I can’t imagine being a student these days. The pressure to exceed in school, athletics, the arts, with friends, online… it’s overwhelming just being a parent of a student.
I worked hard at school. Marks mattered to me. My mom used to say, “Jase, you’ve got to slow down sometimes and smell the roses.” She was right, but I still do struggle with this today. I’m hoping to pass on as few neuroses to my children as possible, so we effusively cajoled our daughter to take a break from exam studying and breathe in the mountain air, feel the rush of snow beneath her skis and just play. It’s something we all as a society seem to do less of these days. It’s perceived as a bad thing. A waste of time. As our teens navigate the realities of growing up, I believe it’s our duty as parents to show them that playtime is what will make them more creative, better thinkers, fitter, brighter and perhaps most importantly, happier.
So yeah, take a break. Whatever you’re working on will be there when you get back.
I miss appointment tv. Long gone are the days when you had to drop what you were doing, or you scheduled your time to ensure you were ready at 8:00pm to watch the newest Seinfeld, or Little House on the Prairie. Commercial breaks allowed for mad dashes to the bathroom or to the kitchen to grab a snack before leaping over the back of the couch to catch the first line of dialogue when the show started again. Next mornings at work or school were filled with conversations of what George had just said or Murphy Brown did. We weren’t compelled to share our immediate thoughts online, instead we could let them percolate, chuckling while lying in bed thinking about which anecdote we’d talk about the next day.
As a kid, my family and I revelled in Walt Disney sharing the magic of movie making and cheered another botched performance from Gonzo. We laughed together with Newhart, wiped tears together at The Wonder Years and shouted together at Richard Dawson and Family Feud. My teeth had to be brushed and my pajamas on which made for an easier bedtime for my parents and something I saw as a fair deal in exchange for staying up later.
The television landscape for my kids today is far different. Netflix opened the door to online viewing anytime on almost any topic on a variety of broadcast platforms. With the “if you liked” nudge, tv viewing has become increasingly customized to individual consumption. Our workdays are longer, our kid’s afterschool programming more complicated and families rarely eat dinner together, never-mind sitting down and watching something together. Even when we do decide the scheduling has allowed for a rare Friday night movie, it takes over half an hour to sort through the myriad of choices only to find that the chances of finding something that no one has seen in a genre that everyone likes is damn near impossible. There is hope though.
The emergence of high quality tv programming has opened the door to watching series with characters we care about in situations that are meaningful with real stakes attached to actions. Our family recently watched Apple TV’s newest offering, The Morning Show, and it was better than I expected. It examined a difficult and current issue and afforded an opportunity to discuss the #MeToo movement and workplace harassment in another way with our teenagers.
Last night we all found ourselves with an hour and a half of unscheduled time. My daughter had been following season 3 of “Amazing Race Canada” and was periodically updating us with stories of the foils and follies of some of the teams. We hadn’t planned it, it wasn’t scheduled on a network (we don’t even have cable), but boy was it fun to sit together and watch the last two episodes, wondering which team would win and laughing along with a brother duo who’d captured our hearts with their pluck and humour.
Appointment tv scheduled by networks isn’t coming back but perhaps we can create our own “must see tv”. Much has been written about today’s teenagers being overwhelmed with the demands and expectations of school, online identity curation and what they’re doing with their lives. There can be no rest from the continual bombardment of content, questions and demands to share one’s YOLO. Maybe we should take a page from the 1980’s and create our own appointment tv without any expected goal or outcome. Think of it as mindful viewing. I’m pretty sure our family would benefit from sitting together to laugh, cry and shout at our television on a more regular basis.
Well, the first week of school is in the books and the madness associated with it put me behind on sharing this but I found the night before the first day of school very different for high schoolers than grade schoolers. Here’s what it looked like 8 years ago:
And here’s what it looked like a few days ago:
That’s one of the marvellous things about the journey of parenting, nothing ever stays the same.
Being an astronaut must be a hoot. Imagine living up in space where there are literally no rules! You can float around wherever you want, never have to eat Brussel sprouts and essentially play video games to complete your missions. It would be a little like camp. Well, the good camps where no one is looking over your shoulder to make sure you’re finishing your vegetables and if you want to do archery for a half a day then just go for it. Showers? Nope. And you’re just hanging with your peeps, no parents in sight.
I understand the training to become an astronaut is pretty intense but so too is the build up to camp. When your kids are young they make you feel like the one night stay at Shady Pines half an hour from home, with 8 parent volunteers for 10 children, hot meals and a full bed in a cabin is akin to a month in the Gulag (look it up, it wasn’t good). On drop-off day your carpet is sopping wet with a flooded mixture of tears and drool, and small clumps have been torn out by powerful little hands and scattered throughout your living room. As they get older time away from home moves from punishment to reward. One night can stretch into three, then seven, fourteen if they’re gamers and a full month if they’ve drunk the Kool-aid.
At that stage the whole thing changes.
Full-monthers, and full-monthers in their last year ever of being a camper before moving into a staff roll, are camp zealots. They count down the days until they can escape the boredom and monotony of regular life and get back to where life is full and rich and fun all the time. Bags are packed weeks in advance, goal-setting is sharp and directed and the list of must-do’s is longer than an NBA centre’s arm. Indeed, were university and careers attacked with the same vigour and energy of camp agendas there would be no such thing as recessions and we’d have solved climate change, world hunger and rid the world of disease.
Full-monthers live out each day in a routine that would impress most global militaries in such close proximity to their cabin mates that personal possessions no longer have any meaning and personal space is to be found in the outdoor latrines, and even that isn’t always the case. Time is measured in euchre games, sloppy joes, biweekly showers and campfire stories. Yes there are rules but when they’re enforced by people other than your parents they don’t seem quite as suffocating nor as unreasonable.
Life is rich indeed.
Which makes reentry so damn unpleasant. A camper’s home and their parents haven’t changed, but they have. Boy-o-boy. The freedoms and laughter that are a way of life when bunking with 8 people your own age are gone, replaced instead with little brothers (no further embellishments needed), mothers who remind you to sit straight and fathers who can’t seem to stop asking you to put away the peanut butter. Honestly. The weight of expectations in the ebb and flow of living with a family are heavy.
Astronauts describe returning to earth as an out of body experience where everything feels cumbersome, sluggish and overbearing. Their bodies are pulled down by gravity to the point where their tongues and lips feel unwieldy. Moving is a literally a drag. Maybe what parents of kids who love camp so desperately need are a retired astronaut to handle the immersion back to home life. Someone who can say, “I understand” at a truly meaningful level. Someone who can relate to that feeling that what was once so normal can feel so foreign. Someone who gets the practicality and freedom that comes from not having to shower.
Sometimes, life can get heavy.
To all the dad’s out there who, like mine, make themselves available to play, listen and love while providing a rock solid foundation for adventure and exploration – thank you. Happy Father’s Day.