In Defense of Occasional Dullness

Posted | by Laura Pochop | Posted in Ideas that Challenge

We’ve hit the heart of summer, a season that conjures up sepia-toned memories for all of us grownups. Coppertone-watermelon-seed-catching-fireflies-ice-cream-truck-spotlight-tag-come-home-when-the-streetlights-come-on memories. Periodically, there’s talk of year-round school. It’s true, the current schedule was built around agrarian kids helping with the summer harvest. It’s been perpetuated by the myth of a stay-at-home mom in every house. It makes no sense educationally or economically. Still, I’m sad for the kids who’ll someday suffer through a theoretically ‘better’ schedule. Because they won’t get those magical, endless days of nothing-to-do, nowhere-to-be summer that we dreamed of all year.

Except they’re not actually getting that now. Rare is the kid these days who can look forward to even a week of ‘free’ time over the summer. Instead, they’re in sleep-away and day camps, sports and art camps, community service and Spanish camps, and even actual camping-camps. The older ones take summer school classes at Cal, study for the SAT’s, and travel to Cambodia to build village water systems. The littlest learn to swim, play drums and build complicated Lego structures.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m in awe of the Bay Area’s Cheesecake-Factory menu of high-quality summer camps, and fiercely jealous of my own offspring. Some of their top life moments have sprung from creatively designed, brilliantly executed camps.

And yet, I fight to carve out time each summer when they’re not in camp. Taken to excess, the plethora of summer camp options goads us over-parenters to duplicate the rampant overscheduling of the school year, with its oppressive Team Snap reminders, carpools and nagging. It can also feed a sense of entitlement in our kids, who come to feel deserving of constant attention, programming and cool activities delivered by hyper-enthusiastic young adults 24/7.

Sometimes what kids need most of all is the absence of adult supervision and structure. To figure out how to be alone, how to invent their own games and create their own distractions. How to be bored.

This weekend, I passed a chalk-drawn hopscotch on the sidewalk, with the one-two-one-two pattern winding slowly, continuing for almost the whole block. It ended, finally, at ‘489.’ And I felt a rush of sepia-toned connection with the child who created it. There’s no Hopscotch Camp, is there?

Laura Pochop holds an MBA from Stanford University. She currently does sell-side investment banking and owns a specialty market with her husband in the Bay Area. Laura writes a column for the Piedmont Post where she offers commentary on living in our fast-paced, competitive society and the issues of raising three kids in this sometimes crazed environment. This piece was originally published in the July 10th issue of the Piedmont Post.