But no. There never seems to be the time for such diversions these days. Recently, I've been working my way through a stack of books about Waldorf education, potty training, and "gifted children." This week, it's titles like Hothouse Kids by Alissa Quart and Enjoying Your Gifted Child by Carol Takacs.
The reading has been both enlightening and infuriating. Both S and I were "gifted" kids, as well as being fairly sensible parents (though I say it myself) so it's not like we're totally clueless about all this. And long before reading Quart's book, I was absolutely convinced that I do not want to "hothouse" my children. We have yet to enroll BJ in any classes, we're holding off on preschool, and we certainly don't force him towards intellectual achievements. Sure, he's seen his share of Baby Einstein videos, but we harbored no illusions about their impact on his intelligence. Watching them was merely a way to gain the occasional 20 minutes of relative quiet. (It's interesting to note that, unlike her brother, BB wants nothing to do with these videos. They will interest her for a few moments, but that's all, whereas BJ was mesmerized.) It might be hard to believe if you don't know our family, but all the fascination with language, letters, and numbers really does come from him. We've surrounded our kids with books, and we read to them all the time, but we don't push things. Of course we encourage his interests, but they are his interests, and we'll do the same with BB.
Some of the stories that Quart tells made me shudder. I'd hate to think of myself as the sort of parent who schedules her child's every last moment. Though I have to say, for somebody who hasn't had children of her own, Quart is pretty harsh with some of the judgments she makes against parents. As a hothoused kid herself, she obviously has her own axe to grind. More than once I found myself wondering if she might have been more sympathetic if she'd had kids of her own.
It's always interesting when parenting books directly contradict each other. The best example from this week is advice about boredom. Here are some of Takacs' thoughts on boredom from Enjoy your Gifted Child :
The condition most intolerable to human beings is boredom! Children and adults will go to great lengths to escape boredom, reading the labels on bathroom cleanser containers or seeking a numerical sequence of license plate numbers to add interest to routine drives. Just as children have a right to sufficient food to nurture bodily development, they have a right to sufficient stimulation to nurture mental development. Children have a right not to be bored! (p. 40)
Sounds good, right? But contrast this with what Quart has to say in Hothouse Kids, as she is discussing the "Baby Genius Edutainment Complex," which is her term for the trend of supposedly educational items such as baby videos, flash cards, toys, etc.
It seems to me that the Baby Genius Edutainment Complex exists, in part, out of a deeper fear than that of infants losing their learning opportunities. It responds to adults' fear of children's boredom. The edutainment products are, at bottom, meant to reduce unproductive boredom.
But what exactly is boredom, especially in infancy and childhood?....One specialist in gifted education suggests that an adult finger can be just as stimulating for an infant as the whirling dervish of rainbows on a Baby Einstein DVD.... parents who aren't sold on the need for stimulating DVDs can see that the perfect educational baby toys are everywhere: keys on a chain. They jingle. Babies get excited....
Such simple pleasures, which adults find boring -- and this is part of it: our inability, as adults, to remember how easily we were entertained during our infancies -- are often just what infants need. Their systems are ready for simplicity, not for a deluge of diffuse stimuli. (p. 43)
Granted, Takacs is writing nearly 20 years earlier, well before this "edutainment" phenomenon came fully into being. But the contrast -- and the absolute conviction with which each author makes her case -- really got my attention.
One has to wonder if these two authors are actually talking about the same thing. Quart is quite persuasive in her argument that boredom is the necessary fuel for imagination, that it provides the necessary space from which genuine interests will arise. She's writing within the context of overstimulation, of parents who will fill the void with anything and everything in an attempt to make their kid smarter, better, sooner. Tacaks, on the other hand, seems more concerned with the parents who want to downplay or even deny the intellectual potential of their children. In this sense, her plea for stimulation makes sense. One would be hard pressed to imagine the 'hothoused' child forced to fill her days by reading the labels on bathroom cleaners. (Of course, it's a moot point, since those containers would be safely locked away in a childproofed cabinet. But that's another issue.)So I've been thinking about boredom a lot lately. Note that I said thinking about -- not experiencing. I can't remember the last time I was bored, really bored. Granted, it has been some time since I had an intellectually challenging conversation that wasn't about children.... where kids are concerned, there's lots to learn, ponder, and debate, no doubt about it. But hanging out most of the time with a baby and a toddler naturally results in more talk about playdough and the alphabet, and fewer discussions of a philosophical nature. (Though perhaps that will change when BJ hits the "Why?" stage.)
Some folks claim that spending time with kids is boring. As Quart points out, adults often have little tolerance for the repetition on which kids thrive, for the simplicity of children's pursuits. I see their point. (Of course I do -- I've only been at this parenting thing for 2 1/2 years, and already I've read and re-read and ultimately memorized too much horrible 'poetry' posing as kids books.) But I can't help but wonder: have those same folks taken the time to look at the world on a child's level?
It's much like prayer, or meditation. Kneel down, and allow yourself to watch -- really watch -- or talk, or play with a child. Be in the moment; this is key. Open yourself to the excitement and satisfaction a child feels when a beloved book is read for the hundredth time. Let yourself be a little silly. Laugh. Tickle. Roll around together on the floor. Above all, avoid the urge to watch the clock. Allow yourself to be with a child, especially your own child, and you won't be bored.