Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bored With Nothing To Do

Bored – Nothing To Do! is a delightful picture book about two brothers who undertake an adventure on a summer day when there was “nothing to do.”  I was reminded of it last night when I read an article  in the Wall Street Journal focused on a new “underserved” marketing niche:  boys 6 to 11 years old.  Why?  Because, “boys watch more animated series than girls and represent a lucrative sales opportunity for videogames, toys and sports merchandise.”  Put into a nutshell:   it is the middle of summer, there are A LOT of kids passively watching a screen in front of them, and they are bored to death. 
Boredom seems to reign supreme in this new generation of kids.  And that is a shame.  Children of this generation – boys and girls alike – are so pre-programmed, over-scheduled, and pushed, even in the earliest months, that “spare time” is filled with a bizillion channels of cable tv, endless video games, DVD players even in the SUV, and i-pads to soak up every bit of their remaining attention.
Addictive behaviors begin early.  And so does a lack of creative initiative.  Indeed, a couple of years ago, when I was taking care of a friend’s children, her kids were excited to find Lego’s in the toy closet.  They quickly became frustrated, though, trying to follow the pre-planned instructions, and began squabbling over the pieces.  “You know,” I interrupted, “You don’t have to follow the directions.  You can make ANYTHING you want.” 
“We can?” they replied, incredulous. 
The next two hours flew past, each of the kids building and rebuilding the “best rocket ship ever,” and the “best fighter jet ever,” and the “best castle ever,” from the pile of tiny plastic pieces.  And they GLOWED when their mom came, so proud of what they had made.  Their faces, in turn, fell when their mom replied, “Ok, time to pick up the toys.  We need to go.”
The next time they came, the oldest child made cookies with me.  For the first time ever.
One summer in Kansas City when our girls were elementary and middle school age, we challenged them to not watch tv for the entire summer.   It was like they were released from jail.   They put on plays in the basement, they ripped up the sideyard playing with a Slip N Slide that they bought for a quarter at a garage sale, they rode bikes to the neighborhood pool, and one of them started a “mold garden” under her sink to “see what happens.”  They figured out how to sew simple things for their American Girl dolls using scraps of cloth and yarn…and much to his horror, constructed outfits for our dog Jack.  Each of the girls had “mud clothes” and an old pair of shoes for exploring the undeveloped field behind our house.  And that summer began their adventures in cooking--with recipes and without –a pursuit that continues to this day as adults in their own kitchens.  
Quite frankly, they made a big mess.
And they had the time of their lives. 
When the summer ended, tv wasn’t even mentioned until November.   C. S. Lewis was once asked how he developed such a vivid imagination.  He replied that he and his brother were left with large amounts of time on their hands.  Creativity took over from there. 
Our oldest daughter Beth, now the mother of two small children, has a wise friend who advised her, “You have 18 summers with your kids.  That’s it.  Make the most of that time.”
So tonight, let them pitch a tent in the backyard and sleep under the stars.  Let them come up with ideas for supper…and make it.   Let them run through the sprinklers in the yard, and draw with colored chalk on the driveway, and make forts with pillows and quilts in the family room, and research and plan a family outing somewhere in, let’s say, a 100 mile radius of home.  And yea, they WILL get dirty.  They might even have so much fun you will have to throw out their clothes.  They can film their own movies or create a video scavenger hunt or play Capture the Flag at dusk.  You may even discover latent talents in them.  As a poor Brooklyn kid back in the Great Depression, my father built a miniature golf course in their tiny yard – and made money with it.  He charged a few clothes-pins a game, and then sold them back to the neighborhood moms on laundry day.
And when it comes time for your kids to write the perennial essay What I Did On My Summer Vacation, your kids will smile at the thought of it.  “You wouldn’t believe…”
Let them make it the “best summer ever.”   It’s not too late.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Elusive Perfection of Children

Of the writing of parenting books, there is no end.  The first one was written, I believe, in the garden of Eden, shortly after Eve took a bite of the apple from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Satan had promised her, PROMISED her, that she would become like God.  And nothing since has been the same.  She took a bite, blamed her husband Adam, looked for a new outfit, and began rearranging bushes in the Garden.  Before the incident, Adam and Eve basked in perfection; since then, we have been seeking it.  And as if we have come to grips with our own imperfection, we have been appalled at its presence in our children. 

Children misbehave.  That is a fact.  They misbehave most certainly in the presence of those you want to impress, and just about always when it is grossly inconvenient and your patience is nowhere to be found.  “You did WHAT?”  “Can’t you children get along for TWO minutes?”  We somehow expect them – whether 18 months or 18 years old – to act with the mindset of a mature adult and naturally display the attributes of God (wise, loving, kind, gracious, and good), in other words, as WE would have done :)

With that bite of the apple, performance entered the picture.  And so, if our children do well, we take the credit.  And if they do not, we feel guilty and judged, and quickly as possible pin the blame on someone else:  the bad influence of a neighbor’s child, an unqualified teacher, the whole school system, your own mom or dad… or we carry the guilt, browbeating ouselves, tormented by our own stupidity.  “I am to blame.  It is my fault.  I should have/could have done better.  And now my child’s life is ruined.”  Really?? 

As followers of Christ, our homes should be radically different.  Your worldview does not just affect your view of God;  it changes how you view your children.  And that difference should be evident to everyone who enters your home and anyone around you – whether you are playing in the park, standing in line at the grocery, or sitting in an airport terminal with a delayed flight and hungry, tired kids.  Be assured, others ARE watching you and your children:   not to see how perfect they are, but how you respond in grace.