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The case for an idle summer vacation

As a child, the onset of monsoon was a sad reminder that the summer vacation was coming to an end. Our entire year revolved around it – yearning for it before its arrival, praying for its eternity while there and overcoming the deep denial mode when it’s gone.  Even as I recollect them now, it overwhelms me with nostalgic pleasure.

Rudely awakened in the present, I am alarmed to see young parents determined to deprive their kid of the wanton joys of summer vacations by putting them through “productive” endeavors. Not to be left behind the school’s grind, parents take up its role zealously, lest they – oh, the shame – underperform in comparison. “Competition ka zamana hai”, they hurl towards anyone suggesting that their child is best left alone at this (st)age. In a way, it’s not their fault. Many (if not most) in this demographic have vivid recollections of their humble backgrounds and how their parents’ struggled to meet ends. Their deep-seated insecurities are still lodged in the recesses of mind, even though their present circumstances don’t warrant such apprehensions.

Yet, by doing this they’re laying waste the beautiful period of one’s life. Consider this: most animals have no concept of extended childhood. A calf remains with the cow only as long as it’s incapable of feeding itself. The helpless infancy is gone too soon (relatively), and it quickly adapts and takes care of itself.  The human capacity to think beyond immediate necessities stems from this extended childhood where they’re not forced to work for their survival and can wander aimlessly without care or fear. Indeed, that, children are tried by special juvenile laws for their crimes points to our understanding the children cannot grasp the full consequences of their actions, and hence must be dealt with leniency and empathy.

Humans are perhaps unique in that their children enjoy immunity from the grim realities of life for the first 15-16 years of their existence. This immunity enables the human brain to have ample time for slow-cooking of mental and physical faculties. The abstraction of thought, so vital for inventions, is borne from this luxury of free time. Contrary to prevailing wisdom, boredom is very much a part and parcel of our thought-process and doesn’t deserve to be shunned. What would have happened to our civilization if artists and scientists were so preoccupied with their survival that they didn’t have the time for subtler pursuits!

When was the last time you got struck into a moment of solitude and didn’t quickly reach out for your smartphone? Heck, when was the last time you didn’t feel uneasy just for not carrying your smartphone so as to check the latest updates in Facebook or WhatsApp? Filling the psychic vacuum with these mental imperialists sometimes lulls us into a digital stupor and detaches us from everyday lives. The ubiquitous presence of internet is thus also a curse, because we’re so full of external visual-audio assault, that our own voice is drowned in the digital noise.

Likewise, with those summer workshops promising “productive” use of kid’s time! This propaganda of forcing people, especially children, to use every second of their life towards some productive cause is counterproductive. People start feeling guilty about taking some time off halfway their commute to enjoy a beautiful scene. Or to take some a forced moment of seclusion to enjoy the fact of their existence and living!

Childhood is a sacred phase of life when the world appears full of mystery and beauty, and demands no other precondition to be happy than the process of living itself. Not even toys are a prerequisite, as a casual stroll around the poorer areas of our society will demonstrate. Allow your child to become bored, and let him find out by himself how he wishes to use the time. How he overcomes his boredom is going to be instrumental in how his future thinking shapes up. Do not load him with “hobbies” that aren’t his own! Let him close the chasm on his own. As for competition, he has all his adulthood – all the time in the world – to run the rat race to compete with others. 

I close this with a relevant quote from psychoanalyst Adam Phillips:
“How often, in fact, the child’s boredom is met by that most perplexing form of disapproval, the adult’s wish to distract him – as though the adults have decided that the child’s life must be, or be seen to be, endlessly interesting. It is one of the most oppressive demands of adults that the child should be interested, rather than take time to find what interests him. Boredom is integral to the process of taking one’s time.”


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