Wednesday, August 1, 2012

On Happily Learning Absolutely Nothing

Dear Mackenzie,

When you get to be an adult, my sweet daughter, you’ll find that the basic responsibilities of life never really go away. They don’t even take much of a holiday. You’ll have a job. A family. A mortgage. When you reach a certain age these will become your constant companions.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you.  I love my family with all my heart. And though having a family carries with it a certain cost in terms of time, money and the like, I wouldn’t trade it, or you guys, for anything in the world. I know your mom feels exactly the same as I do and hopefully you, Heather and Jamie will all feel that way too once you have families of your own. 

My job is often grueling. It’s often very stressful. And especially in my chosen line of work, it’s hard to truly leave the job or its various pressures behind even while on vacation.  That said, on most days I find my job interesting, challenging, and exciting as well. As for the monthly mortgage….well, I guess everyone needs a place to live.  It all goes with the territory of adulthood, and there’s no way to get around it.

The problem with all these adult responsibilities is that after a while they can skew your approach to the world around you. If you’re not careful, you start to view everything through the filter of all that rational, responsible thinking. Before you know it your reptilian brain has pushed memories of the pure joy of not having a care in the world back to some distant corner of your mind.

The other night you were playing a game on your computer and I randomly asked you whether you wanted to learn about some particular topic or other. “Dad,” you said impatiently, “I’m on summer vacation. I don’t want to learn anything”. I was a bit taken aback by your response. So I explained that I understood you were on vacation from school, but that learning was a yearlong process and that the classroom that is life wasn’t limited to certain months of the year.

It seemed to take all your faculties to even retain civility in the face of my statement, and you looked at me like I was from Mars.  “I refuse to learn anything about anything until the new school year begins,” you told to me in that fiercely strong-willed way that is uniquely yours. “Don’t even think about trying to teach me anything new until then.” Satisfied that you had stymied my inappropriate attempt to teach you something off-cycle, you turned your attention back to your computer and resumed whatever game you had been playing.  

The adult part of my brain had a viscerally adverse reaction to your statement. I wanted to challenge you on it and to suggest that your approach was irresponsible and shortsighted.  I wanted to remind you that learning inspires confidence. I wanted to tell you that an education inspires a positive self-image.  I wanted to instill in you the notion that the more you learn, the higher the chance of success and happiness you will have in life.

Yet you had dismissed me in such an adorable way, and with such conviction, that all I could do was laugh. I decided to let it drop for the time being, but thought to myself that our exchange had given me an organic opportunity for a future teaching moment. I decided to come back to the conversation when you were done playing and give you the guidance you needed and deserved. In fact I started writing one of my letters to you, about the importance of education.

But the more I thought about what you had said, the more I started to remember my own summers when I had been your age, and what they had meant to me. As a young boy I couldn’t wait for summer vacation and all that it held.  I would count down the final days, hours and minutes until the school year was out. The final bell on the last day of school proclaimed my freedom for the next several months.

Summer meant that I would have no responsibilities, no homework, absolutely no cares in the world. I could (and did) play baseball in the park near our house from early in the morning until late at night. I could go swimming in the local community pool with my friends. I could hang out, sleep in, sleep over, watch television, play marbles, wait for “Uncle Marty’s Ice Cream Truck” to come by our street, and do (or not do) anything else my heart desired. 

I was a kid and it was summer and the world was my oyster. No one made me learn anything in particular, or do anything in particular, or read anything in particular, or be responsible to anyone in particular. In hindsight I now realize that those carefree days were crucial to my cognitive and emotional development.  Those carefree days allowed me to re-charge my batteries for the school year to come.  Those carefree days helped me to reconnect with the joyous innocence that most of us experience far too infrequently once we reach adulthood.

So as it turns out, Mackenzie, you were absolutely right.  I want you to experience that exhilarating lightness of being as profoundly as possible for as long as possible. And I hope you will be able to tap into your carefree inner child throughout your adult life.

To that end, I promise not to teach you a single thing for the entire summer.  I promise to let you play, and sing, and generally wreak havoc all summer long to your heart’s delight.

And if you absolutely must learn something, don’t let me catch you doing it.

All my everlasting love,


1 comment:

  1. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. I love my family with all my heart.