I looked around at the damp, pinkish faces of my three family members. “Well, we’re not exactly hiking on the East Maroon Trail or biking the coast of Maine,” I muttered, “but at least we’re all doing something together.”
My husband and children are well aware that there are a number of activities I’d like all of us to engage in together: hiking, biking, trail walks through the woods. These are all activities we have ready access to, both in the places where we tend to vacation and even right outside our door. But it’s hard to convince the other three, especially all at the same time. Sometimes Holly is interested in a bike ride; sometimes Tim is in the mood to walk through the woods to the ice cream stand. Occasionally Rick even sees the benefits of a walk down the lane together after dinner. But somewhat to my discouragement, we’re not yet a family that does a lot of outdoor recreation as a unit. Saying “not yet” is optimistic, I concede, as if to assume it will happen eventually; but I can’t give up on that hope yet.
At the same time, I’m trying to be more realistic. In fact, two years ago one of my January resolutions was to get my family involved in more outdoor activities together, but this past January it was different: my resolution was to stop stewing about how everyone in my family chooses to spend their time. Whether they’re immersed in watching hockey or sewing doll clothes, I need to stop being so judgmental about their choices, and also so easily let down when other people don’t want to do what I want to do.
Gretchen Rubin writes in her book The Happiness Project about how she came to accept the cardinal rule “Just because other people think it’s fun doesn’t mean you’ll think it’s fun”; that rule helped reassure her that she wasn’t missing out on something vital when she decided she didn’t particularly enjoy something like scrapbooking. I need to keep in mind the converse, though: Just because I think it’s fun doesn’t mean other people will think it’s fun.
Nonetheless, it’s emotionally healthy for families to try to spend time together. Which is why last night after dinner, I took comfort where I could find it: in the fact that we’d all decided to soak in the hot tub together. The kids love the hot tub that we’ve had only since we moved two and a half months ago; they treat it like a swimming pool, a never-ending source of great fun. I haven’t taken to it quite as quickly, but at the same time, I know it’s good for me to put aside other responsibilities once in a while – cleaning the kitchen and finishing an article, in the case of the after-dinner hour last night – and jump in with them. Rick tries to take advantage of it too.
So that’s how we ended up all in the hot tub together last night. Yes, I would have felt prouder of us had we been hiking or biking. Or skating. Or boating. But this is us. We don’t do all those other things, at least not regularly. We hot-tub. It’s not what I expected. But it’s pretty good. And those two simple sentences – “It’s not what I expected. But it’s pretty good.” – are sometimes the best words we can hope to say about family life.