I heard about a book called “Hanging Out. The Radical Power of Killing Time” while on our March Break holiday, doing nothing more than reading by a pool and walking on a beach. It made me think that I was hanging out without even realizing it, so of course when I got back home, I ordered the book to see what it was all about. Written by Sheila Liming, a Professor in Vermont, the book is basically a long essay on the importance of hanging out, a loose social dynamic in which people spend unstructured time together with no set agenda. The shortage of idle ‘hang outs’ in our current culture is what inspired Ms. Liming to write the book. Coming into her 30’s and moving often for work, Liming was forced to make new friends again. This time in her life made her think about how difficult it is to seize unstructured social time as an adult. She says “We live in a hyper scheduled Google Calendar world, where we make appointments with each other to get any face time. So, there’s a sense that if we just hang out with someone, we are stealing time away from their calendar”. This is why so much of her book argues in favour of unstructured time with people. Her line “there’s a great freedom that comes from low expectations” hit home for me and I immediately was reminded of a Principal’s Message I wrote at this time of year and shared with our community several years ago, 9 to be exact. It may be almost a decade old but honestly, I think it is even more relevant today than it was back then. Since adults are not the only ones hyper scheduled these days, please allow me to share parts of my previous Principal’s Message, in hopes of inspiring you to have your family just hang out for even a portion of this summer.
Throughout the year, when I read an interesting article or an inspiring quote, I save and store a copy in my ‘idea’ file. When it comes time to write one of my Principal’s Messages, I take a quick peak in my file and will often choose the theme of my message based on something I have tucked away for future reference. For quite some time I have had an article in my file that keeps drawing me back. The author of this piece, Bunmi Laditon, actually dared to write, “I’m Done Making My Kid’s Childhood Magical.” Maybe not quite the inspirational message you were expecting, but the more I read this article, the more I realized that I had to share it with all of you. I hope you will find it thought provoking, especially as we face the next couple of months with no school and fewer organized activities on our children’s calendars.
In her submission to the Huffington Post, Ms. Laditon contrasts her own childhood to that of her children. She wonders how it happened that modern parents now put so much pressure on themselves to manufacture the perfect childhood for their children? She found herself completely caught up in the parenting model which mandates that it is a parent’s job to research and then execute perfect life experiences for their children. From the ‘best’ play dates and birthday parties, to family vacations and room decoration, Laditon was exhausted from all that it takes to keep this lifestyle going. Lost in her stupor of perfect parenting, it suddenly dawned on her that parents do not need to make their children’s childhood magical. In fact, childhood is inherently magical, even when it isn’t perfect.
I, like many, can relate to what Laditon is saying. I don’t remember my parents ever playing with me and since money was very tight my Dad used to tease that we would be going to “Porch Lake” for our summer vacation. I never went to camp and I can’t remember my mom ever planning or helping me with a craft. Nonetheless I have fond memories of childhood summers where tents were made from blankets, lemonade stands were a regular means of earning a few cents for trips to the corner store and putting on a bathing suit and running through the garden sprinkler was pure joy. Does that mean our parents loved us any less than today’s generation of parents love their children? Absolutely not. Our parents just did not feel responsible to orchestrate and manufacture our childhood memories. They seemed to instinctively know it would just happen. And indeed, it did.
Laditon asks her readers, “Are we creating a generation of people who cannot find the beauty in the mundane? Do we want to teach our children that the magic of life is something that comes beautifully wrapped? Or that magic is something you discover on your own?” Something to really think about!
I am not suggesting that we abandon the well-planned family vacation or the beautifully turned-out birthday party. Pinterest can still be bookmarked on our computers, but this summer, when we are trying to keep our children wonderfully and magically amused, maybe we should just keep in mind that, for the average child, wonder and magic is something inherent to their age. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child is magical, plain and simple.
Wishing you all a summer full of carefree fun, laughter, magical moments and good, old fashioned hanging out. Doing nothing has a power all to itself. And remember to keep the expectations as low as possible. It can be liberating for all of us, children, and adults alike.