Five-year-old Ben is becoming quite an entertaining fellow. His sense of humor is coming through more and more often, and his talent for making his father and me laugh out loud is growing daily. Comments like, "Dad, this isn't a Butterfinger ice cream, because I haven't dropped it" shows me that his brain is in constant motion.
One of my favorite things to do is give my kids a riddle, math problem or pun and then sit back and watch them. I can almost see the wheels working inside, and the best part is always the light in their eyes and the smiles on their faces when they figure out the answer or get the joke.
In this world where kids are spending more than 20 hours a week watching television or playing video games, and the cases of obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol levels in children are rising, one thing all of the experts are saying is, "let them be kids." This new generation--offspring of overworked parents--is under-rested, over-stimulated and over-scheduled. I'd be interested in seeing a study of how many kids lie in the grass on a regular basis and figure out what shapes the clouds are making in the blue summer sky above their heads.
As time-pressed parents become pulled in more and more directions, of course we are going to seek out entertaining ways for our kids to spend time and enjoy themselves. But maybe instead of cutting corners on the type of activities we offer them, we should be cutting out some of the things that demand so much of our time be spent away from them.
The other day, as we were riding in the car, it got quiet in the back seat. I figured both boys were reading, until I looked in the rear view mirror and saw Ben just sort of staring off into space.
"Mom? I have a question."
"How come, when we're just relaxing, our brain keeps thinking about all different kinds of things?"
I was blown away, and told him what an excellent question that was. I explained that our brains are always working, whether we're reading, working in school, playing a game or even sleeping (that's where dreams come from). And that got me thinking about how very important it is to make sure our kids HAVE the time to 'just relax', to let their minds wander off to unknown places and follow a thought to another thought and another. This unstructured freedom is the spring from which our imagination flows, and how children make sense of their world. It's the kind of thing they won't learn in a textbook, and I'm pretty sure they haven't invented a video game of it either.
Ben's recent jokes, comments and games show me that he is letting his thoughts flow freely, just as I did during the summers when I was a kid. As far as I'm concerned, my most important job as a parent is not to make sure I have enough money to buy my kids everything they want. It is to keep the pace of our lives slow enough that they can have these moments of relaxation, and the satisfaction that imagination and reflection brings, without ever running out of time.