Fighting the natural tendency to complicate

Issue: "Betting on the future," Aug. 1, 1998

Summertime, and the living is easy-but not when we complicate things. What could be cozier than a little girl during the summer cooking dinner alongside her mother? But when a mother is worn out from working, it's easier to spend money than invest time. And thus, an upscale catalogue company sees an opening for a $109.95 set of toy pans: "It's never too early for aspiring chefs to learn the value of superior quality cookware. Whether they're playing or actually helping you cook, children enjoy the feel and heft of these superb sets from Europe."

Other sets are also expensive: Four plates and four mugs cost $59.95. The market for costly toys is growing as moms with discretionary income but not enough discretionary time try to show their love by offering items.

Instead of investing time, we spend money, and content ourselves with consumer education: "Feed children's imagination while they learn about the different types of bread available at the market. Our realistic full size 6-piece set includes sour dough, bulky, braided, dinner roll, croissant and poppy seed packed in a reclosable net bag."

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Wouldn't most children, though, prefer to cook alongside their moms with a homemade pretend pan, rather than by themselves with "superb sets from Europe"? Wouldn't they rather share a cracker with love than a realistic 6-piece set with a reclosable net bag?

Summertime, and the living is easy-when boys have a chance to play creatively and leisurely rather than having their time programmed so that they mimic parental busyness. Historian Henry Adams, in a classic autobiography (The Education of Henry Adams) written in 1905, noted that "Winter and summer were two hostile lives": Winter was always compulsory learning, but summer was rolling in the grass and reading books he discovered on his own.

This is not a screed against basic structure. Boy Scout Troop 20, formed in 1937, met in the basement of University Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas; bonds formed became so strong that six decades later some of its members (now with grandchildren of their own) gather for a monthly cafeteria lunch. Scout members strove for merit badges but still had lots of time to ride bicycles up and down the streets and play the slow summer game, baseball. "It was a good world for little boys to grow up in," ex-Scout Dick Hardin recalled. "It was a big deal if you kissed a girl. We grew up very slowly."

Summertime, and time to think how to simplify our lives. If a second job within a family makes great use of God-given talents, fine. If that job is needed to provide daily bread, fine. But if that second job simply provides money not absolutely needed, and if the earner's family is suffering in the meantime, it is time to reconsider.

Reconsideration can start even in small ways. I have a confession to make: My wife cuts my hair, and began doing so 22 years ago when we were just married and my salary was very small. I warmly recommend the practice: She edits my hair well, and you can't beat the convenience of location, appointment, and conversation while clipping. Some spouses are not so shearly adept; other budgets need bigger fixes. But the place to begin analyzing our expenses is not just with acknowledgment of luxuries, but investigation of whether necessities are truly necessities.

If summertime living is to be easy again, we need to analyze our own income and outgo, and the nation's as well (since taxes are the biggest item in many household budgets). After all, if more people confess to home haircutting, some politicians might worry that too many of us are missing out on clean, well-lit barber shops, with opportunities for socialization and the security of governmental regulation.

That's our tendency-to complicate things. Life is unfair, some have said, but if we can send a man to the moon, can't we as a society guarantee to every citizen the right to a professional haircut? Or, shouldn't we provide year-round schooling for every child? Shouldn't we program their activities so parents will be able to lead their own lives without concern that the kids will get into trouble when parents are away?

No-in the summertime kids should be free to explore, with a parent in hailing distance should trouble ensue. And if home haircuts are among what is needed to make that happen, so be it.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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