No homework, no sports just a night with family
It's a small, quiet town, set 20 miles fromthe world's most frenetic metropolis a place where many who reap Manhattan's largess come to raise their kids, away from the furious din of a city driven by success.Skip to next paragraph
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In many ways, Ridgewood is a town defined by families, mostly successful, where Dad may drive a Lexus and Mom may cart the kids from home to school to practice in a Volvo or four-wheel-drive SUV.
But behind the facade of quaint brick homes tucked into evergreens and rhododendron, there are signs that many feelas harried as they might be if surrounded by blocks of city high-rises. With schedules jam-packed with activities to sharpen the bodies and wits of kids, child rearing here is as intense as the 80-hour week of a Wall Street attorney.
So this past Tuesday, yet another scheduled event: "Ridgewood Family Night Ready, Set, Relax!" Instead of soccer practice, piano lessons, homework, or staying late at the office, some of the town's 25,000 residents decided just to take a night off.
For the past few months, an 18-member committee worked to gain the support of the public schools, local sports clubs, and religious groups in order to spread the ready, set, relax theme.
WITH the help of a local marketing firm, the committee was able to print hundreds of posters that were then put up around town by local boy- and girl-scout troops. Elementary- school students were given "Save the Date For Me" fliers to bring home to their parents, with the top 10 reasons they should participate in Family Night. The mayor issued an official proclamation and the public schools and sports clubs agreed to cancel all after-school activities and assign no homework so families could relax and do nothing.
"Our hope was to raise awareness," says Cynthia Busbee, a publicist with a Ridgewood marketing firm who volunteered to help organize and publicize the Family Night. "We just wanted this to give people a time to reflect upon the choices that they make ... to make cookies, to take a walk, or hang out and take in a movie. We just really wanted to say, 'Hey, we're overscheduling, let's stop and take a look at what we're doing and make conscious choices."
While many chuckle at the irony "only in Ridgewood would you have to schedule a time to relax," some of them say it's become a clarion call, challenging the very essence of middle-class family life in contemporary America.
"It's just a high-stress era," said Jennifer Shore, a stay-at-home mom, waiting Tuesday to pick up her two sons, Henry and Benjamin, from Willard Elementary School. "When we were little, we didn't have our parents scheduling all these activities. We just went out to play. It wasn't the 3:30 karate, the 4:15 baseball practice, or then the 5:30 tutor."
Many experts observe that millions of American parents feel pressure to make sure kids are prepared to compete in a high-pressure environment. Any gap in their physical, musical, or intellectual development might mean they won't get into, say, a school like Princeton, which lies just south of Ridgewood in New Jersey.