Saturday, June 8, 2013

Learning from Experience

I received the email last Sunday.  The subject line?  "Strawberries are Here!"  Meaning, or course, our local farm and uPick has strawberries ripe for the picking.  What followed was a week of a newsfeed clogged with pictures of adorable kiddos holding a quart of strawberries.  With the innumerable pictures, I was beginning to fear that by the time I was able to get there Thursday with my mom to pick, the plants would be picked over and bare.

Back story: I grew up on a farm where we rarely bought produce.  My parents put out a huge garden, and mom "put it up" every year (meaning she stocked the freezer and canned) so that we only ever purchased a few produce items throughout the year, and if we didn't grow it in our garden, we went to a local uPick to stock up.  Our summer meals reflected whatever was currently ripe in the garden, and a typical summer meal consisted of sweet corn (4-6 ears per person), tomatoes, cole slaw, and hard boiled eggs.  (Obviously, that doesn't quite work for me anymore since we live on a quarter-acre lot smack in the middle of suburbia, but my extended family continues with that self-sufficient lifestyle.)

So when we go to pick strawberries, we don't go for a quart.

In fact, we were probably fortunate that my mom had a busy weekend ahead of her and didn't have time to "do" her strawberries, so she only picked 3 quarts for herself, but she helped pick my 16 pounds so I could make my jam and freeze sliced berries for use throughout the year (and I still want to go back for more!).  Needless to say, my fears about the plants being picked over and bare were assuaged.  And while we were there picking, I learned why.

The uPick was more about a photo opp for a lot of people than it was about an actual desire to teach their children about a process.

I was astonished by the number of families who showed up with their kiddos in cute outfits, picked a handful of strawberries, snapped a pic, and left.  (If this tells you anything, the price of the strawberries was $1.95 per pound.  The lady in front of me had a bill of $1.70, but boy did her kids look cute, and I'm sure her pic was perfect to post to Facebook.)

So here's the question.  Are we more concerned about giving our kids experiences than with teaching them about processes?

I'm thirty-one-years-old.  I would venture to say that our generation was one of the forerunners of experiential childhoods.  Many of us didn't lack for experiences: youth group lock-ins, short-term missions trips, studying abroad.  While there's nothing wrong with simply allowing yourself or child to have an experience every now and then, many of us would probably confess that the experiences that meant the most were the ones where we somehow participated in the process around the experience (for me, it was serving on the leadership team for the camp I worked at in the summers; for others it might have been leading a short-term missions trip, or serving as a class officer and planning prom). 

Regardless, the experiences we value most and learn the most from in life are those that we directly have our hands involved in.

So by plopping our kids in a strawberry patch, a pumpkin patch, in a hot air balloon, beside a celebrity or pro athlete, or thrusting them onto sports teams for a photo opp and for our own treasured memories and sense of accomplishment as a parent may be a waste of energy, time, and money on our parts if in the end our children haven't gained a sense of understanding or appreciation for the experience.  It's easier to whip out our smart phones and quickly post a pic to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to inform others about the experiences we're creating for our kids (and to be honest, to pat ourselves on our backs for being such great parents).  In our consumer-based society, many of us are raising obese children: children who are obese with stuff, experiences, and their own self-centeredness because we aren't teaching children how to appreciate and value people, things, or special moments.  We're more concerned with exposing them to innumerable experiences in hopes they'll be well-rounded individuals, when in reality, deep relationships and an understanding and appreciation for life and all its nuances create centered--not self-centered--and peaceful individuals. 

So, instead of picking a quart of strawberries with your child for a picture opp, take the strawberries home and teach her how to make jam or strawberry shortcake.  Allow her to help you wash and hull the berries--even though it's messy, especially because it's messy!  Create a memory for your child that is cherished because of the quality time spent with and learning from you.  A strawberry shortcake tastes so much sweeter when one has picked, washed, and sliced the berries herself. 
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