Now don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-fun. It’s just the “too much” fun that I am starting to think is a problem. Perhaps I should provide some context. Within the past week, my kids have enjoyed the following activities: a trip to the zoo with 14 of their cousins, a swimming party at their Nana and Papa’s, a ride in a parade, a day at a kids museum followed by fun at a splash pad, a movie with their dad, fireworks, gymnastics, hockey camp, countless games of wiffle ball, a run through the sprinklers with more cousins, two community events sponsored by our local library, and a sleepover with (you guessed it) even more cousins. This schedule is not atypical. In fact, it’s pretty standard for our family this summer.
Many of you are probably wondering, “Why is this a problem? This seems like the makings of a wonderful childhood!” And, you are right. Mostly. It’s just that, with all of this fun (scheduled and spontaneous), I’m worried that my children aren’t learning how to enjoy a ‘normal’ day. On days when there isn’t a carnival going on in their world, will they know how to occupy their time? Are they capable of curing their own boredom? I am running a household, not a cruise ship. And I need them to know the difference.
I remember having a lot of fun as a kid during the summer. I recall long days spent playing in the woods or rounding up the neighborhood for 15 innings of kickball. I recollect the slumber parties and the water parks. If I think hard enough, I can still smell the campfires and picture the fireflies from those hot July nights. But I also remember long days of doing nothing. Of spending sun up to sun down with only the characters of the Babysitter Club to keep me company.
Boredom, like youth, is wasted on the young. What I wouldn’t give for a boring day! Can you imagine the luxury of not having to do anything for 24 whole hours? No making breakfast for picky children, no folding laundry or running errands, no appointments, no bath time shenanigans or bedtime routines? An entire day of staying in your pajamas (and in bed), reading, watching TV, or just (dare I say it) sleeping! It sounds amazing…and when that day comes, ten years from now, I will be ready to do nothing.
Growing up, whenever my sister or I would lodge that age-old complaint of boredom to our parents, my Dad would always respond, “Only boring people get bored.” The sheer brilliance of that response still amazes me to this day and I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t already used it a time or two on my own children. Think about the complexity of that statement. Not only was my Dad trivializing our boredom (which, put into a worldly context, the boredom of first-world children is trivial), but he was also placing it squarely on us. It wasn’t his responsibility to entertain us. If we were bored, that was our problem. And by us owning the problem, we also had to learn how to come up with a solution. Not to mention the fact that our character was called into question. I would always come away from that response with the thought, “Am I a boring person? I don’t want to be a boring person. I better find something to do so that I’m not bored and, by extension and even worse, boring.” Brilliant.
So we read books and wrote stories, rearranged our rooms and made up games, learned how to enjoy the silence and appreciated the stillness. The outside world was ours to explore and we only needed to bring our imagination. On these “boring” days, our favorite game to play was space pig. We would sit on top of the white propane tank in the yard with the cap on the end that looked like a pig snout, and pretend that we were blasting into outer space and exploring the galaxy. Another favorite activity was “Leader of the Pack” – a game that involved getting on our motorcycles (bikes), revving our engines (handlebars), and riding in circles on our old country road with our gang (cousins).
I want my kids to be able to do this. I want them to have fun-filled days spent at locations that require an admission ticket, but I want those days to be interspersed among days where they don’t leave the house. Days at the museum or the theme park should feel special. Sleepovers with a floor full of cousins and friends should be something to look forward to. Real life mixes the mundane with the magnificent. Besides, without Mondays, we wouldn’t enjoy the weekends nearly as much.
So when my kids wake up this morning and ask, “What are we going to do today Mom?”, I am going to respond with one word – “Nothing.” Their faces will probably break into expressions of disappointment and sadness. They will probably comment on how boring a day of nothingness sounds. For added enjoyment, they might even stomp around in a true display of spoiled kid syndrome. But, then, with a little luck, they might venture upstairs to check out a long forgotten toy. It’s possible that they will dig Twister or Connect 4 out of the game chest and challenge each other to a round or two. Perhaps the cushions on the couch will become the four walls of a newly constructed fort. Maybe, just maybe, they will invent a new game involving hot lava, stuffed animal bombs, and pirate costumes. Pretend might replace planned today - and I might be able to get some laundry done.