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Neither the Time nor the Place

Posted by Eric (May 24, 2006 at 1:30 pm)

DancersA few Saturdays ago day I beheld a delightful thing: three little girls were dancing around together in an open space in one of the party rooms of a restaurant. They were dressed up in fancy dresses and I suppose it made them feel like princesses of ballerinas. Their dance somehow combined elegant pirouettes with the bunny hop. A fourth, much littler girl tentatively tried to join in while the little brother of one of girls watched them, gleefully giggling at their silly, joyful dance.

I was considering hunting down my own littler girls—our whole family were guests at the party—to see if they would like to join in the dancing too, when one of the grown ups, an aunt or perhaps a wicked step-mother, came upon the little group and ordered them to stop. “This is neither the time nor the place for dancing,” she said. “You can sit down together and talk, or quietly play a game.”

How very sad. Seemed to me it was precisely the time and place for dancing—a party, an open space not really in anbody’s way. What’s more, one of the dancers was none other the little girl in whose honor the party was being held. In fact, I cannot think of a better time and place for dancing than that.

Girls playingIt was not that I just happened to see an adult tell a group of children to quit dancing. I had already been watching them and even reflecting on what a wonderful, refreshing gift is the happiness of children. I felt a bit like I’d had the channel changed on me—I almost wanted to cry out, “Hey, I was watching that!”

But some grown ups—the sort of grown ups to whom Willie Wonka dreaded to hand off the management of the Chocolate Factory—cannot abide the spontaneous exhuberance of children. I do not know why. And there are certainly times when children must be held in check—as for example today at the post office when two little children were running round and round the counters: the post office at 9:00 a.m. is not the place for running and shouting.

Boys playingBut there are times and places for running and shouting and laughing and dancing. We parents have a responsibility to distinguish one from the other, and to do so in a way that is sensitive to and even indulgent of children’s natural sense of joy.

I knew a father, a guest at our home, who before my very eyes ordered his children to stop running up and down the sidewalk, which they were doing with my children, racing or playing tag or something. His stern order was befuddling. I couldn’t begin to get my head around it. Outrageous.

If I had the wit of a G.K.Chesterton, the Apostle of Glee, I might be able to say something wise about how very, very, deeply, profoundly wrong it is to supress the glee of children. I don’t mean never to hold it in check when really necessary; but to stamp it out always and everywhere as a sort of official policy, even at a party, when dancing would seem to be the very thing called for above all else, is an act of brutality against Joy itself.

And that makes me sad. Not rhetorically sad or metaphorically sad, but really, actually, heart-sick sad to see.

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7 Responses to “Neither the Time nor the Place”

  1. James says:

    That’s a really good post, Eric. Thanks for sharing it. The happiness of children is a wonder to behold.

    Comment posted May 26th, 2006 at 8:57 am
  2. M. David says:

    Interesting post. Three points:

    1) Most parents these days err on the side of being lax – this creates a backlash, making many responsible parents reflexively restrictive.

    2) Many parents are none too bright about social context and choose to be safe rather than sorry – you can hardly be critical of low-IQ folk who have kids and are doing the best they can with what they have. Even slow-coaches have a right to have kids. At least they aren’t letting the kids run wild.

    3) Our culture is so multicultural many just have different views of the line between normal glee and disruption. I know many Hispanic churches that don’t mind kids being pretty wild in church (beyond my comfort zone). Yet when I hang out in those “wild” churches, soon I’m not so bothered by it. They would consider me a spoilsport, and they might be right.

    Regarding your specific case – many parents have a “in public” rule of behavior. A party like that blurs a lot of lines.

    Comment posted May 28th, 2006 at 12:53 am
  3. Sunnyday says:

    Hi Eric,

    It was delightful to read about this post of yours since it reminded me of those cares-free days of my childhood when I lived to play and watch cartoons on TV.

    While I agree that there is a time and a place for everything, it also saddens me that there are cases wherein a parent’s “shushing” of little kids is done neither in the right place nor the right time. But then I’m not a parent yet so I’ve yet to experience the difficulty of disciplining my own kids. =)

    What I am concerned about is that in such cases, the result may be kids’ creativity and imagination being suppressed and their enthusiasm dampened in the long run.

