It occurred to me recently that I was given a gift as a child that very few members of younger generations received and even fewer members of the generations yet to be will ever get.
I often thought as a child, and especially as a teenager, that my parents mistreated and misunderstood me. They were always making me do two things that interfered with my personal plans and dreams: obey them and work. It’s that last part I resented the most. We were always working, working, working. I suppose it was only the “we” in that statement that justified it and kept me from rebelling. I never felt like I was doing any more work than anyone else in the family.
Most of the work we did was farm work that required a great deal of time and physical effort, but very little thought once the process was understood and practiced. I went to the fields with my parents as a toddler, started actually working when I was about six, and continued with farm work until I was fourteen and we moved to Caddo. I often spent entire days chopping or picking cotton, cutting grapes, tying vines, loading grape boxes, monitoring irrigation ditches, picking olives, or cutting peaches for drying.
Since I wasn’t using my brain for the aforementioned tasks I occupied my thoughts with dreams and plans and ideas. I spent the hours planning my future life in great detail. I worked out just how I would operate a zoo. I planned a huge horse ranch. I designed my castle. I imagined the kind of parent I would be when I had a dozen children, mostly girls. And I worked out problems. I tried to figure out why my grandfather (an alcoholic) and my grandmother didn’t get along. I pondered why one of my friends wasn’t as nice and kind as another one. I wondered why some of my friends didn’t like school. An endless parade of thoughts and ideas kept me occupied until the end of the next row, the completion of the next task, or the end of the work day.
And work didn’t stop once we got home. There was always cooking, cleaning, and ironing to be done. I did SO much thinking while I ironed. It wasn’t unusual to spend a whole Saturday morning ironing! Or two hours shelling peas. Or an hour mopping floors (we never had carpets). Lots more thinking time.
So it occurred to me recently that many younger people didn’t and don’t have any thinking, planning, dreaming time as children. Few do any kind of work. Few have any free time that isn’t spent in front of a television or other electronic babysitter. And those that do are often occupied by sports, lessons, and other group activities. Few spend any extended time doing something mundane or repetitive. After all, they might get bored. People say that to me as though boredom were a disease!
I overheard a woman talking with a friend in front of the post office who made the comment that her daughter had to do much of her homework in the car on the trip between home and ball practice. I doubt that results in any quality thinking time. I’ve observed several young people working or shopping while plugged into some device that is blaring music in their ears. One person out of five seems to have a phone permanently attached to the side of their head. People listen to music in their cars and sometimes it is so loud I can hear it in mine. Everyone around me seems to be engaged in some sort of distraction every moment of the day. When does anyone have time to think, ponder, contemplate, dream, analyze, reflect, consider, muse, or plan??
I’m not saying we should return to the days of child labor, or ban labor-saving devices from our homes, or eliminate entertainment. But I question whether we have gone too far in filling every waking moment with action and excitement and busyness. Our brains need a little time for some old fashioned thinking.