The Blog

The Importance of Being Bored

As parents, we can hope so desperately for more instances of quiet, but then we get them and they're boring. Rather than settling into these randomly gifted minutes, we ungraciously fill them.
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She looks out the window at the wash of clouds feathering the late afternoon sky.

Our car turns a corner, and her head moves to continue looking at this same spot.

She tells us what she sees in them, and I'm both surprised and impressed, because I never would have thought of that.

Another time, we're sitting at our nicked antique dining table, with thick crayons in our hands and the baby monitor at my elbow. I glance at her sleeping baby sister, and we talk about what she's coloring. She tells me, too, about what she played with her friends at school that day, and I'm again surprised because I didn't even know that she liked superheroes.

And then we're on the couch reading. She takes the book and reads to me. One time through, she tells me the story from within the book's worn pages, and the next her eyes become dreamy, and she reads a different story from her own imagination, involving the characters splashed across the pages held in her tiny hands.

That evening, I'm baking gingerbread in the kitchen. She asks for her chair and her apron, and climbs up beside me. She helps stir together flour, baking soda and some other ingredients. After it's all done and in the oven, she takes a few mixing bowls and a spatula into the living room and pretends to make more creations. I listen from the doorway to her little mutterings underneath her breath about what step to do next.

Sometimes we talk about difficult emotions while we color. We discuss when I got mad shortly beforehand, and I upset her. I reassure her that I want her to tell me anything, since I can tell that she's hesitant to share this to my face. I'm deeply affected by my actions' impact on her, but we wind up giggling and playing and moving past it.

It's easy to skim over how much and how profoundly my kids are turning into their own special individuals.

It's easy to wipe runny noses, change diapers, run errands, clean up from lunch, let them play and check Facebook, or shoot a text to a friend. It's often not so simple to be present inside of these more mundane aspects of childrearing -- those spaces where the children are contented and watching a show together, or sharing a snack, or looking at books at their play table in the corner of the room, where I can see them from various points in the adjacent room, and I can finish the dishes, or dash to the bathroom or sip a coffee in peace.

It's simple to walk away from these typically brief moments lacking clutter, and chaos, and fighting, and mommy-neediness, because I'm human, and I need my space and I have to take it when it's offered. Simultaneously, though, these lulls are my best opportunities to nestle into my life, and to just be there with them in their childhoods -- to learn about who they are.

As parents, we can hope so desperately for more instances of quiet, but then we get them and they're boring. Rather than settling into these randomly gifted minutes, we ungraciously fill them.

I'm hypocritically writing this now while the baby plays at the little pink-and-white plastic table in the corner of the room, and my oldest is tucked underneath blankets, surrounded by favorite books and a snack on the couch. I'm taking in smooth mouthfuls of coffee and relishing this clickity-clacking sound of my fingers on my laptop. Daniel Tiger sings to us in the background, joining the baby as she "talks" while puttering around. I look up and see that both of them have temporarily stopped reading, and busily playing, to watch kids in a classroom on TV making an experimental rocket with a balloon. The show ends and they call to me for hugs. I pause and get up to snuggle each of them.

Recently, I've decided to let my children be a little bored.

I don't always start another show when one ends, or I'll excuse them from the dinner table and tell them to find something to do while my husband and I finish eating. I explained to my husband that I want their imaginations to continue to grow and flourish, and not stall. I want them not to have every second of their lives filled with screens, and toys, and talking. I want them to be bored. I think it's good for them. It's good for me, too.