Friday, January 8, 2010

Teaching the Unexpected

I'm famously known as the "Bad Uncle." That means that I am the one who comes over to the house, flops in to the floor and winds the kids up to a fever pitch before tossing off a casual "good night" come bedtime. In my wake is a house upside down with small, revved up children squealing with delight and running or spinning in delirious circles trying desperately to both work off their adrenalin rush but still keep the buzz going! They're either dangling in mid-air from the rafters or their ankles by shell shocked parents who typically love and appreciate me but at that moment would rather see my chestnuts roasting over an open fire. The kids can't wait to see me again while the parents are either in therapy, cackling maliciously as they drop off their brood the next day with a bewildered day care attendant or off applying for N.R.A. licenses.

More and more I've discovered in the latest trends of positive parenting that I, along with other previously spontaneous experiences, am being "scheduled." I have to be doled out in manageable doses as part of an all-encompassing rhythm or set routine so as not to upset the delicate nature of sensitive youngsters or the carefully crafted balance of the family household. I've often held that it has little to do with "upsetting" the child so much as not completely destroying any chance of the parents' getting a decent night's rest!

I just returned from a business trip to Los Angeles where the weather was uncharacteristically wet and rainy over three of the four days in town. L.A. being an "outdoor" kinda city there wasn't much to do other than the Getty Museum which held little interest for myself or my colleague. Somehow or other on the way back to the airport we got to talking about adult routines and our individual comfort levels in deviating from the expected.

The project we had just wrapped up required a lot of fast thinking and flexibility which, for my part, I explained as coming from my background in operations but also from my upbringing in the military. Relocation was a given and a constant, learning to adapt quickly expected and accepting the unusual to be expected. Did we have a "rhythm" in the midst of all this? I'm fairly certain not a soul in my generation did unless they worked on farms.

My colleague doesn't describe his household as the strictest in the world but when I asked him how he teaches his two sons to deal with adversity he said "Oh, we schedule free time in to their routine." Right. That, I told him, sounded about as spontaneous and unexpected as a half-day city tour of Rome with "the rest of the day at leisure."

I was being light-hearted but serious. I couldn't help imagining in my mind an entire generation of children so ingrained in to a set order of events that when real adversity hits they become initially paralyzed, incapable of working through the problems on their own. Just as bad, they will become so programmed to only expect and appreciate everyday routine that it may inhibit any sense of adventure or willingness to experience the new, the undiscovered or the extraordinary.

Eventually all people learn to cope with issues on their own but I am left wondering how much of that coping skill set is being left out of child development and whether or not that is a good thing? Even more worrisome to a wanderer like me is whether or not this anti-septic upbringing is unintentionally dulling the reasonable desire to dream, explore and push beyond one's own boundaries?

My colleague hates traveling away from his comfortable life in the southwestern desert. I'm sure his two sons get in to more than their share of mischief as well. Still, for me though, if it's a choice between tennis or Paris...?

Gotta go!

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