Christmas is just a couple days away and as a single mom I am under the gun buying those last minute gifts. I feel guilty for not getting my son all he wants and I feel guilty for giving him too much. It is a fine balance between gifts that will enrich him and gifts that will entertain him. Often for a parent, this part of the season is far from joyful. Predictably, I will end up getting him some electronics or games to go with his electronics. After Christmas it might just become a point of contention, but a tradition I started years ago will prove the best gift I could ever give to him.
While preparing for takeoff to head back home from the U.S. Capitol one evening in the fall I started to reflect upon the wonderment of flight. Often just before takeoff I think to myself how unnatural it is for humans to be up in the air suspended thousands of feet above the earth moving at speeds that bodies could never reach with their feet on the ground.
As we began speeding down the runway I put my hands behind my head to get the most out of this takeoff (it was the closest thing to putting my arms up in the air, roller-coaster style, without bringing attention to myself). That moment of lift and drop where you feel your body being lifted away from the earth in a slightly floaty unnatural state as your tummy stops being obstinate against the unfamiliar lift is intense if you pay attention.
Then comes the cool kid stuff that no one ever grows out of. My head immediately drifts toward the nearest window to watch the ground, roads and houses drift away. I look around and every head near a window is staring intently out, watching the buildings shrink, looking to see if they can locate the streets they had just driven on. It doesn’t matter the age from 1 to 100, no one can resist the childlike wonderment of flight and view from an airplane window.
This got me to thinking about us, now adults, who grew up spending hours in the time old tradition of watching out window while traveling (most often on the highway) in childhood. We had no DVD player, DS or iPad to entertain. We fought with our brothers and sisters over rights to personal space, played the ABC game, or discussed whatever popped into our heads. Most often than not the drive was filled with silence as topics eventually would wane. Silence brought on something called thought as we covered thousands of miles wondering if that green hill really felt as soft under bare feet as it looked, or where that tumbleweed had traveled from and how much further it would go, or if the ocean waves ever got tired of running on the shore swallowing up small rocks while purging sparkling looking pieces of seaweed on the sandy beach.
I began to consider what the danger is for this generation of soon to be adults who were trained to leave wonderment, imagination and the car window behind for electronics where everything is planned out for them as they wander mindlessly the path planned by some programmer or movie maker. I’m grateful to have had the foresight to take away electronics from my son on trips and demand he participate in the time-honored tradition of staring out the window. Making up the occasional corny song or poem together to kickstart his creative journey. It isn’t an easy task as parents, who for hundreds of years, have endured many delightful travel phrases like; “are we there yet?”, “how much longer?” and of course the most heartwarming “don’t touch me!”. Yes, those painful phrases are a small trade-off for the education your child will be getting as he creates a relationship in his head with his most important companion in life, himself.
I urge parents near and far to make the sacrifice necessary to adopt this tradition and create opportunities of wonderment for children. Don’t trade them in for your personal comfort. Turn off electronics in the car as often as possible! As you do this, you will be grateful for having had a heavy hand in the healthy development of the gray matter in your young ones brain. You yourself will begin to experience feelings of wonderment as your hair turns gray and your child enters into adulthood with abilities of leadership and problem solving that will surpass those around him. You will realize that those short travel hours of sacrificed personal comfort will have become your greatest gift and investment in your child’s future. And the fading statement of “are we there yet?” will have forever settled in your heart as the best words you have ever endured.
Merry Christmas! ~ Tiff