Character is lost when self entertainment erodes
September 24, 2009
Wood sorrel. It looks kind of like clover, only droopier and with yellow flowers. I’ve been yanking it out of my vegetable garden and mowing over it in my lawn. One day I discovered you could eat it—zesty and kind of lemony, I showed it to my grandpa when he said, “Oh yeah, we used to eat this all the time when we were kids.”
Well that’s cool! Old people know all kinds of cool things. So why didn’t my grandpa ever bother to show me that you could eat these things out of your lawn? Maybe because when I was a child I had an endless supply of peanut butter and crackers in the kitchen and would never need to eat parts of my yard.
I don’t know how to make a whistle out of a willow stick or a rubber band gun like my grandpa does. But I do know how to order a plastic whistle or Nerf gun online.
Maybe grandpa never showed me how to make a whistle because he knew I wouldn’t be entertained by one. It would have taken three seconds for me to get bored, then I would have whined that I wanted to play with my deluxe Barbie convertible with working windshield wipers, lights, candy dispenser and turbo-hyper-overdrive.
It makes me sad to think that the ability to entertain ourselves vanished with the mass producing of sing-and-play-along princess sets, learn to count with Elmo talking books and box sets of Barney on DVD. There just isn’t any character in that.
Knowing how to entertain yourself, being creative, and making discoveries may be one of the best character-building skills in life.
But once parents got lazy and figured out that Disney movies kept their kids quiet, clean and safe, I feel that desire for learning has become a lost value.
Leave kids to their own devices and they’ll figure out what the inside of acorns look like, the consistency of rock-ground mushrooms, how to build a sturdy fort with bed sheets, 53 different uses for laundry baskets and the tensile strength of grass.
Old people know this kind of stuff.
I guess my point is that just because the knowledge the old people in your life have is about something you will never use doesn’t mean it’s useless.
My mother (not that she’s old) picked a flower from her garden and showed me how to pull certain parts of the petals and stems in a way that disassembled the blossom into a doll-sized tea set complete with cups, spoons, and forks. The only thing missing was the tea and cake.
Today, whenever I see this flower I pick it and show my friends the same trick my mom showed me. They’re always pretty impressed. Listen to old people.
Kirsten Blake is an alumna of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.