Can Children Be Taught to Appreciate the Mundane?

So much of adult life is boring.  A successful day is often (or usually) one that goes according to plan, and the plan is similar (or nearly exactly the same) as other weeks.  Work, activities, even our social life doesn’t tend to vary a lot from week to week.  In fact, we have learned through life experiences that “exciting” can often mean “bad” excitement (such as illness, accident, or other unexpected event), so we appreciate the days that go smoothly.  I’ve learned to enjoy simple pleasures such as setting a pretty table for breakfast, reading a chapter aloud to the kids before bed (we are currently working on the Harry Potter series), baking cookies, or picking vegetables in the garden.

Before I met Manly Guy and “settled down”, I definitely pursued more excitement in my life than I do now.  I dabbled in a variety of outdoor sports, planned international trips (as much as my jobs would allow) and enjoyed the party scene.  But even though I sought out a certain amount of thrills, I was always responsible, never allowing extra-curricular activities to impact my productivity on the job or distracting me too much.  As a dear friend once pointed out, “you cannot live on spice.”

As a parent, I have to wonder if an individual (child or adult) can be taught to appreciate the mundane parts of life, or if it only comes with maturity.  I suspect that experience is the best teacher in this case, that we learn to enjoy the boring parts mainly because of the lack of “bad” excitement.

Every weekday, our youngest asks me when I am picking the kids up from school: “Where are we going, Mommy?”  She is hoping that I am going to tell her that we are going to do something fun, like getting frozen yogurt or to an after-school activity such as soccer.  When I tell V that “We are heading home”, she always gives a long “Aaaawwwwwww” in response,  a sound of disappointment.  She longs to do “something fun” and hates to have a boring afternoon.  She would happily plan a monthly trip to Disneyland, and host birthday parties every week.

But, as I have pointed out many times to T, our oldest– anyone can have fun.  Experiencing fun doesn’t demonstrate our character.  It is what we do day-in and day-out that shows who we are.  It is the willingness to work hard, to slog through boring tasks, to overcome challenges that we encounter– these really give us the opportunity to shine.  One of my goals is to help my kids to accept that.

Related to the mundane parts of life is our daily attitude and how we can work to keep it positive.  Am I the last person ever to hear about David Foster Wallace?  He gave a commencement speech in 2005 called “This is Water”.  His suicide in 2008 preserved him forever as a middle-aged, soul-searching author who had brilliant insights in the delicate art of being conscious and alive.  Last week I viewed a video (posted by a friend on Facebook, of course)  which was nine minutes of excerpts from the speech, and it was fantastic.  I don’t know if it is still up, but I know that the original version (which is 22 minutes long) is still on YouTube.  If you don’t feel like viewing the video, you can read the speech here:

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB122178211966454607

If you haven’t seen, heard or read this speech, I highly recommend it!

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