Tuesday, August 25, 2009

KEO Syndrome

A family email thread and a recent summer experience have caused me to lobby for the addition of a new syndrome to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

The family email discussion was prompted by my alma mater's recent announcement of "improvements" to the football Saturday experience--among them, a kid-friendly area likely full of inflatable crap. (A thoughtful ND alumnus responded more eloquently than I could ever hope to to this decision. Suffice it to say, game days at Notre Dame are magical enough on their own with nothing but fall colors and the marching band.)

The recent summer experience was our temporary placing of James in a daytime program at his former preschool. We expected the program to be fun and instructive (Art Mondays and the like) for three days a week. Instead, we were immediately barraged with extra charges for trips to batting cages, Chuck E. Cheeses, baseball games, movies, you name it. Art Mondays? Kind of lame, according to the 6-year-old critic himself.

One description Anne gave of visiting the program broke my heart. One of James' kindergarten classmates was also enrolled, but he often looked dejected. He's a nice kid. He's overweight. His parents both work. They probably have no choice but to put him in some kind of day care in the summers, every day. The program is supposed to be "fun" (it's in the name), but if anything, it proves that you can't substitute entertainment for parental love and attention. It's an illusion filled with constant stimulation and junky snacks. Not what we expected, so we took James out... without a fight.

Kid Entertainment Overload Syndrome. Put it in the books. They don't need more movies and cheese balls (although come to think of it, I certainly had my share of both growing up). They need the space to let their imaginations wander. We're raising a generation of kids who are one day going to have adult birthday parties where they get drunk and jump around in inflatable castles for old time's sake.

Yes, I'm spoiled... and yes, maybe I'm being self-righteous. We're fortunate to have a creative kid regardless. But there's nothing better than the experience of last Sunday, where James and I roamed our Taylors Falls campsite with no goal in mind. The river was high from recent torrential rains, so we wandered to what we dubbed "the peninsula," the only beach left above water. I skipped rocks. James built islands in the sand and named them. At one point, I ventured back to the campsite to grab the small garden hoe in the trunk. He didn't see me returning, so I just stopped and watched him. He was busy in his own little world, talking to himself, making up rivers, countries, borderlands. Perfectly content, perfectly self-entertained. There are few better sounds in the world.