This post first appeared at Pancakes and Beet Juice.
Since leaving my job, I thought I would have a big stack of memories and snapshots from a summer well spent. And I think I do, they're just a little less adventurous than I was expecting. It turns out, so far we've really enjoyed one of our biggest luxuries of our new life: time to be bored.
Have fort, paper towel rolls and picture books, will party.
I grew up (ages 4-8 years old) in a small city in Western Kentucky. The post office had a big, antique table to fill out forms and address mail on. In the summers, my sister and I ran errands with my Mom and parked ourselves under the table to wait while she queued up in line.
How long will you be, Mom?
Oh, about thirty minutes.
How long is that?
About the length of a TV show.
I set to work thinking of a cartoon I watched that morning, trying to recall every course of action and line of dialogue in succession. After I "rewatched" the entire show in my mind, I looked up with hope that it was time to leave. My mom was only half way through the line. Ok, maybe one more TV show that I make up on my own this time. After that, hand games with my sister and then pretending we were prisoners being held captive by the lions carved into the foot of the table legs that wanted to find a good reason to eat us if we didn't sit completely still and only communicate to each other via hand signals.
And so it went every time we joined Mom at the post office for four years. We made up about anything to pass the time and walk the line between feeling entertained and getting in trouble.
This type of imaginative play brought on by boredom wasn't just something I grew up with. I love the stories of my husband and his brother passing time in the summers at their modest apartment in Richardson while their parents were at work. They had to stay inside or in the one courtyard by their apartment that had a wind vortex that came through in the afternoons. If the boys were tired of watching their small collection of VHS tapes (I dare you to a "Cool Runnings" quote off with Markus), they took a plastic grocery bag outside to the courtyard, throwing it into the wind and chasing it for a rousing game of "Capture the Bag."
I love these stories for being nostalgic and endearing, but the truth is being bored is an important part of growing up I often overlooked for my own daughter. This article was one of a few that reminded me that boredom is where we have space to contemplate life but also develop more creativity and an internal stimulus to explore how we like to fill our days. Not only have I not been bored myself in too long of a time, hence marching straight into a burnout, but my busyness was robbing my daughter of a special opportunity: discovering what happens when you're under stimulated and under resourced.
Getting to a place of true boredom seems so much harder these days for kids and adults alike.
We carry computer phones around with no end to the Internet no matter how long the wait is in line.
We have 'round the clock shows to stream and a specific, shiny toy for every interest and hobby.
Even my choice to live in a city with a myriad of cultural opportunities can get in the way of carving out time to just be at home and be.
When I realized I would have more time with Heidi to explore this summer, I started working on our Dallas Summer Bucket List. While I do have a summer adventure or two with her still up my sleeve, after four lines into our list I just saw a lot of sunscreen packing, driving, and begging for good behavior in front of me. I decided we were exempt of having to see the entirety of what the city has to offer us at three years old. We're not going anywhere and neither is most of Dallas. Thanks to Heidi getting a lot of social time at her day school, we're able to settle into the contentment of boredom at home. I've been so pleased with the adventures so far, including..
exploring ancient but entertaining ViewMaster technology
...and sharing the fun with friends.
"Reading" out loud to anyone who will listen.
Designing a highway, just like her Dad does at work.
(Editor's note: no remarks on dirty carpets unless you're disgusted enough to send help.)
Mixing in a little of Mom's closet to the regular dress up antics.
I've found creating an environment for summer boredom takes a little discipline on the parent's behalf these days, from consciously saying "no thank you" to daily field trips, having the initially tough conversations with kids that the screens are going on vacation (our TV packed up and moved to Grandma's! #holyshit) and stocking only a conscious amount of open ended toys. After the hump, life seems easier and more interesting than ever.
Of all the new experiences we hoped to try this summer, I'm so glad we explored the fun of being bored first. It's now an important family value to me that I know is my job to protect and nurture.