A woman at the Carlyle book club last week posed a good question. In my book, I write about a waitress, Cheryl, who fascinated me. I spent a lot of time at the cafe where Cheryl worked because that’s where Dad and Mom took their frequent work breaks.
The woman at the book club wanted to know if my observations about Cheryl that I write about occurred at the time I knew Cheryl, or if they came about during the writing process. I was young when I knew Cheryl, about 7 or 8 years old. But my observations I had of her occurred during that time.
The observations are sharp and detailed, so I can see where someone might question how a young girl could formulate those ideas. But one thing I had on my side was time. Lots of time. And nothing else to do but to watch and observe.
I spent a lot of time with just my parents. I’m the youngest in my family, trailing my sister by nine years and my brother by seven. They were already doing their own teenage things, either at work or with friends or just staying home, when Mom and Dad and I would go somewhere. We lived in the country, so I didn’t have a neighborhood of kids to hang out with.
I tagged along with Mom and Dad to coffee breaks, errands, and visits with their friends or relatives. I was in an adult world more often than not. When you’re a kid in an adult world with nothing else to do, you sit there quietly and watch everyone around you. You formulate questions you would ask and wonder about their lives. You watch how the adults interact with each other and pick up on little clues. Even if you’re too young to fully understand body language, you sense the nature of relationships and can tell when something seems odd. I was watching, watching, watching. It’s no wonder I became a journalist; I honed a curiosity about people from a young age.
How many kids these days are inserted into adult worlds? A world in which they are expected to sit quietly and entertain themselves with their own minds. If I were a kid today, my parents would probably plop a phone or tablet into my hands while they went about their socializing. I’d be tuned out of the world and tuned into my own little world of games and social networking. I’d have something to “occupy” me, something other than my mind and imagination.
If I ever was bored, too bad. I piped up on occasion, but in no short order it became clear that I was to be patient and sit quietly until the adults were done with their business. I learned respect and also learned that I wasn’t the center of the world. I learned that I always didn’t get to do what I wanted to do. So I could either put up a fuss, or just accept it and find something constructive to do with my time. Are kids today learning to nurture contentment in quiet time? And if not, at what cost?