April 29, 2014

Idle Hands and the Devil

I read an article on NPR this morning about laziness in America.  It wasn't written to bash anyone or anything, just an observation on life in the US beginning with the founding fathers and their attitudes towards idle time.

In our home growing up, we were never allowed to utter the words "I'm bored" without repercussion.  If there were no immediate chores to be done, the answer was to go read a book, which we did with fervor.  Other than that, there was always something to be done whether it was to wipe down baseboards, dust the living room, sweep anything and everything, or pick through peas.  Sleep was not an option.  Naps were reserved for a rare Sunday afternoon and only if mama took one first.  The only real way to get out of work at the house was to leave...in our case, go hide in the woods all afternoon until she was calling us in or we got hurt and just had to get it patched up proper.  Even heading over to hide at a friends house could result in being drafted for laundry help or to carry wood.  And yes, I have absolutely been told:  Idle hands are the Devil's workshop.  We were given tales of bad little boys who didn't do what they were told and went off on their own program only to become thieves and liars.  And horror of horrors, when they stole from their family (which inevitably they would) they were cast out as "no good", always to stay on the fringes of family and local society.

Now I'm all about invention and I understand that, as the article suggests, laziness breeds invention.  People got tired of walking so they created the wheel.  We got tired of driving horses and bulls so we created an engine.  Microwaves cut down food prep and cook time.  Cell phones eliminate the need to wait for a phone call or message.  We live in an instant world.  That leaves us more time to do.....nothing.  I get twitchy when I don't have anything to fill my time.  I get anxious.  I don't sit still.  It's hard for me to watch an entire show or movie.  If  it's at home I feel as though I should be doing something.  The counter isn't clean.  The dishes could be put away.  There's cat fur to be vacuumed up.  If I'm not moving then I need to be thinking, planning, writing, reading, painting, anything productive-mentally or physically.  I don't know if I've ever been capable of mindless escape...maybe when I was young.  I have an online game I play from time to time...but there are usually weeks sometimes months between play sessions.  Of course, it too, is a socialization method.  It gives a friend and I time to chat and hang out, so it's just another busy method.

I know so many people right now in my age bracket that have teenagers old enough to be employed.  Many of them are not.  Each person I talk to has the exact same complaint about their child:  s/he doesn't want to start at the bottom and work the crap job to cut their teeth.  They want what it took mom and dad/auntie and uncle years to get to right now.  I know these people.  I know myself.  I would like to say that we have impressed it upon them ourselves that they must work from bottom to top.  I'd like to believe that we have all given them the notions that to be handed something is not honorable.  So where is the idea coming from?  Do we blame the media?  MTV with the teenage moms?  The Kardashian family who have money because one man did well on a couple of court cases?  Little Paris Hilton and Jersey Shore cast who presumably have no true jobs or even a skill set?  Have we truly allowed the images to import that much into our children?

That's kind of scary if you think about it.  Stop and think for a second.  You work, your spouse works, and you maintain a modest home.  Nothing over the top but nice for you.  You have vehicles that run, food on the table, maybe something for a little vacation-nothing fancy.  You see yourself setting the example for your child, by now call him or her 16 or so.  They do well enough in school, have some activities, have friends.  That summer rolls around and you say OK, have you put an application in at the grocery store for the summer?  "Ugh, no mom, why would I do that??  I don't want to work for minimum wage."  Now, I seem to remember, at 18 I had no skill set no knowledge of how to do much other than write papers and organize books in a library.  So guess what I did?  I wrote papers for money and worked at the library on campus for $4.25 an hour...while I went to school...to develop a skill set.

Later on when I left campus I walked into Sears and told the woman who interviewed me that I was majoring in fashion design.  She hired me on the spot because I showed initiative.  I got paid commission on a draw.  That is, if I made my commission that's what I got...if the commission didn't equal to minimum wage for the number of hours I worked, they paid me the difference...then took it back out the next check if I hit my numbers then.  It was a loan from one check to the next.  Here's the clincher.  I was so grateful to get paid...anything...that I didn't complain to them, I didn't whine that it wasn't enough and I didn't quit.  I worked that job for 2 years then stepped over to a non-commission department.  I made it work.  I stretched that little check as far as I could and I learned to live within my means.  I got picky one time with a place to live.  I will never do that again.  I've lived in section 8 and I've lived in gated complexes.  Guess where my trucks got broken into?  That's right.  The gated apartment complexes.  Was living in the section 8 housing dangerous?  Yes it was, but we personally were never bothered.  Our neighbors on the other hand......

Anywho.  My whole point is that children should never say what they will and won't do.  All it takes is one good fight with a parent, grandparent, or uncle to be cast out never to be handed to again.  That's assuming your family has anything to hand to you.  Do I not want my daughter to know what section 8 housing is?  Of course not.  But am I naive enough to believe that she won't need it one day?  Hell no.  If she falls on hard times and she needs the leg up, I will drive her to the food stamp office and show her how to fill out the paperwork.  No parent wants their child to have to live hard.  At the same time we can't coddle them until they are helpless either.  What makes mine special?  Yes, I'm talking about my child.  What makes her so different and so special that she shouldn't have to make her mark and dig her own path?  Yes, she's smart and talented.  Yes, she's bright and a good person.  But she is a person.  A regular.  Person.  No better or worse than those around her who are trying to fight the same day to day battles.  My job is to arm her with the right tools and weapons so that she understands that food stamps are for the moment, good jobs take time, and save what you don't absolutely need to spend.  Take a hit on your home before your car, because your home can be cleaned up to look nice and a big dog is fine security.  Your car is your meal ticket.  It needs to be reliable not fancy.  Your home simply needs to be modest and clean.  After your dues are paid and you appreciate the foot-in-the-door job, you move on to something bigger, better, and where your goals are.

Am I being harsh?  Probably to some one's eyes.  I don't see it as harsh.  I see it as necessary.  The real world is not kind or good or fair.  It's mean and devastating and very unfair.  It will make you laugh and then make you cry in one fell swoop.  How you respond to it is what matters.

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