    I should pass by this blog more often…

    Comment posted June 4th, 2006 at 5:51 am
  4. Susan Peterson says:

    Years ago, (over 35 years ago) before I had any children, I was waiting in some kind of social services office, together with a lot of women and their children. I had always loved teaching neighborhood kids and I sat down on the floor to play with a bunch of the kids.
    We were all having a great time. I think they had some large cardboard blocks there and we built some kind of tower or bridge and danced around it or tried to get under it..something like that.
    Then one of the stolid mothers said pointedly, “Who started up all this ruckus?” and shushed the kids and made them sit down and be quiet. The other women obviously agreed with her and were relieved at her intervention.
    Yet there was no one in this waiting room but the mothers, the children, and me. We weren’t disturbing the staff, who were on the other side of a wall and double glass. The women themselves were mostly just sitting there waiting, not even looking at the magazines. That was before TV’s were everywhere in waiting rooms. I thought they were repressive, uninterested in the happiness or creativity of their children.
    Later on, I had nine children of my own. I became somewhat more like these women; poor, overworked, exhausted. I had days and moments when I felt so tired that just the sight and sound of children being noisy and active were more than I could handle. I thought back on those women and felt that now I understood. I am not saying those women were right, just understandable.
    Maybe the person at your party was not that tired, but maybe she had experience of happy times like what you describe quickly getting out of hand, getting rambunctious, disturbing adults, maybe breaking things. She may have wanted to stop it before it got to that point. Maybe she had some ideas about the way that children ought to behave at an adult party. I would not have been allowed to dance around calling attention to myself at an adult gathering at which I was present as a child. Such behavior does interfere with adult conversation. The rights and needs of adults do come first in a mixed, non child centered gathering. (ie, not a child’s birthday party. But maybe this was a child’s birthday party? that would change things, I think.)
    I think that moving the activity to a separate room, a playroom, porch, or outside, if this fits the situation, might be better than simple squelching it. But I can certainly see the woman’s point. ( unless this was supposed to be a children’s gathering, in which case maybe it should have been organized in more informal setting.)
    Susan Peterson

    Comment posted June 16th, 2006 at 4:54 pm
  5. Christine Stevens says:

    hi there! I happened upon your blog while looking up an article about NFP, and while my current comment has nothing to do with the above article , I wanted to say that I just finished reading your blog about the *Torode affair*. I had no idea they had done that, and what a crying lame/shame.
    Truth is, THEY are responsible for not my dh and I using NFP, but we are now converted Catholics! Funny how that makes me view them now, hmm.
    Anyways, I wanted to comment that I am sorry you haven’t blogged in a awhile, I will check ack often to read more. You have the greatest sense of humor. Please blog more 🙂
    Blessings to you,
    ~Christine

    Comment posted July 31st, 2006 at 9:50 pm
  6. Very Rev. Fr. Gregori says:

    Eric,
    God Bless you for such a heartfelt posting. I am not only an Orthodox Catholic priest, but I am also the father of four adopted sons, three from Vietnam and one from Laos. While these boys were growing up, I reveled in their rukus horseplay and often joined in it. Other than the Orthodox Hymns, there is no music sweeter to my ears then the laughter and happy squeals coming from children at play.

    Alas, the boys are all grown up now with children of their own, and believe me, I make every opportunity to have my grandchildren (7 of them) around to enjoy their frolicing and merry making, and every so often, even though I am an old grandpa, I will engage my grown sons in a little horse play.

    Fr. “Abouna” Gregori

    Comment posted November 18th, 2006 at 8:04 pm
  7. Karen K. says:

    .Hi Eric,
    I so enjoy reading your posts, thank you for sharing them! I can see your talent for writing. I am going to send my daughter, Grete this site, she will appreciate reading your entries. She graduated from Benedictine University with a BA in English Literature and then received her masters at DePaul University in Chicago. She is a teacher right now, although it is most ironic, because she is a Special Ed. teacher for the severely handicapped in the inner city of Joliet. It was quite by accident she started doing it, but most providential. Her education, and money spent, was not wasted because she is currently working on a couple books with one that has been accepted by a publishing company.
    I just wanted to say I agree totally with you about grown-ups extinguishing the precious merriment of children. I on the other hand have been guilty of joining in with those very same children my whole adult life! I receive, let’s say some “funny looks” from people who don’t appreciate such golden memory making moments. I am a mother of six children and when one of my four daughters got married last July, I “the mother of the bride” with my long formal dress on, sat (very lady like, I must add) on the floor with all the little children, next to the dance floor, playing,” Bubble Gum Bubble Gum in a dish” shoe game! Children are so precious! And being a mother of a 28, 26, 21, 19, 15, and 8yr old I know how fast it all goes! So lighten up! Life goes fast, enjoy those little ones! P.S. I am a teacher too, and have worked in the elementary schools for 18 years, and believe in orderliness, and discipline. One thing that stands out as an observation of dealing with children is that they behave better in an environment with adults who are themselves interiorly happy with the great gift of life God has given to us all. God bless the gift of children! Peace, Karen K.

    Comment posted October 17th, 2007 at 4:49 pm
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