Sunday, April 03, 2005

Where's the time?

Mercy me, the rat-race has come for the children. It's not only students (and, of course, "responsible adults") who are stretched too thin by the demands on their time. This conversation makes me want to cry. In part, I think it's because my childhood didn't seem quite that busy. (Well, maybe it did by the time I was in high school. But by then, all the demands on my time served the useful purpose of keeping me out of screaming matches with my parents.)

I'm all for doing the work of trying to live a meaningful life, but it seems to me that a lot of the work that gets piled on us (and that we pile on ourselves) isn't leading that direction. My kindergartener has homework 4 nights a week. I am thrilled that there is actual learning going on in kindergarten, but some of this stuff seems to be aimed less at developing a love of learning and more at doing well on the state-mandated standardized test. Which, for the record, I think is pretty crappy. Because if there's one thing I'm pretty sure of, it's that the value of our lives will not be measured by our test scores.

Rather than ranting about the short-sightedness of choosing our activities according to what gets the best results on the stinkin' tests (because if I got started on that rant, I might never stop -- and that would be a bad use of my scarce time), I want to think about why "play" gets such short shrift. Why must every single thing we do lead in some obvious way toward fulfilling a practical goal or yielding a tangible payoff? Why must we feel guilty and wasteful for having fun? Isn't having fun valuable to us? Isn't it possible that enjoying our activities for themselves, rather than as instruments that are supposed to lead us to something Really Important, is good for us, and might make us better people?

Play gives us some space. It lets us try stuff, not because it's part of some great plan, but just to see what happens. Play lets us recharge our batteries. And, it gives us the opportunity to pull back from our big projects and be reflective about them.

(At the same time, I worry a little bit about turning play into "mandatory fun" -- Ohmigod I need to clear my schedule for play today or else bad things will happen, and if I don't get to it that's one more thing to feel guilty about. Could it be that the slackers were onto something?)
Fishing is like play. Provided I have time to play with weekend let me take the kindergartener (and I hope budding gardener) fishing.
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