What happened to lazing around at the beach or a park on Saturdays? Or church and a large family gathering on Sundays? That’s what I want to know.
My weekends got hijacked the moment I stepped foot on American soil and enrolled my kids into public school. It seemed to happen overnight. One day my generation were kids – riding our bikes, telling ghost stories in the middle of fields, exploring abandoned and most definitely about to collapse wooden houses. We got into colleges and floated by at frat parties and all-nighters at the library. We grew up in simpler, less competitive times. And I know I sound old right now.
But this is the deal: the blissful, ignorant relative calm of the 80s is how people still live outside the crazed energy of the US. In the Mediterranean, no one in their right minds would consider infringing on family time to watch their kid kick a ball down a field. It doesn’t happen. Sports practices are after school once per week. Period. Music classes may occupy an additional weeknight. But that’s it. And as for competitions, recitals and so forth? Once per semester. Simple.
There is no illusion the kid in question will go pro or to the Olympics. There is no discussion of athletic college scholarships, probably because colleges are already rather affordable to the average household income. But I’ll withhold political discussions at this point.
While many Westerners may scoff at the lack of competitiveness in the Mediterranean (and visions of imaginary portly, lazy kids may abound in their heads), let me say one thing: what is lacking in athletic prowess is more than compensated in family-focused lives.
One of the most important pillars I noticed in the Mediterranean is the focus of a strong family bond. I could try to explain it by noting political instabilities in the region, and therefore focusing on the health and wealth of your own, immediate family is of utmost concern. The lack of trust in a government working for the people and by the people could also be a contributing reason why family is more important than all else. But really, I don’t feel the need to explain it. Rather, I would like to talk about the effect that happens in this environment. According to sociologists studying the effects of extended family, considerable research points to benefits of children growing up around grandparents and other important family figures. (http://family.jrank.org/pages/473/Extended-Families-Study-Extended-Family.html) Instead of focusing on artificial (and often times fleeting) sports relationships, shouldn’t we be more focused on cultivating long-lasting, meaningful relationships with family and close friends?
On a typical Sunday in the Mediterranean, we go to church in the mornings. Jews and Muslims would go to their prayers of worship on Saturday and Friday, respectively. But for us, after Sunday service, lunch was almost always had at my in-laws. They live in a modest home with a ginormous garden full of citrus, olive, pomegranate, persimmon and fig trees. Since retirement, they had gotten into the habit of planting seasonal vegetables. So lunches, while simple, were centered around local, organic veggies in season and fresh baked bread from the baker down the road. We usually shared a bottle of wine, plenty of laughter. It wasn’t a large, elaborate meal, but it was our tradition that most on the island held sacred.
But by the time coffee came around, extended family would begin making their rounds. Cousins, uncles, aunts, children, all stopped by for a cup of Turkish coffee, glass of homemade lemonade, or a piece of fruit. The children would play in the garden all day long, weather permitting. They climb trees, pretend to skate down the rickety driveway, throw rocks at the houses across the ravine (they could never hit it). Basically, they weren’t doing anything special. But they were bonding. They were playing, living healthfully not in front of a screen, not being directed by a coach, and always under the watchful eye of a loving adult.
They were part of a team. But I guess it wasn’t a formal one; it was a family one.