You say boredom like it's a bad thing
At the time of this writing, there are precisely 11 days until we experience our first summer vacation with a grade-schooler.
Sam is already counting down the days, not because he doesn’t like school, but because he can’t wait, and this is a direct quote, “to use my new skills to have a lemonade stand.”
He tells me, “There’s going to be a lot of math to count all my money. But first I need some money to buy supplies. Can I match socks or something for money?”
Of course, Sam isn’t the only one thinking about summer. I’ve noticed social media is all aflutter with posts like, “How to beat boredom with these easy, low-cost ideas,” which touts ideas that, in fact, don’t appear to be either easy or cheap.
You know what’s actually easy and cheap? The library. Local parks. The backyard. A picnic.
Kids don’t need gourmet sandwiches, right? Anyone who has ever prepared an elaborate spread only to be met with a tearful, “But I wanted peanut butter,” knows what I’m talking about.
You know what bugs me the most about all this advice to help parents “beat boredom?”
First, I think it’s twisted to tell parents they need to find ways to fill all the moments of a day now unoccupied by school. That’s just crazy.
Second, I can assure you that my mom didn’t worry about this kind of thing. Not. Ever. This whole movement to keep kids occupied and engaged all the time seems to be a modern “problem,” and I’m not a fan.
Third, it’s a lie. In truth, boredom is awesome.
There. I said it.
For those treating boredom as something to be cured, I beg to differ. Being bored is a luxury. Being bored is having long stretches of time with nothing to do but think, which leads to creativity.
Nobody in history has ever died of boredom.
Boredom leads to having ideas, both good and not so good ones. Boredom means time to try something new. Time to wonder. Time to stare out the window. Or, to count cracks in the ceiling, or blades of grass.
But to read some of these articles, you’d think parents everywhere should prepare to be doomed if they haven’t already scheduled every second of summer.
What am I going to do this summer? Um, laundry, maybe minus sorting socks. Supervising backyard play, from a distance. Like from inside the house, where I will be folding the aforementioned laundry. And going to the park. Also, the library. A lot. I’m also open to visiting most places with air-conditioning.
God help me, the boys seem to want to get into BMX biking, so I’m sure there will be a lot of that in my near future. Also, more stained laundry.
But other than that, we’re wide open. And that’s by choice, not chance.
I want my kids to have windows of unstructured time because you know what actually “cures” boredom? Imagination.
If well-meaning adults can stay out of the way long enough, without pressing play on a show or offering up a cure before the child has time to think up something on their own, the kids will be fine.
Obviously, I’m not advocating leaving kids to their own devices for hours on end. Some guidance and simple supplies are needed.
But kids can make a lot happen with a whisk and a bowl. Add water and it’s “Hello, happiness!”
The best antidote for boredom is a kids’ imagination. And like our muscles, imaginations must be used. They must be pushed to their limits to thrive, or they risk atrophy.
Far from being absent in the equation, I see parents as playing a key role in fostering these opportunities by offering suggestions, encouragement and, most importantly, the freedom for kids to exercise their imagination.
It’s true, I haven’t yet made it through a full summer with a school-aged child. So I may have a big, fat mea culpa for you at the end of the summer.
But right now, I’m thinking more like this: If I start getting bugged about small people being bored, I’ll have to start charging a nickel every time I hear it.
That could cut into some of that lemonade profit. Just sayin’.
Of course, looking forward to planned trips and spontaneous adventures is an awesome part of summer, too. But, I tend to have more fun being spontaneous when I, er, plan for it.
So last night over dinner, we made a list of things everyone in the family would like to do this summer. There are a lot of repeats from last summer’s list: “county fair,” “Tunes on Tuesday” and “camping,” among others. But we also decided to check out each park in Newberg at least once this summer.
The list is long. We might not get to everything. But it’s fun having that posted where we can see the vision we created together.
I plan to master the grill, or at least stop setting food on fire. I also plan to join the kids in the library’s summer reading program. That might be wishful thinking, but that’s kind of the point.
Also on that list are “bike rides” and “play in the backyard a lot.” Just so you know, those came from the kids.
As we enter this season of squeezing lemons, stubbing toes, sunburning shoulders and stretching long days out before us, I want to remember it’s a short season in more ways than one. So, most importantly, I’m planning to soak up as much of it as I can.
Contact Nathalie Hardy at email@example.com.