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Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Happy New Year and mind the gap

December 31, 2009

The Gap of Dunloe, Ireland

The Gap of Dunloe, Ireland

The boy and his father stood in the middle of our quiet street. “What are you doing?” I asked.

“Throwing buckeyes!” the kid beamed as he and Dad playfully launched two more down the hill. I watched them in the Saturday sun and fell into a gap.

The world is full of gaps. Opportunity gaps. Credibility gaps. Some shouldn’t be missed, like Ireland’s fantastic Gap of Dunloe. And some, like the one in the London Tube, must be avoided. (Mind the Gap – lest you find yourself floundering between train and platform!)

Ever hear the term gap year? It usually refers to a break taken by high school or college grads that defers enrollment in the next phase of life. Ideally, one uses a gap year to do something completely out of the box: work, volunteer, intern, apprentice, self-study, travel… or any real world offering. The implicit goal is to figure out what you really want or don’t want to do with your life.

In January a couple of years ago, our daughter headed off for a travel adventure in SE Asia while our son and his girlfriend headed to Malaysia to teach English there. They each had vague plans for after. But gaps have a habit of transforming those who venture into them and that’s the whole point. I used their departure to ask myself, “Where can I find some gaps to give me more of what I need this year?” I realized I needed to get back to writing fiction. The result? My Middle School Confidential™ series.

Adults and teens say they want more time to do the stuff they really enjoy. Sounds like a worthy New Year’s Resolution. Instead of waiting for life to slow down how about looking for gaps? I’m not talking about major gaps that require chucking your “real” life for a year. I’m talking about tiny gaps we continuously overlook despite their fluttering, glowing and vibrating all around us. Gaps in the kitchen, in the car… in between gulping coffee and thinking about the next six things you have to do. The doorway into a gap might be the curl of your son’s hair or a bird flying over the freeway. Or… just about anything.

In the spirit of the new year, here’s a challenge. Right here, at your computer, fall into a gap. Go ahead, no one’s watching. As you read these words, stop for a minute. Breathe in… and notice yourself breathing in. Breathe out… and focus on breathing out. (C’mon, play along with me.) Slowly look around the room. Find something familiar and appreciate something new about it. Consciously turn off autopilot and life slows and quiets down a bit. What might happen if you consciously looked for gap moments and, for example, appreciated your children in new ways? How might your experience of parenting change? How about your perception of who you are and what matters to you as an individual?

Just to be clear, I’m not advocating dropping out and contemplating your cuticles 24/7. I’m simply suggesting that life offers more options than stress/productivity vs. nirvana/slackerdom. Look, I’m one of the most productive people I know and proud of it. So believe me when I say that you can find gap moments and still be productive. When I fall into a gap, which I’ve been doing more frequently (I’m in one right now), I simultaneously become calmer and more energized. That opens me up creatively, intellectually, intuitively… and my productivity soars.

I know from my email that teens are stressed. You can help them by finding gap moments in your own life. That can lower your stress levels which will decrease the overall stress in your home. Talk to your kids about the concept of a gap… a momentary break from day-to-day busyness. Model it for them. The payoff? You’ll begin to savor your life on a deeper level. And with your leadership your family will live in time instead of just passing through.

Happy New Year and watch out for flying buckeyes.

In friendship,

P.S. If you decide to take on my New Year’s Gap Challenge I’d love to hear from you. It doesn’t have to be anything cosmic, just a brief description of a moment when you slowed down and fell into a gap. Maybe I’ll include some of your gap stories in a future blog as inspiration for all of us who could use a break.

Filed under: Holidays,Parenting — Tags: , , , , — Annie @ 6:11 pm


  1. Wonderful, Annie – just simply wonderful. I’m so glad that I found you to follow on Twitter. I appreciate this post more than you can know. Thank you for writing it. 🙂

    Comment by Lisa Marie Mary — December 31, 2009 @ 7:27 pm

  2. This is the second time in one day, (although the fact that it’s 12:34 a.m. of the next day may technically make it two, but it’s not yet light again…) that I’ve been reminded of the gap.
    My yoga teacher started us off in shivasana this morning simply to remind us to take a moment to be quiet and to get comfortable in that silence.
    Was feeling conflicted about reading blogs tonight instead of going to bed, but am glad I found your twitter follow and hence your blog!
    I’ll try and heed your advice throughout the New Year, and am looking forward to reading more about of your work.

