Two years ago, I wrote this post as the summer holidays drew to a close. If I’d read the newspaper article that inspired it earlier, I most definitely would have posted it before the holidays: it’s a fantastic reminder of the priceless value of down time that the 6 week break brings and that our kids so desperately need. So, for those of you feeling a tight knot in your stomach building as the term draws to a close, read on! It won’t make the sibling spats and interruptions every 60 seconds any easier, but it will help you see value in those 6 weeks….
‘Back to School: Goodbye Kairos, Hello Chronos’
“The clock, for all its precision in measurement, is a blunt instrument for the psyche and for society” Jay Griffiths
My two went back to school this week.
It’s always a week that I greet with mixed emotions.
I feel glee that I get some peace & quiet, time to read, write, swim, or simply shop without harassment or interference. No longer having to answer ‘yes’ to my son’s “Mummy” 40 times a day is a welcome relief, or to act as referee to increasing sibling spats as they get progressively fed up with each other.
Yet these feelings are almost always equalised with a sense of deep sadness that something very rare and precious in their lives has ended, at least for a season: the season of what is best termed ‘Kairos’.
Kairos was one of the many gods of Time that the Greeks worshipped. A female God, she was the god of reverie (what we might call ‘day dreaming’) and the god of the ‘right moment’. The opposite is her brother Chronos, the god of linear, clock-based time. Notice the telling gender distinction.
The clock is what governs our Western lives most of the year, except holidays which come along like a long awaited gasp of fresh air before we go back down to the hard work of ‘real life’. It is a very adult instrument for running society. It certainly isn’t something that my children are born with.
My kids are a nightmare at responding to any time-driven agenda, as I’m sure yours are. My eldest, who has my Aussie husband’s laissez-faire attitude to the clock, is the hardest nut to crack when it comes to time-keeping. Her ability to be distracted by a book or by her brother’s silly antics are second to none. It wreaks havoc on our relationship during term time unless I find a creative, positive way to ensure she gets dressed/undressed/down for meals on time.
But the reason is because my eight year old creative daughter desperately needs time to day-dream, to just be. I read recently that researchers at UCLA have confirmed this. They have found that day dreaming, or ‘reverie’ to give it a formal term, is an essential part of brain development and of creativity. It’s also essential for problem-solving.
I was fascinated when I read this, as it confirmed my instinct that nagging the kids to be here, do that, hurry up, come along, was against their nature and bad for them – and us. Apparently, the Sami people in Norway are amongst surprisingly many cultures that let their children be in control of their own time. Rudolph Steiner schools are guided by this philosophy too.
It also articulated why I feel so sad at the beginning of term, despite the fact that I love my free time and space. It is because it has brought to an end what my kids (and I believe all of our kids) so desperately need – no agenda, down time, space to be, muck about, create.
The fruit of ‘Kairos’ time can be seen in this photo. In case you were wondering if I’ve uploaded a picture of junk on our garden table by mistake, I was in my right mind. It is as close a visual representation of what happened this holiday when my daughter was given the gift of kairos time.
Here’s how it goes: husband’s new BBQ arrives along with half a tonne of cardboard; daughter decides to make a ferris wheel for her Sylvanian family (never one to attempt anything simple!). Our five year old son, on the other hand, decides to turn it into a giant track for his cars in the garden (sadly I didn’t take a photo of it, but it was immense).
We’ve had over 6 weeks of kairos time where the clock has been put in a metaphorical cupboard and told not to show its face unless absolutely necessary (like getting up at 6.30am to get to the Paralympics Athletics last Sunday – ouch!). So it’s no wonder that it’s hard to go back to being governed by grown-up, linear Mr Clock and the tyranny of the urgent.
All we can do is try and ensure that at least one day in the weekend are without agenda, for the sake of us all.
And should a teacher complain at parents evening that my child is day dreaming too much, I’ll know what to buy for her end of term present….
With thanks to Jay Griffiths author of ‘Pip, Pip: A Sideways look at Time’ for the inspiration for this post.
Re-reading this post was very interesting. My daughter, now 10 years old, is so much better at getting herself ready for school, coming down for breakfast (almost) on time, able to do her homework without too much nagging etc. She seems to have turned a corner in the past year whereby she’s ready for all this timetable-of-a-life. She still needs to day dream, oh yes, but I can see, just like I saw in my last post when reflecting on the changes in her over the past year, how kids simply aren’t ready for the Chronos school clock till now….