Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Pursuit Of Fun

Any given weekend when the sun is shining brightly, the kids in my neighborhood are outside making the most of the good weather. That I might have a problem with that would make me the worst kind of curmudgeon - specially since I am the mother of a young child myself.

Now, imagine if you will that in my neck of the woods the sun is shining nice and bright all day long almost 70% of the year and the temperature is pleasant enough to remain outdoors until dusk. Imagine also that the kids age between 3 - 13 years old and outside having a fun time for 7-8 hours of the day. More often than not a bunch of parents are having fun right along with them. Throw in the long summer break and the spring break and do the math on the sum total of fun hours and maybe I won't be such a horrible Scrooge after all.

My point is the pursuit of fun is perfectly reasonable but within reasonable limits. If you treat each warm day as if it were the very last one of the year, set out a picnic table and lounging chairs on the grass and get a party started and have this pattern repeat for most of the year, it gets old, tiresome and boring - the very antithesis of fun in my mind at least.

Despite my reservations, I used to let J join in these fun-fests but found it impossible to pull her out of there once she got sucked into the swirl of things. She'd come home dead beat at dinner-time with face-paint and nail-polish on her and one sugary juice too many. After a couple of days of all-out fun, J found it difficult to get interested in the mundane business of life in our household.

I have since diverted her away from the neighborhood fun-fests. Having a bunch of after-school activities has also helped. Yet, J often complains that she is not able to have fun and relax like her friends. She feels like she is "always doing stuff" instead of "relaxing and having fun". Being a FOB, I cringe at those words knowing their connotation. In our culture relaxation is the privilege of the superannuated - the rest of us have to have work to do. We have to earn the right to have fun and relax - it does not happen automatically.

Hanging out, chilling and doing nothing useful is the American concept of fun J is talking about - working hard to achieve something is most definitely not. So a kid with a flair for music practicing his instrument for hours would be uncool as would be a math "nerd" who loves to live in the world of numbers and patterns. They are not the fun, party crowd. In her book The Yin and Yang of American Culture - A
Paradox, Eun Y. Kim tackles this very subject i.e. The Pursuit of Fun and the quandary it poses for Asian immigrant parents.

It is not part of our culture - we definitely don't give it the same amount of importance as Americans do. We tend to value hard-work and
concomitant achievement much higher. Yet when in America, we want our children to assimilate the mainstream culture enough to be able to blend in comfortably.

In my specific situation, that may entail J joining the fun and games every once in a while but find ways to engage herself without the high-octane excitement at all other times. I am terrified of her turning into a fun-junkie. That is sometimes too much to ask of kids. "Why must I always be the one that comes home the earliest ?" , "Why can't I have pink lemonade and Cheetos with everyone else ?" and finally "Why must I work when everyone else is playing ?" are the questions I get posed.

The "work" in this case would be reading a book, working on an art project, practicing her music, dance or otherwise "gainfully" occupying her time. No matter what balance of "fun" and "work" we agree upon, it will still seem inequitable to J because her peers live for fun, it is a matter of incredible importance to them and to not have had enough fun is qualification to be a loser. No kid wants that label stuck on them.

So they try to meander in and out between cultural and parental expectations and peer-pressure to cut loose and have fun. I realize my challenges are only beginning. I try to explain to J that the greatness of America is built on an incredible amount of
hard work by the people who first settled in this land and for several generations continued to strive relentlessly to make life better. The culture of fun that she sees all around her is a relatively new phenomenon and will likely not yield the same results as hard-work did.

I tell her that there are plenty of historical role-models in this country who will attest to my conviction that hard-work is by far the only real mantra for lasting peace and prosperity. I tell that to be a good American, she must continue the best traditions on which this country was founded and this whole business of fun at all costs and to the exclusion every other consideration is certainly not one of them.

I am sure this lesson will need to be repeated one time too many. If I am very lucky, some of it will stick with J and actually make sense to her. In as far as being able to straddle the different world-views successfully, she is really on her own and only time will tell how she will fare.

This post first appeared in Desicritics


Vikas Gupta said...

Someday J may tell you: "Hard work never killed anyone mom but why take chances!" :)

I recall this quote too (not very relevant here): "When we are young we want to change the world, when we are old we want to change the youth!"

Many years from now, this repository will be the greatest gift a mother gave to her daughter! And J will love it to bits.

BTW, this post should also have the labels J and parenting (or may be you only consider the overwhelming theme of the post while labelling).

Liked this post!

Priyamvada_K said...

I can relate to this post. I have my struggles with "fun versus work" too. I always tell Kamala that she will have so much more "fun" if she's done all her work first. This way there won't be that thought at the back of the mind that x, y and z need to get done.

Hoping the advice will kick in and set in at some time or another. Join the club of hopeful parents :)


Heartcrossings said...

Vikas - Add the tags you suggested :) I hope you are right about J enjoying the posts about her when she grows up.

Priya - At last another mom who agrees with me ! Maybe you should head over to the Desicritics post and check out some of the comments there ;)

Vikas Gupta said...

Rest assured, Heart, you are not hoping against hope! :)