Monday, November 30, 2009

Beyond Busy … OR … WTF is up with all the activities, huh?

“Write a short essay comparing and contrasting the differences between childhood now and the childhood you remember, particularly in how they relate or do not relate along the lines of social activities and/or group projects.”

Don’t you HATE those kinds of assignments?  Remember that type of essay question though from say, World History class in high school, perhaps at Fredericktown, MO?  Hmmm?

Well whatever high school YOU attended and whether or not you graduated, it’s not for me to point fingers; most folks were not fans of those essay questions.  Oddly enough I always wanted to like them but never had enough time in school to really get into them.

So I sucked at them.  Big time.

But that maddening essay assignment bore the inspiration for this blog post.

Let me take you back for a few moments to my childhood.  Trust me we won’t stay long.  Queue the time travel music …

My mom used to take me to this shoe store when I was a kid.  It was owned by this old Jewish couple.   Sometimes we’d just drop in to visit because the lady there, Eve, and my mom were friends.  That store was one of my favorite places to go in our little town though I never really told my mom.  Eve would always offer me a bit of hard candy which was nice of her.  Though I was dreadfully shy, she never made me feel like a freak for it.  I always felt safe in that store – it was a good place.

I was the kid who dutifully went along quietly with my mom and occasionally asked to run up to the dime store by myself if things were running a bit long at one of mom’s stores.

And we had quite a few stores we visited like this.  My mom and always me there by her side while she talked to the other adults at the store.

At times though certainly not often, the owners/friends would look down at me to ask if I were involved in any sports or whatnot.  I never was.  Very seldom they would mention something that their own child was involved in and suggest to me that I might like it.  But I certainly never felt pressured or made to feel weird for not being involved in a bunch of hullabaloo.  And I know my mom didn’t either. 

I know that because once we got back home she never mentioned it to me or my grandma.  She and grandma always talked pretty openly about things that irritated them particularly if they felt someone was “getting pushy” or “getting in their business”.

Flash forward to today.

So in my retrospective there, I’d like to say that in my childhood I never once felt pressured to participate in a lot of activities.  My mom just kind of let me be me.  And our family didn’t try to keep up with other families or buy into some culture of constant business.  I’m not even sure, in the 70’s, the culture of having tons of activities even existed.

I hear parents talking all the time about their, and their childrens, constant involvement in a bahjillion activities.

And when I talk to parents most of them go into this zombie-mode wherein they ask me, “Well what all stuff is your son into?  Sports?  Football?  Basketball?  Our kid is 4 and leads his own martial arts class.  What about your kid?”

Invariably I have no answer to any of these types of questions other than to politely say, “Nope Josh isn’t into any of those things”.  But the attitude bothers me.

The assumption is rampant that everyone is involved in a ton of things at all times, all seasons and all occasions.

I suppose we’re weird.

My family is much like my family growing up.  We generally do stuff around our home, taking a few special trips out per year, taking in a concert here and there, stuff like that.  That seems normal to me.  Well it does until I watch TV or talk to most other parents.

We are snails on the road of life compared to most.

My question is though, when did staying so busy become the norm and doing things a bit more minimalist become ‘weird’?  Why do kids have to stay in so many activities nowadays?  When did that change?  And why are folks who aren’t that busy looked upon as odd?

When I was growing up it really was just the opposite as I pointed out.

Have we become a group of folks that just HAVE to have the distraction?  Are we afraid of facing ourselves in the quiet?  I wonder.  And why raise kids that “always have to be busy”?

Many parents I’ve met are like the directors of cruise ships, constantly entertaining and making sure their kids are “engaged”, as if they are afraid those kids won’t choose that same cruise-line next year and sail with a different boat.

I get that there is much out there to do.   But perhaps we don’t have to do it all?  Call me crazy.

 I know that there is a lot of pressure on parents today to always be doing something.  Preferably outside your home too it seems.   But what happened to sitting around reading books as entertainment for your family?  Or listening to the radio together?

Those last two questions probably sound strange to you if you’re still reading this rant.

I’ll sign off by saying this.

Unplug a tad now and then.

You get your sanity back a bit.  You really get to know your kids too when there is nothing between the two of you but air and the opportunity for conversation.  Get to know them as people.  Not projects.

Unplugging from it all is good in another way.  You find out who your real friends are.  They are the ones who find a way to still talk to you no matter what.

Unplugging is good.  It brings about moments of growth.

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