Over the past few weeks, my e-mail, facebook feed, and blog subscriptions have been full of Summer Ideas. And Pinterest? Good grief. Surely, there are no longer any swim noodles, dishwashing liquid, or ingredients for homemade sidewalk chalk left on any store shelves There's a similar occurrence at Christmas Break or Spring Break, but those are nothing like the near-frantic rush during May to collect ideas, materials, and tickets to Keep Children Busy During Summer Break. Calenders have been completely scheduled with camps and vacations. Because every family has to take at least One Big Trip Which Stresses the Bank Accounts or your family is of the freak variety. Disney World is now a Rite (right) of Passage. I have no similar actions of my own mother and my childhood to which I can relate this current phenomenon. I have a pretty good idea of what my mother's opinion would be of it all, based on my childhood summers which I described in an earlier post.
I've thought about this and I really believe my strong aversion to this summer planning is not simply my digging my heals against doing what the masses are doing. It's based on my own childhood and its effects on my adult life and my experiences in the classroom. I don't want to be a part of the Entertained Child culture. I don't want to raise Entertained Children.
The idea of the Entertained has been at the forefront of my mind since I saw the current adaptation of The Great Gatsby at the cinema. F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of my literary soft-spot figures and The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels. My current copy is dog-eared and bent from favorite lines and passages being marked so I can return to them and savor them. It was actually an early exercise in life that I was open to the book, considering that it was such a popular choice in high school English classes because of its relatively short length. Its power and beauty was stronger than its popularity for me. So, I was very curious about this new film adaptation. I was intrigued by the trailers and it seemed that the casting was perfect, with each person looking so much as I pictured them each time I read the novel. Well, all of the casting seemed perfect with the exception of Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan. I admired Edgerton as an actor. If you haven't seen him in Warrior, please remedy that. He just didn't immediately look like Tom to me. I was so wrong; he was a brilliant choice. The entire film was amazing from set and costume design to casting to the screenplay, to the acting. I am going to see it with my husband this weekend and I'll probably see it at least one more time after that while it's on the big screen. Director Baz Luhrmann must love the novel because he translated the details and the big themes of the novel perfectly onto film. Di Caprio IS Jay Gatsby. In his performance, he manages to physically convey all the written details given by Fitzgerald as to the inner workings of this mysterious man. Carey Mulligan IS Daisy and Tobey McGuire's Nick is spot-on. The use of modern music in the soundtrack is original and it works perfectly. The device used for Nick's remembrance of his Gatsby experience was the perfect addition for an effective translation to film. Two omissions from the novel, Nick's relationship with Jordan and the appearance of Gatsby's father were something I missed, but I understand a director's dilemma when producing a feature-length adaptation. One of my favorite additions in the screenplay is the flashback sequence of Gatsby as a young man with his mentor, Dan Cody. That one bit where we see him as he seems to first be saying aloud his signature "old sport" in imitation of Cody in such a child-like manner worked beautifully to reveal an aspect of Gatsby to the audience. There is so much more to say about the novel and the film. SO MUCH. Instead, I'll get back on track with the idea of the Entertained as we see portrayed in the world of Tom and Daisy Buchanan.
One of my favorite single lines for its literary effectiveness in telling a world of information with such perfect economy is:
Before I could reply that he was my neighbour dinner was announced; wedging his tense arm imperatively under mine, Tom Buchanan compelled me from the room as though he were moving a checker to another square.
"...as though he were moving a checker to another square." This loaded phrase reveals the heart of Tom and the world in which he was raised. He and Daisy were raised as Older, if not technically, Old Money. Mansions, servants, travel, fine food and clothing were all a part of their upbringings and married life. Also a part of their lives was a constant attempt to placate boredom. A restlessness rooted in an ingrained sense of a right to be entertained. The people around them--those closest such as family or those more distant such as employees--were only useful in as much as they could relieve their boredom or desires. People in their world held little or no more value than their mansions, clothing, or automobiles. They were nothing more than playing pieces and Tom and Daisy both moved them from a sense of entitlement to do so. The things and people of their world were there to please them, according to their whims and preferences. That is why Tom is capable of spouting his racist theories, as we see shockingly portrayed on film as he says such ugliness right in front of his servants. That is why their daughter was nothing more than a doll to be brought out as suited them. That is why Tom is upset, not by the state of his marriage or distress of his wife, but by the situation of his wife and mistress no longer being in their proper places, pieces controlled by him. It is the WHY of a string of decisions they make which leave us heartbroken and sympathetic to Gatsby. It is the WHY which still allows so much evil or a lack of stand against evil in our world today.
