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Found Object, Gotts Island

Today, parents are sure there is a better way.

They calendar playdates. Sign up for camps and workshops. Buy the apps. Buy into creativity by design, mindfulness, grit inducers, personal trainers and coaches. Buy into every hack and scheme. Read the books. Play pass the buzzword. Blame schools. Point fingers at devices and screen time when they look up from updating status and catching up on email.

They are desperate for their children to succeed. Anxious that every frustration is an early warning sign of boredom’s insidious rot. Time unspent is not just seconds off the clock but the Doppler scream of opportunity speeding away at warp speed never to return.

They have read the experts; childhood is precious, character is formed and forged, perspective molded, empathy acquired. Squander childhood and spend a lifetime in therapy seeking to recapture it. It is a time of myth and magic and they bring in the clowns and magicians, face painters, and party planners to make sure no accessory is forgotten and every memory is picture perfect for Instagram’s frame.

But, in their unguarded moments, the wonders surface. Then it is not the theme music from the Wonder Years but a harsher, more strident anthem that plays. When teachers and educators talk homework or grades, they exchange knowing glances, tell us that is not the way the real world works. But I know they are covering up, the way we do these days; applying bumper stickers over open wounds. No one wants to be the only ones who wonder what for. And, when we’re alone, they ask for worksheets, for all the world like junkies asking for a score. Anything for a fix, the quicker the better.

But I remember. I know. All the design and building I did with sticks and mud, the dams we built in the gutter after a rain. Discoveries in silence, alone, far off the forest path. The sudden moment of wonder along the shore. The setting never mattered, any small scrap of empty space would do. In the alleys walking home, in my room. Anywhere, anytime, I was left alone. For it was in these unguarded, unscripted, empty moments that I learned the most essential lesson; boredom wasn’t something to be avoided but rather sought as it led to opportunities — something I needed to think my way out of, not be rescued by an adult.

Parents hover, from baby minders to tracking apps, feel they can and should arrange success instead of allowing the learning that comes with failing forward. The fountain that could be youth channeled, constrained with all the best intentions. Diminished by calendar and chat groups to something much less than its grubby, glorious, wide-eyed self.

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