This post was inspired by several people. First, Aunt Sheryl FB-linked to this post, Extraordinary Things Happen when We Simplify Childhood. I’ve had some good, insightful conversations with my friend AF on raising kids in today’s world. I have been studying different theories on family therapy, and this led to me consider the definition of a healthy childhood.
The article linked above lays out several advantages of not over-scheduling kids, and simplifying their lives. While I don’t agree 100% with everything that Gillett writes and the boy in the picture does look like he’s about to be kidnapped (but I think that may just be because the light and woods look different in British Columbia), I do agree that we have pushed our American-style busy-ness onto our children. Here are some other benefits of allowing kids to play – just play.
When allowed non-structured play, children learn negotiation and conflict resolution skills. They make up their own rules to their own games, and create their own consequences. They learn the give-and-take of compromise and negotiating for their wants. This means that mommies can’t jump in at the playground to intercede with every conflict. Wait it out and see what happens, because there really is no joy like hitting your friend with a well-aimed dirt clot during a game of King of the Mountain on the dirt pile that the neighbors just had delivered to fill in their yard, and then getting ambushed from behind the dirt pile with the JET setting on the spray gun of their water hose.
With non-structured play, children discover their own limits. Yes, there may be some bruises and broken bones, but these things teach children to evaluate their own abilities and compare them to perceived dangers. Think of falling out of a tree or when you swung too high and fell out of the swing. By protecting them from all of these things, they don’t learn to determine a boundary between safe and not-so-safe. The next time you go to your pediatrician, ask him or her about those minor bumps and bruises injuries; the ones I talk to say that normal kids’ bruises and scrapes are almost nonexistent. When was the last time you saw a commercial for Bactine? Does this generation of kids even know that you can blow on stuff to keep it from stinging?
Unstructured play also creates mental processing time. Remember running so fast with your friends (for no purpose at all) that you collapsed, completely out of breath? That time that you spent catching your breath and looking at a piece of grass, or the clouds, or whatever, you are also processing all of the sensory input of the physical exertion, the ground, and everything else that you see, hear, smell, or feel. Studies are beginning to show that with simply allowing for quiet processing time like this, many hyperactivity symptoms can be mediated without medication.
Keeping an empty schedule from time to time also teaches kids how to do nothing. So many kids don’t know how to sit still for a few minutes. Or be quiet for a few minutes without having a device in their hands. Enduring the boringness of doing nothing is a skill, and one that they will face many times as an adult. They expect to be entertained, even at school, and the truth is sometimes you have to do the thing that’s not “fun”; sometimes, you just have to memorize the states and their capitals – there’s no way around it. This has led in part to a growing trend of discomfort intolerance (and its cousin frustration intolerance) in young people. Because, really, nothing bad is going to happen and there will be no catastrophe, if your kid gets too hot while waiting on you (his mom), or gets a little thirsty before arriving home, or has to sit and wait for his sister at her friend’s house. Needs do not have to be fulfilled immediately.
It is demanding on us, the adults, to do this training. In the beginning, it can require attention, being present, and setting clear boundaries. It is much easier to distract a child than let him or her experience the discomfort, but it goes a long way towards creating durable, socialized (not whiny) young adults.
What started out as this:
Which, eventually, led us to this:
Ermagod, was that really behind the wall when I took baths, slithering around on the hot water pipes? Sorry we had to kill you, big Texas Rat Snake, but you were too huge for me to live with.
Speaking of Snakes and Texas, if you are in New York, go see my friend Molly’s off-off-Broadway play, Snakes I Have Known.
I saw a tutorial for the cutest fabric boxes over at The Sometimes Crafter and knew that I would be making these. Not only is it a fairly simple project, it’s perfect for fat quarters. You need two fat quarters to make a box and they sew up very quickly.
I was able to whip out two for my work Secret Santa before I really had to get done with some serious Christmas sewing, knitting, baking, and cooking. I think they turned out fairly well, except my seems are never as straight as anyone else’s and the tops of my boxes tend to round out, but they are still cute as can be.
I still have some fat quarters left; next time I thinkI’ll try make some nesting boxes!
Somewhere on the web I had seen a recipe idea for rainbow cupcakes – vivid colors with cloud like frosting that were just the bees knees. It stuck in my brain, hanging out there, waiting to be sprung like an old west prisoner from jail. And then it happened, one of the clubs at our school was going to have a bake sale. And here came the cupcakes.
The “recipe” is this: buy two boxes of a white cake mix, have good food coloring around, bake and top with store-bought white icing. Easy enough.
I prepared the mixes in two batches and then divided all of the batter amongst 7 smaller bowls. I added a bit of gel food coloring to each. If the colors were not bright enough, I added a bit more.
Stir. Stir. Stir. Stir. Good. Look how pretty.
Put paper cups in muffin tins or not. I chose not to since I thought all the pretty colors would sell batter if people could see them. Layer in the cupcake batter. Your personality-type will determine whether you do it neatly in complete layers or haphazardly with layers that merge in on each other. Guess which I am.
