May 7, 2002


Doing Nothing is Something : The overscheduled children of 21st-century America, deprived of the gift of boredom (Anna Quindlen, NEWSWEEK)
Summer is coming soon. I can feel it in the softening of the air, but I can see it, too, in the textbooks on my children's desks. The number of uncut pages at the back grows smaller and smaller. The loose-leaf is ragged at the edges, the binder plastic ripped at the corners. An old remembered glee rises inside me. Summer is coming. Uniform skirts in mothballs. Pencils with their points left broken. Open windows. Day trips to the beach. Pickup games. Hanging out.

Of course, it was the making of me, as a human being and a writer. Downtime is where we become ourselves, looking into the middle distance, kicking at the curb, lying on the grass or sitting on the stoop and staring at the tedious blue of the summer sky. I don't believe you can write poetry, or compose music, or become an actor without downtime, and plenty of it, a hiatus that passes for boredom but is really the quiet moving of the wheels inside that fuel creativity.

And that, to me, is one of the saddest things about the lives of American children today. Soccer leagues, acting classes, tutors-the calendar of the average middle-class kid is so over the top that soon Palm handhelds will be sold in Toys "R" Us. Our children are as overscheduled as we are, and that is saying something.

On of the most annoying traits of the Baby-Boomers (and yes, I'd acknowledge that much (all?) about them annoys me) is their absurd belief that their lives are particularly difficult in historical terms. This trend, of course, began with Vietnam, where a fairly standard issue war became somehow immoral, just because they were expected to fight it. And it reached its apex with the Clinton presidential campaign in 1992, when a minor slowdown was conflated into the "worst economy since the Great Depression."

A particularly appalling form of this Boomer self-pity is the complaint that their lives are more complicated and hectic than those of anyone who's come before them. See how Ms Quindlen makes her point about the time stress on youngsters by saying that they're "as overscheduled as we are"? The horror, the horror...

It seems worth noting that Ms Quindlen's own ancestors (almost all of our ancestors, unless you were to the manor born) would have been working in the fields or the factories when they were children--doing real, back-breaking, work. They'd have straggled to bed exhausted and hungry and woken the next morning to do it all over again. Yet somehow, even without "downtime" they managed to "become themselves", didn't they?

I'm all for cutting kids some slack and not making them participate in every stupid activity that their socially insecure parents think is vital to their future, but to pretend that children today have more difficult lives than their forbears is simply asinine, and nearly as insipid as pretending that it's been tough to be a Boomer. Get over yourselves already.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 7, 2002 11:34 AM
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