I think this is my nephews’ second favorite word (“no” being the obvious favorite). When they find something they like – be it pajamas, a particular cartoon, or food – they want more of it. A lot more.
My oldest nephew, Josiah, was obsessed with Michael Jackson from about the ages of 2-5. During this period, visits home were like stepping into a 1984 time warp. I watched Michael Jackson Live in Bulgaria, or Romania, or somewhere behind the Iron Curtain concerts non-stop. I don’t know if it was the pyrotechnics, overuse of smoke machines, MJ’s jheri curl, or the Eastern Europeans being completely undone by all of the above that my nephew liked the most, but he couldn’t get enough. It didn’t matter how many times a day we played that video. As soon as it ended, he would demand: Again. Over and over and over we watch Michael Jackson in his prime performing to a sold out and completely overwhelmed crowd.
Remember those days?
Of course Josiah wasn’t the only one with a particular obsession. Various nephews have been similarly obsessed with Barney, a washrag, random cartoons that I don’t even know the name of, and even a choir robe. To this day, I cannot watch the Lion King because of the multitudes of times I watched it growing up.
Children revel in repetition. They delight in the completely ordinary; they wonder at that which grabs their attention which is why a 99 cent pack of bubbles makes such a big impact on their little lives. And, it is the reason why a 5-year old can eat chicken nuggets every day for years without tiring of them. (And though most of this is limited to children, y-chromosomes don’t seem to ever grow out of their love for breakfast cereal).
I don’t know the age where repetition becomes anathema. I don’t know when we start to associate the everydayness of each day with boredom, the rote with drudgery, but we all do at some point. I even take peculiar pride in the fact that I only own 7 DVDs because I can’t bear to re-watch movies I’ve seen before.
The rote, the routine, the quotidian tasks of life leave me feeling hemmed in and confined. Instead of wanting more of it like my nephews, I dread more of the same. Instead of demanding AGAIN! I look for something – anything – different.
Which is difficult to find when you are on a ship in the middle of the ocean. Every day is Groundhog’s Day. Every day is a repeat of the day before. Every day is more of the same which made me think of my nephews in the first place. What is it about small children that allow them to revel – to long for — the routine of life? And how do I get that back into my own life?
As I was thinking about this very concept this morning, my nephew’s three-year old dimpled face popped into my head. A rememory: The Twin and I are spending a quiet New Year’s Eve on the couch drinking sparkling cider and end up spending a considerable amount of time trying to explain the concepts of “Count Down” “New Year,” “Times Square,” and “ball drop” to said three-year old. I can still recall the confused look on his face as he looked from me to his mother to figure out what we were talking about. Despite our complex explanation, he still demanded: BARNEY! In the words of G.K Chesterton: children exult in monotony.
Children “want things repeated and unchanged,” writes G.K. Chesterton.
“They always say, “Do it again”… [It is] grown-up people [who] are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon…. The repetition in nature may not be mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.”
The brilliant Ann Voskamp suggests that
Our God acts in endless ceremony to bring order to the world. And so we too, made in His image, are ceremonious beings, bringing order to chaos through ceremony.
Isn’t that what children do? They live unbounded by time. Not yet grasping the concept of how adults have structured our days – broken them down into hours and minutes and seconds — they still create their own routines, their own theatrical encores for each day. And perhaps that involves wearing only a Superman costume or watching Barney ad nauseum, but it’s a way for them to give structure – to give meaning even – to something they don’t even understand.
Ann Voskamp posits that which is routine can be a ceremony – a way to worship and celebrate each day as it comes. She says:
If we chose to “exult in monotony,” to embrace habitual ceremony, would we be inviting the same God who instituted the observances of feasts, temple ceremonies, the service of communion, to be our strength too?
Routine is all around us. It’s in the sureness of the sunrise each day, the steadiness of our heart beats. It lives in the very rise and fall of our breaths. Perhaps, children like the routine and the rote because it echoes what they experience naturally. I’m going to practice being more like my nephews and exulting in the monotony of my days.