My summers as a child were defined by the time I spent on my grandparents’ ranch. I had always loved the ranch, loved spending time with my doting Nana, loved all the little adventures like walking in the creek beds or picking wild berries for pie. Things were different, however, when I started to spend longer stretches of time at their cabin. They didn’t have time to entertain me every second of every day. There was work to be done. There wasn’t much kid stuff around the house, and there was no TV. It wasn’t long before I was bored.
I was used to my mother constantly entertaining me, always finding a new craft or activity or distraction to keep my hands and mind busy. When I became too restless or hard to please, there was always Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel ready to lull me into a trance. My mother was doing her best to survive working from home and deal with my pent-up energy over the long summer break, a struggle I now know well.
My grandparents, however, wouldn’t put up with my whining about being bored. They sent me outside to deal with my boredom — showed me how to play solitaire and clock with a deck of old cards when the sun was too hot to bear. They gave me some plain paper and pencils, to draw or whatever. It was there that I began to write for the first time, a passion that would carry me into adulthood, becoming both my livelihood and hobby.
Perhaps there were always stories running through my mind, but I was always too busy, too distracted to give them my full attention. When I was out there wandering, climbing trees and running along the dirt roads — I could hear my own thoughts so clearly. My imagination unfolded in a way I had never known before. Boredom was a sort of magic.
At first the boredom was uncomfortable, but before long it wasn’t. I learned to enjoy my own company, to feel comforted by the sound of my own thoughts. Without constant distractions and activities, I had time for self-reflection. I got to know myself like an old friend. I was given a chance to explore my innate creativity with great focus. I wrote down my thoughts, stories of my ordinary adventures, the wild dreams I thought up while perched in the boughs of an old oak tree.
Summer boredom was a gift, and it’s one I intend to pass on to my own children as they begin to transition out of their early years of helplessness.
In some ways, it would be easier to entertain them all day, giving in to their demands for Netflix and Pinterest crafts. It makes me feel like a good mom when I tend to their every need; the busyness has a nice, calm hum to it.
Boredom is easily nonexistent in our kids' lives nowadays. Where they once would have to entertain themselves while waiting for a meal at a restaurant or while grown-ups are busy talking, they can now turn to a screen to fill the uncomfortable void. There are endless iPhone apps for every age and interest; why on earth should they be bored?
Often, I feel like my constant attention is what they deserve to have. Why else am I electing to stay home with them day in and day out? Even when I know it’s not true, I feel that guilt tugging at me as I banish them to the backyard with nothing but water bottles and the shirts on their backs.
I want my kids to experience boredom, because I want to give them the chance to explore the side of themselves that can only be found through boredom. There is only so much creativity that can be drawn out of them while I hover nearby, ready to whisk them away into some new activity the moment solitude starts to rub them the wrong way.
Boredom may be uncomfortable for them at first, but ultimately it has tangible benefits for their development. Boredom has been shown to increase creativity and help us embrace rather than avoid new experiences.
My daughter will sometimes come back a few minutes later, pressing her face against the sliding glass door and whining to come in because she is bored. I’ll leave the door closed and shoo her away, maybe give her a graham cracker for good measure. Then a few more minutes will go by uninterrupted, and I’ll hear their voices outside the kitchen window as they pretend to ride a train to England (geography be damned) or cook beans on an imaginary camp stove as they survive in the wilderness.
The sort of magic that can only bloom in the face of boredom — that’s what they really deserve.
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