Bake according to directions. Let cool completely. I froze mine at this point so I could have an extra day.
The night before the bake sale, I took rainbow bright cupcakes out of the freezer and popped them into the small, clear, plastic cups that are used for punch at cheap weddings and proms.
On other websites, the frosting is all pretty mounded up on top of the cupcakes like cumulonimbus clouds. I dollopped mine on in a hurry, so they looked more like cirrus, or maybe stratus. Either way they were a big hit, and fun to make because the payoff is huge for the effort.
The seemingly romantic, endearing story of a man living in the wilderness, on his own, a true frontiersman, is the same story of a man, who, in response to the feeling that he has disappointed his father, lives by himself in every sense of the phrase “by himself”. First in a tipi, then in a crude cabin, and then in a nicer cabin, killing/scavenging his food, finding his own water, cutting the trees, harvesting a garden. He first does this at twelve, and then leaves home for good, for the wilderness, in his late teens. In his life, to be 100% self-sufficient and true to nature, living without harming the Earth, is the only way to be a responsible citizen. However, it comes to mean that he must wheel and deal in order to keep his land pristine, as well as deal with lesser apprentices to try to keep his ideal alive. He spends so much time teaching classes and organizations, talking to reporters, and giving seminars on the road, that his “camp”, Turtle Island, declines without his directorial precision, creating an even greater sense of failure. He is also disappointed in his inability to find a wife or start a family. His great charisma and charm attract plenty of idealistic, smart, beautiful girlfriends, but his unattainable standards eventually drive them away. These standards also alienate his brother and sister, who distance themselves from his unforgiving standards much in the same way he did from his father’s.
p13 It is his belief that we Americans, through our constant striving for convenience, are eradicating the raucous and edifying beauty of our true environment and replacing that beauty with a safe but completely faux “environment.” What Eustace sees is a society steadily undoing itself, it might be argued, by its own over-resourcefulness. Clever, ambitious, and always in search of greater efficiency, we Americans have, in two short centuries, created a world of push-button, round-the-clock comfort for ourselves. The basic needs of humanity – food, clothing, shelter, entertainment, transportation, and even sexual pleasure—no longer need to be personally labored for or ritualized or even understood. All these things are available to us now for mere cash. Or credit. Which means that nobody needs to know how to do anything anymore, except the one narrow skill that will earn enough money to pay for the conveniences and services of modern living.
But in replacing every challenge with a shortcut we seem to have lost something, and Eustace isn’t the only person feeling that loss. We are an increasingly depressed and anxious people—and not for nothing. Arguably, all these modern conveniences have been adopted to save us time. But time for what? Having created a system that tends to our every need without causing us undue exertion or labor, we can now fill the hours with…?
Well, for one thing, telelvision—loads of it, hours of it, days and weeks and months of it in every American’s lifetime. Also, work. Americans spend more and more hours at their jobs every year; in almost every household both parents (if there are two parents) must work full-time outside of the home to pay for all these goods and services. Which means a lot of time commuting. Which means a lot of stress. Less connection to family and community. Fast-food meals eaten in cars on the way to and from work. Poorer health all the time. (America is certainly the fattest and most inactive society in history, and we’re packing on more pounds every year. We same to have the same disregard for our bodies as we do for our other natural resources; if a vital organ breaks down, after all, we always believe we can just buy a new one. Somebody else will take care of it. Same way we believe that somebody else will plant another forest someday if we use this one up. That is, if we even notice that we’re using it up.)
There’s an arrogance to such an attitude, but – more than that—there’s a profound alienation. We have fallen out of rhythm. It’s this simple. If we don’t cultivate our own food supply anymore, do we need to pay attention to the idea of, say, seasons? Is there any difference between sinter and summer if we can eat strawberries every day?…….If we never leave our house except to drive to work, do we need to be even remotely aware of this powerful, humbling, extraordinary, and eternal life force that surges and ebbs around us all the time?
p126 Most Americans probably don’t want to live off the land in any way that would involve real discomfort, but they still catch a thrill from Eustace’s continual assurance that “You can!” Because that’s what most of us want to hear. We don’t want to be out there in a snowstorm on the Oregon Trail, fixing the broken axle of a covered wagon; we want to feel as though we could do it if we had to. And Eustace lives as he does in order to provide us with that comforting prrof.
“You can!” he keeps telling us.
And we keep believeing him, because he does!
He is our mythical inner self, made flesh, which is why it’s comforting to meet him. Like seeing a bald eagle. (As long as there’s one left, we think, maybe things aren’t so bad, after all.) Of course, embodying the mythical hopes of an entire society is a pretty big job for one man, but Eustace has always been up for it. And people also sense that in him; they sense his self-assurance of being large enough to serve as a living metaphor, of being strong enough to carry all our desires on his back. So it’s safe to idolize him, which is an exciting experience in this callow, disillusioned age when it’s not safe to idolize anybody. And people get a little dizzy with that excitement, a little irrational. I know, because I’ve been there.