Tidbit # 8-How to Rest

November 20, 2021

A lot of people have written on this topic over the past 5-10 years, in particular. Major studies have been completed. The Harvard Business Review has just published an article about listening to your body and learning to relax, say no, the benefits of yoga — you know the rest. Let me start off by saying that I do not actually know how to ‘chill’. But I can remember a time, as a child, when the long summer months were filled with hours and hours of solitary play, card games with my grandmother in our backyard, tree climbing that culminated in poking around on a slug’s body, crinkling leaves, petting the bark — all wonderful things that were essentially nothing in particular without any particular goals. In fact, I can clearly remember how much I did not enjoy playing in the task-driven ways most kids liked to: I didn’t like playing school — I spent all day in school; why would I ever want to come home and “play” school? I did’t especially enjoy Candyland or Trivial Pursuit or Monopoly; I didn’t like Legos because they constrained me to having to make something. When I played, I just wanted to play. I can remember that with great fondness.

I’m not sure when exactly that ended, but at some point, life got busy, and those sorts of hours of nothing in particular lost their appeal. Of course, if one hasn’t already begun a serious extracurricular or “hobby”, this is about the stage when scheduled obligations start organizing our free time, and the perceived utility of these nothing in particular moments essentially evaporates. This is not, of course, the way things go for all children. But by and large, our culture of competition and achievement — our cultlike need to grow entrepreneurs, activists, the next this or that famous person, the highly accomplished, visible, and motivated 18-year-old — has whisked away the viable option of doing nothing in particular and rebranded its utility as a surefire way to screw your kid’s possibilities for a really amazing future.
Earlier this week, I had a fun but sad conversation with a parent of one of my students. She colorfully described an evening out with fellow moms who just so happen to be in the throws of middle school applications for their kids. All of these kids come from high-achieving families and have schedules that are chock-full of piano and violin lessons, extra math tutoring, second or third language classes, soccer and martial arts practices, and, to give them an extra-good chance of getting into the best middle school around, weekly or biweekly test prep. Many kids do the same thing for dance — not just ballet, but ballet and jazz and lyrical and tap and competition — class, lessons, rehearsals, shows, extra training, fittings. Others do the same for their sports — summer sports camps, vacation sports camps, school teams, regional/travel teams, one-on-one coaching, trainers, clinics — the works! Gotta get ahead! Gotta get that spot! S/he loves it! And when they’re young enough, I’m sure a lot of them do love it. In fact, so much whirling and fuss is happening — their primacy and busyness so adult-like (only more fun!), how could they not?! And yet, at some point, even if they can’t say it, kids realize that they need to just be allowed to be. Of course, changing hormones can do much to bring this way of thinking to the fore, but the drive to achieve, to compete, to relentlessly prove and make parents proud, to heed the warnings that are thrown at them from all sides can delay this realization, to their detriment.

So in our giggly conversation about the ridiculousness of these structures — parent-teacher conferences for a 2.5 year-old in early “school” and 3rd grade teachers who write bad recommendations for really good students who nonetheless lost focus while doing online school during covid (!)— the comment this parent kept repeating was, ‘Just let them be kids — geez!?’ And, she admitted, she was tired — buzz, buzz, pick-ups, drop-offs, email after email, calendars, scheduling apps. The idea of doing nothing in particular sounded like Eden.
The pressure is on kids and parents and educators to push, mold, heavy-handedly guide, and squeeze in the name of preparation for the future, realizing promise before it’s too late, and opening the floodgates of opportunity. But one of the best preparations for the future is, in fact, learning to rest. Of course, by “resting”, I don’t mean sleeping or napping or wasting time; I mean being occupied with nothing in particular, letting your thoughts happen and your senses exercise because they are engaged with your being wholly present in the world — which is not just ‘your world’ (—being utterly lost in thought is also not quite the same because you are not quite present). And there can be no guilt — lack of productivity, fie! fie! and no procrastination or escapism; these are very separate and not to be associated with “rest.” We know that kids aren’t the only ones capable of this. We know that we adults are missing out, hence the multitude of podcasts and articles and corporate mindfulness workshops, and yet, we don’t prioritize teaching our children this particular how-to. If I still remember the time, my children and students certainly do. So if ever there were a moment for a team effort amongst all of us teachers and parents, let’s use this one to shape our achievement-obsessed culture — we are living culture, after all! —  to embrace weekly moments of doing nothing in particular because to succeed at being, we must re-learn to just be.

Julianna Tauschinger-Dempsey, Gifted Mother of Three Wildly Gifted Children, Educator @ Scholars Academy for the Gifted & Artistically Elite & Empowerer of Gifted Youth & Their Parents

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