I recently saw a movie in the arthouse cinema for the first time in two years. In it, androids replace life partners, they are programmed to make their counterparts happy. To emerge as exciting conversation partners, they are linked to search platforms, digital libraries and music databases.
With this joker, the well-versed in all disciplines in general and special education, from the current art market to first aid, can recite a poem on the go and calculate the minimized risk of a traffic accident through an optimized sitting position. Instead of sleeping at night, they clean up, tidy up books and mess around, and wake up in the morning with freshly brewed coffee and fresh flowers. I was a little jealous of her. No procrastination, no thought carousel, no exhausted I-can-just-lie-on-the-couch-and-watch-Netflix. Start, tackle, tick.
Now of course I’m not android and I need to sleep – but if I could also speak Korean today, it would be wiser, more successful and happier if I had read ten pages in a non-fiction book or learned Korean ten minutes every day ago my youth?
The film continued a thought that I had carried with me for a long time: the question of how I could have optimized my own life in the past, and what advice I would like to give my two sons on the road to investing time. “If they just sleep a little less every day, jog a little or skateboard, learn French or read a few pages of guidebooks, after a few years they will obviously master all these skills perfectly,” I ponder. “It’s nonsense,” my husband says. “We never wanted our parents to tell us what to do and when. The children have to figure out for themselves what they want and how much time they want to put into it. They have to experience it for themselves.”
I know. These experiences also include getting annoyed 20 years later at not having been a little more diligent, more interested or even cooler at the time.
I read again today that Americans spend five hours a day on their smartphones. Five hours of wasted life, yes, at least four and a half if you deduct half an hour for socializing and appointments. When I think about all the things this time could be used for, I almost get dizzy.
Going to sports, playing board games, sleeping, doing yoga, meeting friends, drinking wine and so on. If you have young children, you can understand how valuable ten minutes can be. And yet, I also have three to four hours of smartphone time a day that my phone shows me.
As a mother of two very young children, I am currently still very much shaping their lives. I decide for myself what I do for them (it’s not necessarily what they eat later), when they go to bed (but unfortunately not when they get up), and how they spend their time (as far as our ideas are compatible) . I’m not a fan of filling her days with appointments.
I go to children’s gymnastics with Max once a week, the rest of the week we deliberately leave the afternoons free from the much-discussed boredom that never sets in with him. Max has always loved and played most beautifully when we just sat there. We did not have to play with, just be there. “Be more, do less” is a mantra I often come across on Instagram. It’s only been a part of my life since I had children.
Of course, when you think about what you want for your children, you inevitably think about your own childhood, your parents’ ideals and desires. Playing an instrument and playing a sport was mandatory for my parents. I learned to play the flute pretty well, but even though I trotted to handball week after week, I never became a great player. I should have been braver and just changed my sport. It was only when I was a teenager that I started dancing and found my passion in it.
The thought that my kids might be spending their youth hanging out, smoking pot, or playing computer games bothers me. I also had phases where I mainly dealt with computer games, phones, or crushing high school students.
Instead, I prefer to imagine that I can pass on their enthusiasm for diving and the underwater world to them, and we study together in Egypt for their diving exam. That they are not thrown out of history class at school because they fell asleep, but that they at least develop a rough idea of our past and at some point ask if we can go to the United States because they want to see the Statue of Liberty. That they fall in love on holiday in France and are suddenly happy because I lulled them to the music of Zaz on long drives, which the new flame now also loves.
I want them to go boldly through life, with their heart in the right place and with enthusiasm for the opportunities that life offers them. I hope I can later advise you to simply dare to go abroad. And I can promise to visit her every holiday if the homecoming gets too bad. That I can inspire them to learn a foreign language or even dare to solve a math puzzle. Trying different sports and sometimes throwing plans overboard.
I would like to speak better French, read more non-fiction and actually cook through a cookbook. That being said, I do not feel like I have missed much or wasted time in my own life. I just like the mind game about what would still have been important if I had just filled an hour differently a day.
The thought of optimizing my own life, by the way, leaves my husband pretty cold. Where I approach the subject with lists and diligence, he finds such advance planning and resolutions repulsive. Make a new recipe from a cookbook every day – how will it work in terms of time? He is an emotional person, he tries out new recipes when he has the time, desire and museums.
In the final lockdown, we embarked on the adventure and wanted to travel the world for two weeks instead of going on vacation. Every day we bought or picked up a dish from another country, put on the right music or watched a city walk on YouTube on our big TV.
We have been to Japan, France, Switzerland, Thailand and Italy. It was great. But then we ran out of breath. We have both noticed that new things are exhausting, you can not always just optimize and come up with new inputs. You also need the quiet phases where you grow and absorb the new so that it becomes part of your personality.
My child, what I want to say to you: I want to accompany you, to football pitches, to learn vocabulary and to your first (and also second and third) love illness, if I can. I will try to put you on the right track to a satisfying life, admonish you and pressure you when you lack drive and desire (because parents have to do it), but I will not bother you with lists for self-optimization. And I can not wait to hear you speak French for the first time. Then I might learn again. Just ten minutes a day.