The Gift of Time

November 27, 1993

With Thanksgiving comes the beginning of the seasonal bustle and celebration marked by conviviality and, yes, commercialism. As schedules are spiced with holiday greetings and gatherings, busy lives get even busier.

It is also a time for the rituals, large and small, that set holidays apart. But for many American families, the season highlights a shortage that plagues too many lives -- the sheer lack of time for the mornings, afternoons or evenings together devoted to baking, decorating or simply basking in the electric anticipation that a brightly wrapped box can spark in a child. These are the moments that serve our memories well but that deadlines and hurry-up tasks make all too rare.

As the holiday period begins, it is worth pausing to remember that celebrations have one purpose -- to bind us as families and as communities. That can't truly happen without time to be together. More than money, this is the most precious holiday commodity in many households, the one thing without which fond memories can never thrive in years to come.

A few days ago, Education Secretary Richard W. Riley called on parents to "slow down the pace of their lives to help their children." He suggested that families turn off their television sets so parents can read to children and talk with them. That's a low-tech remedy. But it is, in fact, the one most likely to inoculate children against the temptations they face every day, from drugs to simply tuning out. We humans can live without many things, but we all -- especially young people -- need a listening ear, a sounding board, someone who cares.

Electronic images can never provide all that, only people can. After all, that's what families are for, not just in holiday times but all year long.

Time -- it could be the best gift a child ever got.

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