This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it. -Ralph Waldo Emerson
I came across an article recently, that referenced a thoughtful piece that ran last summer in the Huffington Post. I don’t remember anything about the article that referenced it now, but the HP article called The Day I Stopped Saying ‘Hurry Up’ is worth revisiting. In the article, author Rachel Macy Stafford tells the story of her gloriously “laid-back, carefree, stop-and-smell-the roses type of child”.
Her daughter, Macy Stafford, observed, was a Noticer, “and I quickly learned that The Noticers of the world are rare and beautiful gifts. That’s when I finally realized she was a gift to my frenzied soul.”
In reading Macy Stafford’s descriptions of her perennially dawdling daughter, I was instantly transported back, 20 years, to our own little blessing of a sprite, the eldest of our three children, an enchantingly distracted little creature for whom the word “hurry” had no meaning. I remember watching her one day, when she was about four or five years old, at a community center gymnastics class. The other children were tumbling with athletic fervor, cheered on by an energetic and encouraging teacher. One after the other, the children somersaulted down the mat, like little windblown dandelion seeds. And then it was my little girl’s turn.
My dreamy little kid took one graceless flopping somersault and lay there on her back, beaming up at the lights
overhead, clearly enchanted by something she saw there. The teacher urged her on. The other parents around me chuckled indulgently. My sweetheart clambered up, and gamely tumbled over again, and this time, a sliver of thread from the exercise mat caught her eye, and she lay there happily playing with it until the teacher nudged her on. Then she saw something else that looked like some kind of animal and happily described to anyone who would listen, still not halfway down the mat.
It was funny and sweet and heartwarming enough that I recorded the experience in my journal at the time. Also among those pages are reflections of watching her little sister systematically explore a banana over a period of about 20 minutes. I remember how my children could play for hours with sticks , sticks that were alternately swords, horses, tent frames, and magical wands. They’d work for hours on drawings, stories, plays, and a box was a week’s worth of entertainment.
It’s a good thing Macy Stafford realized the gift she had with her sweet Noticer in time for both of them to benefit. Her Noticer, and my little Dreamer came preset with a knack for making the most of here and now, and we do well to heed their counsel. As we head into summer, it’s easy to want to structure every minute of a child’s life, and our own, with activities, programs, classes, and sports. It might be worth considering this summer, the priceless gift of unhurried time.
To give the gift of time, of course, we have to take some things away — a sport, an extra class, a meeting, a shopping trip — because there are only so many hours in a day. To gain time, we have to eliminate something which uses it up. To some people, the thought of staying home and “doing nothing” can be scary. We have filled our days with so many things that we’ve lost the vital skill of doing nothing, of being a Noticer, of being patient and confident enough to fill the quiet hours with thoughts and day dreams.
Unhurried, unstructured time is important. So is day dreaming. Isaac Newton came to conclusions about gravity while sitting still. Albert Einstein realized relativity during quiet moments of imaginative figuring. When Henry David Thoreau forced himself into solitude and inactivity, he made the enduring observation that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
With every moment of every day fully structured for us, both we and our children lose the ability to create order and structure of our own making. It’s not natural that children become “bored” as soon as school lets out, or think “there’s nothing to do” (and consequently may turn to inappropriate activities with other equally unimaginative and bored peers).
Children and adults with time on their hands and who have to make do with it — within supervised and safe environments well stocked with books, creative resources, outdoor spaces and peace and quiet — are generally more self-reliant, creative and self-satisfied than those whose time is always structured for them. Certainly our now grown children bear out that theory, grown into creative, thoughtful, curious, self-reliant and compassionate young adults.
In an interesting article for Jewish Family and Life, “Kids — Like Adults — Need Summer Downtime,” by Ann Moline, Moline cites education consultant Ruth Heitin’s remarks that, “The search for something interesting to do will help kids exercise a part of their brains that may not be getting enough activity in today’s overspecialized, over programmed world.”
“I’m so afraid,” Heitin said, “that we will become a society of followers, who can’t find jobs on their own that please them, because things have always been programmed or directed for them.”
In short, without unstructured, unhurried time to reflect, create and recharge our inner batteries, neither we nor our children can achieve our full potential.
So maybe this Independence Day, truly declare your independence, for you and your children, from the over busy, super structured ties that bind your soul and steal your time. Respectfully decline that umpteenth party invitation, don’t sign the kids up for that 3rd sports camp.
Stay home. Play cards or a board game. Read a book. Draw. Listen to the music. Sit outside, or take a walk, and enjoy the nice weather and think. If your small children – or your big ones – come to you and complain that there’s nothing to do, tell them you’re sure they’ll think of something. They will! (Just keep sharp things out of reach, hide the car keys and lose the remote.) And if they invite you to stroll along in their world – go!
I’ll finish with Macy Stafford’s words, which could, and probably should, be a mantra in our hurried world.
“I will not say, “We don’t have time for this.” Because that is basically saying, “We don’t have time to live.”
“Pausing to delight in the simple joys of everyday life is the only way to truly live.”
Enjoy the gift of unhurried time this summer, and make this time, the very best time.