Cataloging time well spent on New Year's

For many, the idea of reviewing the year past and making resolutions for the year ahead is consider an act for people well on in life experience. One father learns the value of teens taking stock annually to gain perspective.

Danny Heitman
Will Heitman poses with his cello.

If Christmas is a holiday that places children at its center, we usually regard New Year’s Day as an observance geared for grownups.

The wistful retrospection of New Year’s – auld lang syne and all of that – seems more suited to the middle-aged mind, and not the outlook of a child or a teen with only a few years in the rearview mirror.

But there’s value, too, in youngsters taking some time to look back at where they’ve been, as I was recently reminded when my 14-year-old son, William, was named student of the year at his junior high school.

He’s now competing for the honor at the district level, and that required him to submit a dossier of all the things he’s done during his academic career.

Even if William doesn’t win the district title, as a teacher reminded us, the dossier will leave us with a keepsake of Will’s many adventures both inside and outside the classroom.

That’s a nice dividend for us because, truth be told, we’re not one of those families who keeps scrapbooks. My wife and I find ourselves too busy living life to carefully record very much of it, and so the ribbons, certificates, and snapshots from our children’s lives tend to accumulate in drawers and dusty shelves, with very little sense of narrative.

But with help from my wife Catherine, the nearest thing our household has to a recording secretary, William drew on our shoebox archives to tell a 25-page story of what he’s done in a life that spans less than a decade and a half.

What surprised us – and what might surprise you if you undertake this exercise – is how much our son had been able to do, whether it was through Scouting, his science club, his church service, or his abiding interest in robotics.

Looking back, even at his tender age, William was reminded of the typically incremental nature of accomplishment. Popular culture tends to focus on the One Big Moment that defines success, whether it be a breathtaking touchdown, the rafter-raising rim shot, the valedictory speech at high school graduation. But our quick review of William’s life spoke of a different reality. Along with landmark events, like a stellar showing at the science fair, we saw lots of little moments, such as his hours at his robotics club, that slowly added up to something grand. 

How gratifying for William to see, in assembling his dossier, that happiness and fulfillment are a long-term proposition.

The dossier also highlighted the many mentors who have helped William along the way – the team sponsor who introduced him to robotics, the Scout leaders who taught him how to build a campfire, the science teacher who fired his passion for the world of knowledge, the music teachers who helped him take a cello and unleash its hidden language to an audience. 

Remembering these heroes in William’s life of learning filled us with gratitude that could fill more than 25 pages – or 25 times 25 pages.

That’s why, each New Year’s Day, as my wife and I share lunch with William and his sister Eve, now in college, we take turns and offer not only personal resolutions, but a few highlights of our year. 

Last New Year’s, Will remembered how much he’d struggled in math during the previous months, and how he eventually found his potential. Eve recalled her senior year of high school, and her evolving sense of how quickly time passes.

All the more reason, I’ve decided, why kids should be a big part of New Year’s, too.

Revisiting the past, as my children have discovered, can yield as many surprises as the future spreading out ahead of them.

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