Dalal, with her daughter and sister, Fatima. Image courtesy of Dalal Al-Waheidi.
Self-improvement and self-care are important, but this time of year always brings me back to the focus of my childhood New Year's experiences: my family.
By the time the fireworks crescendoed over Cairo and my 22-month-old-daughter woke up to witness midnight on her second New Year's eve, my mind raced with changes I wanted to make in the year ahead to strengthen my family.
Ringing in the New Year with my sister at a Nile-side café, sharing plates of Arabic mezze such as hummus, baba ghanouj and kebab, was very special. Separated by thousands of kilometers and national borders, I don't get to see my loved ones nearly as often as I'd like and the holidays present a rare opportunity to rekindle the bonds of family.
As we talked—and the clock moved closer to midnight—sharing our plans for the New Year and reminiscing about our childhood, it struck me that the types of resolutions we usually think of around this time of year are foreign to me. Growing up in Kuwait and Gaza, the New Year was a very different affair.
Sure, there were fireworks and parties—but even at their loudest, our celebrations felt quieter, more subdued and grounded. There were no glaring campaigns encouraging you to join a gym, take that dream vacation or switch phone companies. New Year's Eve was another occasion to spend time as a family and connect with those closest to you.
It wasn't until I moved to Europe and eventually came to Canada that I saw the full force of the self-improvement craze as people promised to slim down and tone up, get more sleep and stick to a budget.
Self-improvement and self-care are important—being fulfilled in ourselves empowers us to care for others—but this time of year always brings me back to the focus of my childhood New Year's experiences: my family.
Firstly, I'm committing to use technology to enhance my family's relationships, instead of just to fill time while commuting. I'm going to be present with the people in my life, leaving my phone in the other room to make the most of the time I have with my loved ones over dinner. And for my family we can't share a meal with, I'm going to make sure they're an active presence in my daughter's life through video chats and photos.
Next, my husband and I are committing to volunteering together. Families that are actively engaged in their communities create a generation of change-makers and one of the greatest gifts I can give my daughter is the knowledge that she can have an impact. That starts with modeling behaviour for her now.
Lastly, I'm going to ensure my daughter grows up knowing what it means to be a part of a diverse community that cares for each other. Whenever I travel I'm reminded of how special Canada is, where people from all backgrounds speaking a multitude of languages celebrate cherished cultures side by side. This year my family is going to celebrate the threads that make up our diverse tapestry by sharing meals with our neighbours.
As 2016 drew to a close, headlines around the world declared it the worst year in recent memory: darker; more politically divisive; full of disaster, disease and an uncharacteristically high number of celebrity deaths. We have the potential to make 2017 better—not just for ourselves (when we finally lose that extra five pounds or remember to pack lunches for work) but for our family's and for each other, when we learn about issues together, leave notes of kindness to brighten one another's day, or tell the people in our lives what we're grateful for.
These are simple steps I plan to take for my family but my goal is much larger. I imagine a day, not too far off, when my daughter is a little older and we can talk about the issues and challenges she sees in the world. I want to raise her to care about little injustices and dream of ways she can help because she knows she can have an impact. That starts now, with a strong grounding in our home and our family.