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“Time is a gift, given to you, given to give you the time you need, the time you need to have the time of your life.”
― Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth
This image depicts Milo, the protagonist of Norman Juster’s novel, The Phantom Tollbooth. You don’t need to have read the novel to feel empathy for Milo. He could be the kid in your house, he could be you. The story begins with Milo in his room, very bored. Milo is definitely languishing….
I think we could learn a little about how to get through the next few weeks by taking a closer look at Milo’s story. Milo enters a phantom tollbooth that magically appears in his room and he goes on an adventure to discover his imagination. If you’re without a tollbooth, you could try this awe video.
On the other side of the tollbooth, Milo drives along what appears to be an endless winding road as his car becomes slower and slower until it eventually stops in the Doldrums. Feel the empathy building?
The first step for Milo is to get out of the Doldrums. He does this by telling a watchdog named Tock about his deep boredom. Talking about how we’re feeling is so helpful. Check out the suggestions in this recent New York Times piece: “How Are You, Really?” You and your kids could listen to Micah Richards, a former professional soccer player with Manchester City and the England national team, in this video as he “opens up about opening up.”
In Health and Life Skills classes at the Prep, Ms. Boyce uses this image of the Blob Tree to encourage her students to open up about how they’re feeling. This will land well with kids from SK to Year 12 to get the conversation going. Be sure to share your blob too. Sharing our mood builds empathy and gives us space to consider what, if anything, to do about it.
Throughout the novel, Milo encounters various characters who help him shake off the blues by encouraging him to think, talk, listen and imagine.
Last week, the Year 12s had a special encounter with Mark Shapiro, Blue Jays CEO and more importantly, father to Caden ’21. Mr. Shapiro answered the students’ thoughtful questions and shared some helpful ways to think about this year and, really, life in general. He suggested, “control the controllable.” So simple. What might controlling the controllable look like for your family members?
One of Mr. Shapiro’s examples of controlling the controllable was his morning routine. This might be aspirational for some: coffee (not recommended for your kiddos!), clear the email inbox, followed by a workout and a meditation. I encourage you to have some fun finding out what works for you. Here’s a walking meditation and yoga for a dull moment video that you can try inside or out. Your time. What can you do with it?
Some will say we are all in this together, but it may be more helpful to recognize we are all in the same storm, but many of us are in different boats. If we can define the boat we are in then we can feel some control over our direction and help our children sail their ships.
Rodger Wright ’70, a member of UCC’s Advancement team and an adviser for Year 9 and 10 boarding students, helped his group sail their ships by getting them to try out his Mom’s wisdom: “If you are feeling a bit down, do something for somebody else, and you’ll feel better.” They all used their advising session to write and send a thank you email to someone dear to them. Rodger saw the results immediately: “They ALL felt better! I got smiles, I got thumbs up, I got images of the recipient’s happiness to hear from someone out of the blue, I heard the emotion in their voices! It was gold!” His Mom’s advice is not only awesome but it is also proven by research to be great for us, as pointed out in this article just released from Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Centre. Part 2 of this gratitude letter-writing activity (suitable for Years 3–12) suggests meeting up with the person to share the letter, but I think it would be just as lovely if read over the phone, or sent in an email. You could try it too.
Just like Milo, the characters we encounter along our journey help us feel better (or maybe a little less bored!) by offering perspective and empathy. Who might be the Mark Shapiro, Ms. Boyce, or Rodger Wright in your world? How can you be a positive character of influence for someone else?
By the way, reading a good book is an excellent way to meet some new characters! The Phantom Tollbooth was first published almost 50 years ago, yet it’s still relevant and great for children in Years 4 and 5, and if you enjoy a good audiobook, Rainn Wilson is the narrator. Picture books, like these ones for Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage month, are cool for kids of any age. And for you, maybe check out Think Again by Adam Grant or Fear Less by Dr. Pippa Grange.
Coordinator, Student Wellbeing Programs