Saturday, September 20, 2014

On leisure and busy-ness

For both the adults and children in our family, one of the biggest challenges to forming and sustaining friendships is that nearly everyone seems to be busier than we are.

Other people's weekends are crammed with children's soccer (or baseball, basketball, etc.) games and church; their weekday afternoons with homework, soccer practice, and, on Wednesdays, more church. School and church alone, with their offshoots like family reading nights and science fairs and vacation bible school and mission trip fundraisers, take up a huge chunk of other people's lives.

I sometimes feel I should apologize for not being busier. Instead, I offer our flexibility as a way to make it easier to get together with others. "Name a time," I say, "and we can probably make it happen." Or I speak sympathetically about my own three children's scheduled activities, which currently are ballet, karate, drum lessons, scouts, and gymnastics, though actually they leave us with ample time to get together with friends, read books just because we want to, make homemade meals, and, most of the time, get enough sleep. We sometimes rush out to the car with me worried we won't make it someplace on time, but the hurrying is because I have mismanaged time, not because our lives are overwhelmingly busy.

Privilege is a big idea these days, and I acknowledge that our family is very, very fortunate to make a go of it on a single salary. We are also fortunate that my husband and I have had the life experiences to make us confident about unschooling.

And yet.

For at least middle-class families, factors other than family economics play a big role in chronic busy-ness. In his 2012 op-ed "The Busy Trap," Tim Kreider laments:
Even children are busy now, scheduled down to the half-hour with classes and extracurricular activities. They come home at the end of the day as tired as grown-ups. I was a member of the latchkey generation and had three hours of totally unstructured, largely unsupervised time every afternoon, time I used to do everything from surfing the World Book Encyclopedia to making animated films to getting together with friends in the woods to chuck dirt clods directly into one another's eyes, all of which provided me with important skills and insights that remain valuable to this day. Those free hours became the model for how I wanted to live the rest of my life.

While acknowledging that all latchkey children might not have as easy a time as Kreider (a Gen Xer like me), can we recognize something that has been lost here? Might children who spend all day in school and after-school care benefit from a couple of evenings a week just hanging out at home? Will a child's chance of succeeding at high school baseball or softball be destroyed because he or she does not play t-ball as a four-year-old? Can we recognize that playing in adult-directed sports leagues doesn't bond children in the same way as throwing dirt clods at each other?

After connecting his own decision to become a writer with the leisure time of his youth, Kreider reminds us of the relationship between leisure and creativity. His argument recalls one of my favorite passages from school-reformer-turned-unschooling-advocate John Holt's book Learning All the Time:

Real learning is a process of discovery, and if we want it to happen, we must create the kinds of conditions in which discoveries are made. We know what these are. They include time, leisure, freedom, and lack of pressure.

I love many things about the life we have created, but one of the things I love most is that we have the time to experience each day unfolding and to pursue interesting avenues of learning. Because our children are accustomed to sane lives, I suspect they will, like their parents and Kreider, gravitate toward ways of supporting themselves and their future families that aren't soul-sucking. I am more than okay with that.