Picture yourself in a small white house, in a pink room with white wicker furniture, lying on a bedspread covered in a signature 1990’s rose pattern. You are 7 years old. Your best friend can’t come over this weekend, you are sick of the same old toys, you’ve been staring at your ceiling fan for 20 minutes, and you are bored out of your little mind. You walk into your parents’ room and desperately proclaimed, “I. Am. So. BORED!”
Then, she looks at you. The classic Mom look, her gigantic glasses reflecting back at you with a confident smirk. She knows exactly what to say. “If you’re bored, I’m sure I can find something for you to do.”
Quickly, you pull up the strap to your Princess Jasmine romper and you disappear. Out of sight, out of mind. If you get out of this conversation now, your mother won’t trick you into cleaning your room.
These moments of my little life were the most agonizing. What was I supposed to DOOOOOO? I was an only child with no one to irritate but myself and my parents. I remember this dreaded feeling so clearly. Mind-numbing. TOTAL NOTHINGNESS. IT LASTED FOREVER. Why was my life the most monotonous life of ALL THE LIVES?! This went on for at least twelve hours. In reality, it was probably about twenty minutes before I found interesting activities.
I would “run away” to my club house outside and plan how me and Charles Cardin would take a golf cart to the Atlanta airport using my kid’s World Atlas. I would write stories and draw pictures of faces and then use my mom’s makeup to put on the faces. (Is that weird? That sounded weird.) I would educate my stuffed animals, lining them up in rows and giving them snacks. Any and all of my creative outlets flourished when I was left with nothing else to do. I grew the most when I was bored. I learned to enjoy being alone when I was bored.
As I write this, I hear my son in the other room. I can’t tell what he’s saying, but he is clearly creating a dialogue between two characters. He’s been making “robots” out of trash the past few days and last night decided to write a book. I always help Jack when he decides to do something involving crafts, but only when he asks. I also rarely come up with an activity for him-this isn’t really a brag-more of an open comment on my shameless laziness. On Saturdays, when we’re home alone and daddy is playing basketball, I usually clean. Jack will follow me around a little bit and ask me to play with him, but when I say, “I can’t right now. I am cleaning.” he quickly realizes he’s going to have to entertain himself and he always does. At first, of course, he is annoyed, but then he is so engrossed in whatever he’s doing that I seriously forget he is even there-and vice versa. There is never a more proud moment than when I go to look for him and he is in his room with the door shut building something.
I don’t totally ignore my kid, of course. I play with him for a little bit almost every day, but I do not take the sole responsibility for being his cruise director. I even stop what I’m doing sometimes if he seems really into something and needs a co-conspirator. I do, however, recognize the significance of boredom for him and the importance of freedom for me.
At only four years old, I had yet to hear the irritable moaning of a bored child. That is, until a few weeks ago. I was clearly busy mopping the kitchen. His lanky body slowly walks in like a raggedy Andy doll. Shoulders forward. Head back and loose like it was going to bobble right off. I could picture him in this exact position, but sarcastic and six feet tall as a teenager. “Mamaaaaaaa….I’m so bored. This is so bo’rin.”
I felt my mother enter my body. I had already been busy cleaning for an hour or so with no end in sight. I knew exactly what to say. I knew exactly how to say it and with what smile to use. I knew exactly how it would make him feel-and I did it anyway. Because it isn’t just okay to be bored. It is important to be bored.
“If you’re bored, I think I can come up with something for you to do….”