.”   Focusing on the negative is rarely a way to foster cooperation, happiness or success.   Look for the good.   It’s always there somewhere.

“To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch…” So we don’t need to cure cancer to have succeeded?   I like this part because it is about the small things;  the everyday caring.   As Arlo says, “It’s about the little ‘peace’.  If we take care of the little ‘peace’ the big Peace will take care of itself.”

“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.” Maybe you joined in Sue Thompsons Head Huggers and made hats for people going through chemo.  Maybe you loaned $50 to a friend in need.   Maybe you went to a friends’ house to cook dinner for her after the birth of her first child.  Maybe you held the door for someone today, or carried a heavy package for a neighbor….

“This is to have succeeded” Indeed

The other thing I do with quotes is think about what they don’t say.  This is sometimes even more helpful than the dissecting of the thing.   For instance, Emerson did not say, “To have obtained an advanced degree in a specific field.”  He also did not say, “To make millions of dollars, live in big houses and drive fancy cars.”   There is nothing here about getting good grades, or scoring high on tests, which is important for me to remember, especially at those moments when my ‘school brain’ kicks in.   I believe life learning is a great recipe for Emerson’s style of success.

So for 2011, I wish you all the success your life can hold.

Happy New Year!

About Amy

Amy Milstein was born and raised on a farm in Indiana, but after 20+ years considers herself a full-fledged New Yorker. She is married with two kids, who do not go to school but are instead life learners. This means they learn by living in the world (real life ) instead of hearing about it and simulating it in a classroom. With her family, Amy loves to travel, read, watch movies, write, sew, knit - the list is endless.
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