    Comment by Zip n Tizzy — January 5, 2010 @ 1:39 am

  3. Hi there! I love your opening image of the boy and his dad throwing buckeyes down the hill. That sounds like a lot of fun. Perhaps part of finding gaps is reveling in doing something just because it’s enjoyable and brings us closer to the people we care about, rather than trying to -achieve- something. I for one am prone to feeling guilty if I’m not being productive. Thanks for giving us “permission” to take in the quietude for a moment and then dive back into saving the world, cooking dinner, reading reports, or whatever it is we do with our time.

    Comment by Fayette — January 7, 2010 @ 12:23 pm

  4. Decided to blow off my ever-growing ToDo list and take a “gap” day today with my oldest son (17). He competes in fixed-gear trick bike competitions. Don’t know what fixed-gear trick biking is? Don’t know how to ride backwards or ride a wheelie with no hands? Watch this:

    Not your typical sport. Anyway, I’ve seen him do his stuff many times in videos like the one above (one of my favs), but I’d never taken time out to actually attend one of the (definitely “out-of-the-box”) competitions and meet some of the bikers and organizers behind the events. So, headed off to Sacramento for the day to watch him compete in this one:

    Sure glad I blew off my ToDos to enjoy this “buckeye-skipping” moment. Pure magic. So great to see him in his element completely unfettered by parental constraints. Shot lots of proud video from the sidelines with my Flip.

    I’ll get back to the ToDos tomorrow…

    Comment by Bill Dwight — January 9, 2010 @ 10:57 pm

  5. understand what is “gap year” now. wonderful informaton. thanks!

    Comment by Emily Tuang — October 25, 2010 @ 7:58 pm

  6. Annie, I think this is great advice for anyone, especially parents. Our time with our children is extremely limited, though at times it doesn’t seem like it. The days are long but the years are short. Thanks for the encouragement to look for time to spend with each other!

    Comment by Brian Webb — January 1, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

  7. Hi Annie,

    Just taking the time to read your blog was a gap moment for me, although because my kids have been on winter break for the past couple of weeks, I’ve really taken the time to (mostly) enjoy being with them. : )

    I’ve found myself slowing my hectic schedule down to invite them to cook with me or stop everything and appreciate a sunset because we’re so fortunate to have a wonderful view. Just yesterday we went sledding and I took almost as many turns as they did.

    Result of this two week holiday hiatus/gap is that I feel refreshed, energized and ready to begin a new year, new round of pavement pounding!

    Looking forward to more Annie Fox wisdom; thanks for your blog!


    Comment by Penny Holguin — January 2, 2011 @ 11:04 pm

  8. this is exactly what I needed to read and think about as I prepare myself to leave my office and head home, a bit tired but hoping for a good 2-3 hours with the kids before they head to bed. I seek small moments like this often, but sometimes, I forget. Thank you for the reminder.

    Comment by Liz — January 4, 2011 @ 2:22 pm

  9. Stumbled here from twitter and am glad I did! I have been feeling stressed and a little disconnected from my little ones lately, and I think finding “gaps” to enjoy will help restore some balance!

    Comment by angela — January 4, 2011 @ 7:51 pm

  10. Beautifully written and absolutely true. We miss the small moments –the ones that make up our lives –give color and texture to each day. Those gaps are priceless moments to drink in the color and texture and sights and sounds and touches and laughter –and sometimes tears—that make life a rich experience. I will come by here more often to be reminded and to get my heart and mind stirred…….

    Comment by Kay Swatkowski — January 11, 2011 @ 11:00 pm

  11. I really enjoyed reading this post as I sit here in a hotel room with my 5 and 8 year old sons asleep in the next room… we’ve ended up in a ‘gap’ after the New England snow storm left us stranded together in Aruba at the end of our vacation! My husband left on an earlier flight for a work trip, so here we are… just the kids and I for two more days!! It feels surreal and completely different than the earlier, planned part of the trip, but I am inspired not to stress about it and just enjoy the time in our little tropical limbo!

    Comment by Suzanne Tobin — January 14, 2011 @ 7:01 pm

  12. Nothing wrong with a little tropical limbo Suzanne!

    Comment by Gap Year — August 11, 2011 @ 3:43 am

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