It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Busy, busy, busy

As a society, we take pride in our busy-ness. When asked how we are, we routinely reply “busy!”, to which our friend will nod sagely, for they, too, are busy. We may complain about our busy-ness, but, really? We’re very proud of it. Those who work to keep their lives free from unnecessary social and work-related clutter are often disapproved of. We mock people who are in bed by ten p.m. We tacitly understand amongst ourselves that not enrolling your child in two (three! four! five!) activities a week is inferior parenting. We race through our days at high speed, without a second’s space for reflection, renewal, for just doing nothing. Because we’re busy! Oh! So Busy!

And busy is good! Because busy proves that we are diligent, energetic, productive people! Busy people live full, rich lives! Right?

The Washington Post ran an interesting experiment some while back. They plonked a world-famous violinist, Joshua Bell, into a busy pedestrian thoroughfare in Washington DC to see what would happen.

Now, they stacked the odds against Mr. Bell, setting him there at morning rush hour. Had they put him there at evening rush hour, when people arguably have more time at their disposal, it might have come out differently. But, given how we so often complain we don’t have time for a proper family evening meal, what with all we “have” to do, I’m not so sure.

Here’s the bit that totally wrenched my heart:

A couple of minutes into it, something revealing happens. A woman and her preschooler emerge from the escalator. The woman is walking briskly and, therefore, so is the child. She’s got his hand.

“I had a time crunch,” recalls Sheron Parker, an IT director for a federal agency. “I had an 8:30 training class, and first I had to rush Evvie off to his teacher, then rush back to work, then to the training facility in the basement.”

Evvie is her son, Evan. Evan is 3.

You can see Evan clearly on the video. He’s the cute black kid in the parka who keeps twisting around to look at Joshua Bell, as he is being propelled toward the door.

“There was a musician,” Parker says, “and my son was intrigued. He wanted to pull over and listen, but I was rushed for time.”

So Parker does what she has to do. She deftly moves her body between Evan’s and Bell’s, cutting off her son’s line of sight. As they exit the arcade, Evan can still be seen craning to look. When Parker is told what she walked out on, she laughs.

“Evan is very smart!”

The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother’s heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too.

There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.

Let’s hear that again: Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.


Doesn’t that just make you want to cry? What are we robbing our children of, every single day, with our much-vaunted busy-ness? What are we robbing ourselves of? And why should our children’s lives be impoverished because we must race like hamsters on a treadmill? Do we really need to work that extra two hours? Do we really need to sign our children up for all those activities? Why do we sneer at people who are in bed by 10, which enables them to get up easily in the morning and avoid that last-minute frantic charge to work?

Perhaps classical music isn’t “your thing”. But if your child wants to stop and listen, why not? Maybe you are very, very busy, with many Important Things awaiting you. But will the world really end if you were to pause for 90 seconds?


May 31, 2007 Posted by | Developmental stuff, music, parenting, socializing | 21 Comments