No Summer Boredom, Just the Regular Kind

Summer boredom hasn’t really hit our house of young children yet, mostly because our summer doesn’t look that much different from the rest of the year.  The main change is that my older son (5) isn’t going to afternoon JK anymore (2.5 hours).  I considered enrolling my younger son (3) in part-time preschool but he wasn’t taken with it, so that got postponed.  My husband and I are still working part-time and taking care of the kids mostly ourselves, with the shift that I’ve just started my maternity leave (no child yet ) so I’m home a lot more.

So no summer boredom, just the regular kind, from time to time.  Without a name (currently, gratefully), but evident when a restless child lolls about on a couch and whinnies.

Sometimes, at times like these, I reflect upon the limited structured activities we provide for our kids.  My older son has soccer once a week; my younger son music classes.  No camps – not yet – just playdates.  We intentionally keep structured activities low to encourage initiative and creative play, and because that’s the rhythm that fits better with our lives.

I know that the world outside the home can be filled with excitement and adventure, and of course this must be explored in time.  But I also think that home can be a special place for centering oneself and a source of fulfillment too.  Our children are welcomed and participate in our everyday lives, as well as their parents’ interests.  So my husband gives them squash lessons (he’s a coaching pro), takes the kids swimming and biking almost everyday, and they do the gardening and yardwork together.  With me it’s cooking and baking, crafting, and reading.

Our kids also know very well the routines of laundry, dishes, and broom and dustpan.  They are thoroughly acquainted with the grocery, hardward, and bike repair shop.  My older son pumps gas for the car.

I read Nathalie’s post on boredom earlier this week and it gave me pause.  I remember being painfully idle and lonely during my childhood summers – there was no money, no caregiver, and no inkling about kid activities to pass the summertime.  I can totally relate to Nathalie’s desire to keep her kids eons away from that reality.

I hope my husband and I are doing that, albeit through a different route.   There is some money; we, the caregivers, and are around most of the time; and whatever mistakes we are making, we do have honest inklings about spending time together and making fun for ourselves.

I suppose that as much as I don’t want to under-stimulate my children, neither do I want to become their entertainer or their entertainment manager.  I hope that while they enjoy capital A activities, they will also, after some restless minutes lolling about on the couch on a slow day, meander into the garden and poke at leaves and bugs and notice how a green tomato tastes different from a red one.  I feel pleasure when, after playing for ages in a kiddie pool I set out for them in the backyard, my kids wander onto the back porch with spray bottles and spontaneously start washing the windows of our house.  It’s about balance, I suppose, and our scales all tip at a different point.  But for me, when the squeals and laughter of the water play – which I loved and recorded – are done, I find the quiet focus and engagement in my small window washers equally rich.

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A Little Boredom is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Our family was miserable for the first two weeks of summer this year, all because one of my children was generally disagreeable.  He completely forgot his manners, barked commands at everyone (including his parents) and practiced sarcasm on everyone he met (“Ice cream? Why wouldn’t I want ice cream?).  Finally, after putting up with attitude for far too long,  I regained my senses, looked at him and asked, “What is WRONG? WHAT is going on?”

He promptly burst into tears.

“None of my friends are at day care this summer. I have no one to play with. And I’m bored!”

Oh.

Is that it?

Here’s where I wanted to say something like, “Oh, suck it up, buttercup! Why, when I was your age I was bored all the time in the summer. And look how I turned out! No one ever died of boredom. ”

But no. What I said was “I understand it must be hard for you to not have your friends around you, but surely you can find some new people to play with for the next couple of weeks until everyone comes back…

…and no one ever died of boredom.”

It’s true. Boredom is one of the defining elements of childhood summers, like scraped knees and ice cream.   What child hasn’t sighed deeply and yawned at least once, when faced with the unbridgeable chasm between June and September? It doesn’t really matter whether you’re a kid at camp, at home, or on a never-ending roadtrip with your parents: summer is always, in part, kind of boring.

And well it should be. As Katrina Onstad states in her Saturday piece in the Globe and Mail, “boredom matters because it makes room for its contrast: the burning joy of being alive.”

I actually want my kids to experience boredom once in a while.  They need the room to root around in their imaginations, unfettered. They need time to daydream.  And they need the motivation to do so, and escaping boredom is the perfect excuse. We live our lives so quickly, with the rushing around from school to activities to dinner. What I wouldn’t give for them to have nothing to do but live in their heads, ride their bikes, explore everything from the woods to cracks in the ceiling, and slow down. If they end up complaining to me that they’re bored, I might be tempted to look at them, wink, and pronounce, “I hope so”.