June 3, 2006

Bearing witness in a
commercially-run household

This week my partner and I have been in south Florida, visiting our 5-year-old niece and her folks. I am beginning to think of our visits as an opportunity to bear witness to a different way of being in the world, compared to what Madison is exposed to here, and how we live our own lives as Friends.

Madison is a vocal, demonstrative little Disney princess, and when she is not in school and when we aren't visiting, her usual daytime activity is watching television:

network TV
cable TV

Not necessarily in that order.

So when we visit, one of the first things we do is entice Madison away from the boob tube.

"Madison, do you want to play a game with us?"

No answer. Eyes staring straight ahead at Scooby Doo.

"Hmm. Guess not. (audible sigh) Well, we'll go over here and you can visit us whenever you want."

Three seconds later, our little princess plops herself at the chair next to me. "What are you doing?" she wants to know.

"Just drawing..." and soon we are sharing a pen or some crayons back and forth.

Yesterday, while my sweetie was taking a nap and Madison's folks were at work, Madison asks me: "Do you want to exercise with me?"

Tired as I was, I pulled myself up and joined her in the living room. "Leg circles!" she announces, and falls to her side, lifting one leg into the air and making small circles with it. I join her, and we move into leg scissors, push-ups, and squats.

When we're done, she asks me if I want to play a game. "I'm good at playing games," she announces. But I say I just want to lay on the floor a bit, and we start making rhymes together:

Is that a rat?
No, a bat.
Oh drat, it's on the mat!

My reward is a little chuckle from this precious little girl.

Then I say, "Once upon a time..." and she rolls her eyes like a teenager might.

"What?! You don't want to help me make up a story?" I ask. Eye-roll...

"Well, how about I tell you a story from my own life?" and she suddenly becomes alert and nods her head vigorously.

I tell her about the time I saw a man pull out a gun and how I called the police; and about the time I was on a sailboat for the first time in my life and a thunderstorm broke open the skies and I thought I was going to die for sure.

After about 20 minutes, we are both still, and I say to her, "Hey, Madison, do you know what this is called, what we've been doing all this time?"

"No, what?"

"It's called being. We don't have to DO anything; we can just BE. Isn't this fun?"

Vigorous head-nod. "Yes!"

And for a few hours yesterday, we had no television, no Pretty Pretty Princess, no Kim Possible computer games.

Will it make a difference after we are gone, when the television turns into the babysitter and her bedtime story is a cartoon figure off of TiVo?

Well, it seems to make a difference for those few days when my partner and I are in town. At least to me.



Rob said...

I think it most certainly leaves an impression--even after you're gone. My niece and nephew love to visit my parents, even now as teenagers. Partly it's because my parents have cable TV (of course), and my step-brother's family does not, but I think it's mostly because my parents enjoy sharing their hobbies with the kids: fishing, hunting, going to the dog tracks (50-Cent Hotdogs, 50-Cent Beers), watching water ski shows down at the river, going to parades. Although I would never admit it to them, maybe I'm just a wee bit glad my folks pulled the plug every now then and got us outside and interacting.

Are you sporting a tan? :)

Cat C-B (and/or Peter B) said...

As a public school teacher, _thank you_ for taking the time to teach Madison "being." One of my greatest challenges as a teacher is the lack of reflectiveness and quiet that my students are prepared to attempt. It is so clearly an unpracticed skill! So many of my kids are unable to wait quietly for even a moment, to think their own thoughts without other stimulation for more than a heartbeat. I'm all for active engagement of students in a classroom and student-centered learning, but it seems to me that so much of these kids _lives_ has centered on non-stop stimulation, structured activity and entertainment of each and every one of them that they are unable to move the center of their observation very far from a kind of inner "fun/no fun" meter.

It makes teaching English quite a challenge, because the best of reading and writing is a stop-and-think-and-be sort of way of learning. If my classroom pacing is less frenetic than one 30-second tv commercial after another, I lose the attention of 2/3 of even my best classes. Needless to say, Shakespeare, Homer, and Steinbeck are not at their best in 30-second sound-bites.

With your help, maybe Madison with be able to attend to ideas longer than an IM when she's a teen. Which will be nice for whoever is teaching her English!

Liz Opp said...

Thanks for the comments, Rob and Cat. To answer Rob's question: No, I am not sporting a tan. I'm not big on oceans and hanging out on the beach, though I did enjoy some pool-time that we all grabbed the other day.

And Cat, I don't envy your position as English teacher. It's quite hard to lure ONE child away from the go, go, go of televsion, let alone a full classroom of children.

At worship today with Ft. Lauderdale Friends, I spent some time reflecting on what it must be like for God, who longs for us to put aside our own distractions and Listen more intently and more intentionally for guidance from the Inward Teacher...


Paula said...


When I moved to Ithaca from my hometown I left commercial living behind, which unfortunately included my two teen-age sons. They couldn't bear to be without the life you so clearly described and decided to stay with thier Dad. They do visit (and sometimes bring friends who can't believe you can live outside the popular culture)and we fill our time with visiting, cooking and just plain being. This past weekend we ground our own flour to make pizza and the younger couldn't believe how good it was.

It's unlikely that they will appreciate my lifestyle until they have children of thier own and watch horrified as they are sucked into the marketing machine. Until then however, I'll keep modeling to them the practice of thinking my own thoughts; not the automatic unconscience response to the media that they and thier peers are practicing. Oh yes...I'll continue to make pizza too. Food seems to work.


Liz Opp said...

Hi, Paula--

Thanks for sharing your own experience. I agree that some of the best quality time can be spent around food--especially food preparation. I also like singing as a form of interaction, if the song has the right sort of repetition that can help folks join in.

Madison has grown particularly fond of The Ants Go Marching One by One and Green Grow the Rushes O!. But maybe she likes them because they are long and can postpone her bedtime by about 3-4 minutes!



Plain Foolish said...

Food prep, storytelling (some of my most precious stories are ones that have been handed down through my family as bed-time stories), artistic expression, watching the fireflies, all of these have the possibility to be "brand new" to children who have lived their lives surrounded by prepackaged everything. It amazed the daughter of another member of my crafts circle (so we're already not selecting for the children most steeped in the prepackaged culture) that so much fun could be had by tumbling on the rug.

And what a gift these "simple" things are - to see bread rising, and to punch it down and help knead (My mom always gave me a bit of dough to knead beside her and baked the resulting overkneaded bit as a pretzel for me.), picking berries (with a reminder that this is something to be done with adults - no pokeberries, thank you!), and even just visiting and lazing a bit can be a true discovery for a child pushed to hurry faster and faster.

Anonymous said...

I agree, this was a clear case of bearing "witness to a different way of being."

The ministry was strong, wise, and clear.

So was your telling of it... which is part of the ministry, too!

Now if we could just clone you and send you into half the households in America...

-- Mitch

Liz Opp said...

Hi, Mitch and Plain Foolish.

On the way to Charlotte from Florida, I sat behind a young family on the plane. The youngest daughter, who was about 4, had a window seat, and as we took off, the daughter squealed with delight. It took me awhile to understand that her squeals were actually the words, "I can see the whole world, Mommy! I can see the whole world!"

It was wonderful and wonder-full. As you say, Plain Foolish, to this child, it was "brand new."

Mitch -

Thanks for your kind words.... I'd like to say that we don't need to clone anyone. We just each need to be faithful... and be alert to the opportunities we have in everyday life to bear witness to a different way of living--to be in the world but not of it.