All the bible stories, vacation bible schools, church camps, retreats won't work alone to form a conscience if children are allowed to become part of the Entertained. Boredom is not a disease which must be treated. Restlessness is not an illness for which we must provide an immediate prescription. Parents are not meant to be playing pieces which children manipulate for their pleasure. My purpose is to love them, train them, shelter and feed them, protect them from real danger, and guide them. It is not my job to make them happy or prevent every unpleasant experience or feeling. It is a good thing to sometimes sit and do nothing, to just rest and be at peace with silence and a lack of activity. It is a lifetime burden to feel the need to run from silence and to constantly seek entertainment or action. It is a good thing when a lack of something to do serves as a catalyst for creativity. Forts built of pillows and blankets result. Knotting together clover blooms to form necklaces can happen. The discovery that rolling clouds resemble animals or people can be made. It is the lifestyle in which a child is raised which has a huge impact on his formation; it's in the day-to-day rhythms, interactions, and structure that he learns about life.
Our homes are not meant to be entirely for the pleasure of our children. Pretties on a shelf which must not be touched remind children that every object does not exist entirely for them or their pleasure. Restrictions on screen times--television, video games, computers, phones, etc...-- teach children that there is a rhythm to our lives and our time. We have work and chores that we have to do first. Then, we have to make choices about what leisure activities are best and in what amounts. Organic--not orchestrated-- reading, artwork and creative play should fill more of our leisure time than should screens. Bitter cold in winter and oppressive summer heat (writing from Texas) teach children that they can't control nature; the sky, sun and weather patterns of our world do not exist for their pleasure, nor can they be controlled according to their preferences. Children who learn these lessons naturally are more likely to understand the proper place of physical items in their world. Decorative items make a home welcoming and clothing should be attractive and useful; constant buying and accumulation are not leisure activities which refresh mind, body or spirit. Friends are there to help when they need it, to share common interests, to make you want to be a better person; they do not exist to entertain you, to be called upon when useful or tossed out when they no longer serve your interests. Every single person's value is rooted in their creation by God; it is not dependent upon their value or perceived usefulness by you or society. The overall message is simply: "It's not about you."
So, instead of amassing huge amounts of kits and project-specific materials or spending a small fortune on camps, I'm going to do what my mom did. I mean, I've already provided them with a front yard and a back yard. They'll have a huge supply of crayons, washable markers, and drawing paper, in addition to glue, tape, and scissors. When I do a "project" with them, it will be because it will be fun to spend time with them, not just to occupy them so they will be out of my hair. If there's a camp experience that is a rare opportunity which we can't experience during the school year, I'll sign them up. I'm not going to ship them off just so I can do what I want to do. I'm planning on doing a little baking class for children in August, so I obviously don't think camps are a bad idea. When they get in junior and high school, I won't have control over all their summer time, so I want to give them this time now to just have free summers. I will give them permission to figure out how they can use the hose to find some relief from the heat. I will take them to the pool and I'll buy fruit juice or puree fresh fruit so they can fill Popsicle containers. I will drive them to the library, in addition to reminding them of the huge amount of money I've already spent on their overflowing bookshelves. And I will show them by example how I spend my day. Dishes have to be washed so we can eat and drink. Meals have to be prepared so we can eat and drink. Bathrooms have to be cleaned so we don't get sick or just disgusted. Floors have to be cleaned. I'll just get those things out of the way because some things you just have to do. Get over it. Then, when faced with leisure time, I'll lay in a chaise lounge outside and read a book. Maybe I'll just take a nap because I need it. Maybe I'll just sit and my children will see that stillness is not to be avoided. We find God in the stillness and silence. I might bake something or sand a piece of furniture that I want to paint or re-finish. In the most oppressive heat, we might pop popcorn and cuddle on the couch to watch a movie. It will all be cheap and easy. It will mostly be me as a safety supervisor, not a teacher.
Summer is a time of exploration, discovery, work, parental exasperation, fun, crankiness, activity, griping, sweat, refreshing water, laughs: REAL LIFE. In The Great Gatsby, we see Daisy turn back to her upbringing when faced with real difficulty. Summer, with all of its hours to be filled, is a child's safe training ground for all those times as an adult when plans don't work out and you have to find something else to do. For all those things you must do even though you don't really want to do them. For all the times when no one cares one bit about how you feel about something or about making sure you're in a perpetual state of Happy. We do not exist to be entertained, nor do other people exist for that entertainment. Break loose from the Entertained Masses. Get over it, embrace the fullness of life, and hang on for the ride.