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Take it easy, families

Clear the slate for ‘Ready, Set, Relax’ next Wednesday.

Islanders who find that the pace of contemporary life makes “family relaxation” an oxymoron can clear the calendar March 31.

The Just Know Bainbridge Coalition for Youth and Parents, a group founded last year, has “unscheduled” the evening for the first-ever “Ready, Set, Relax Bainbridge Family Night” to give families a chance to regroup.

The event is the second put on by Just Know, which debuted last November with a forum on teen risk behavior that gathered more than 300 participants.

“If the only way we can actually take time and spend it with our families is to have it written in the calendar for us, then hooray for Ready, Set, Relax,” Mayor Darlene Kordonowy said. “To have the chance to sit down and talk to each other is too big a gift to say ‘no’ to.”

The collective decision to kick back – supported by a wide range of local organizations, school and city officials, and businesses – is a move to strengthen family ties stressed by weekly activities that may have kids and parents spinning off in different directions.

Some may see irony in the massive planning for a night to relax; Just Know members, notably publicist Pam Keyes, Bainbridge High School Principal Brent Peterson and school board president Bruce Weiland, have worked with a wide range of organizations to coordinate the evening. The city, for instance, rescheduled a public meeting slated for that night.

“I think the school district is very excited to support this event,” Weiland said, “because it re-emphasizes the importance of family connections, which ultimately leads to teens making good choices later in life.”

For islanders Jim and Suzanne Macpherson, whose son attends Sakai Intermediate School and whose daughter is a student at Ordway Elementary, the night off dovetails with changes the family had already begun to make.

In 2001, Jim Macpherson moved his office to the island, after 20 years of commuting. He now sees the kids at school, and chaperones student trips.

The Macphersons took another look at priorities this year, as kid activities seemed to spiral out of control.

“I felt like our kids were getting run down,” Suzanne Macpherson said. “They get up at 6 every day, and then how much can you do after school? There’d be days when we’d go from piano to baseball to homework. Now it’s 10 p.m.”

The family dropped tennis for a season, and then dispensed with soccer.

“You don’t have to play every single season,” Suzanne Macpherson said. “Now, if the homework’s not done, we don’t go to baseball, or we don’t go to youth group.”

An unlooked-for benefit of curtailing activities, she says, has been to make the remaining few pursuits a privilege. The kids are less stressed out, and the family eats more meals at home.

Although they have already streamlined their lives, the Macphersons say they look forward to Ready, Set, Relax.

“It gives a structure to what we were aiming for,” Suzanne said.

Bainbridge’s bid to relax is part of a larger reassessment of the importance of “down time.” The island event is modeled on Ridgeway New Jersey’s pioneering Ready, Set, Relax night held in March 2002.

The event caught on after the New Jersey town, with its view of the Manhattan skyline, watched the twin towers come down – taking the lives of 12 Ridgeway residents. Friends there became more willing to value and invest in relationships, organizers say.

But the move to strengthen family ties may have earlier roots.

Psychologist David Elkind’s 1981 book, “The Hurried Child,” outlined the pitfalls of overscheduling children, while family therapist William Doherty, co-author of “Putting Family First,” enlisted his Minnesota home town in a 1998 community-wide effort to cut back on extracurricular activities.

For Kordonowy, Ready, Set, Relax is a chance to re-focus on primary relationships.

“We need to remember why all of us are so engaged in the community: it really is because of our loved ones,” she said. “But what’s being lost is the time together, so we need to take a deep breath and remember.

“If the only way we can do that is to have Ready, Set, Relax schedule it, let’s have them do it again and again, until people remember for themselves.”

* * * * *

Cool heels with loved ones on March 3I during Bainbridge Island’s first Ready, Set, Relax Family Night.

Several island businesses are discounting services to support the event; flyers containing a Family Pass are being distributed in school bulletins, the Bainbridge Review; at Safeway and Town and Country on March 27-28 and the ferry terminal on March 29-30.

The pass is good for video discounts, a family movie-and-snacks package at Bainbridge Cinemas; meals at participating restaurants; cake and balloons at a local bank; family fitness activities at local health clubs, and more. See the calendar, pages A9-10, for more Ready, Set, Relax events.

For a complete list of participating businesses and a post-event survey, see www.bainbridge.wednet.edu.

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