“I’m bored,” my 5-year-old exclaimed, dramatically throwing her body against the couch. “I’m so bored. There’s nothing to do.”
In a home stacked with Bob Books and coloring books, overflowing with Beanie Babies and baby dolls, and piles of paint tubes, craft sticks, and construction paper. In a home with cable (yes, we still have cable) and Netflix, Roku, Disney + and Prime Video (well, except Hulu; I won’t pay for Hulu). In a home that she shared with her brother, who was 7 years old. That’s why there were two of them, after all. So they could play with each other. And leave us alone.
I sat there on Saturday morning plopped on my couch. Scrolling through Ann Taylor, then Banana Republic, and then back to Ann Taylor again. Looking at skirts and dresses and jumpsuits I had no intention of actually buying. Listening to my 5-year-old whining about being bored. As I studied the same paisley flare dress for the third time. Hmm. Maybe I was bored too.
Pre COVID-19, I would have jumped off the couch to prevent any sort of boredom. And likely I wouldn’t have been sitting on the couch on a Pre-COVID-19 Saturday. There was too much to do on a weekend to prepare for the upcoming week Pre COVID-19. I would have played the Peppa Pig matching game. I would have asked her to help fake bake with me one of those Pillsbury rolls. I would have been the doctor examining her with the stethoscope. I would have read her a Curious George book. I would have drawn ice cream cones, colored the ice cream cones, and then cut them out with her to stick them on the walls. And I would have run back and forth from the kitchen with grapes, string cheese, toast with peanut butter, a banana, and veggie straws. And chocolate chip cookies, of course.
I would have entertained her. And now, after entertaining her and her brother Monday through Friday, for five straight days, I could no longer entertain her and stop boredom from creeping in. I could no longer be the artist. The teacher. The baker. The doctor. The librarian. The referee. The short order cook. And the summer camp counselor. I just needed to sit on the couch, cuddling with my iPhone instead of cuddling with my two kids.
“Please don’t tell me your are bored,” I said exasperated. “Look at all the things there are to do,” I said pointing around. The room which had vomited up more Peppa Pig books, stuffed animals, Play-Doh, markers, board games, and glue sticks.
“But Mamma! I don’t know what to do! I am so bored!”
This pandemic made us realize that we never allowed them to be bored. Boredom was not on the schedule. It was a full day of school. It was that healthy after-school snack. Then homework. Piano and swimming. And the class project. A playdate squeezed in. Tae-kwon-do. Studying for the spelling test. Dinner. Reading. And then brushing teeth and off to bed. Then we hit repeat and we started all over again.
And this pandemic made us realize that we never allowed ourselves to be bored either.
After all, who had the time to bored? Between making meatballs and macaroni and cheese. And creating that presentation for the leadership team. Between scrubbing toilets and taking out of the trash. And packing for that one-day work trip with a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call the next morning. Which ends up being 2 a.m. since your 5-year-old has a nightmare and crawls into your bed.
Is it a privilege to be bored? Is boredom lost time where I could have a done a crap ton more of emails and two more loads of laundry? Is it just pure laziness to be bored? Or is boredom one of the keys to successful parenting I had completely pushed aside?
Growing up, my Indian immigrant parents gave us plenty of space and time for my younger brother and I to be bored. Because they were busy working their butts off to achieve the American dream. If we were bored, we were bored. They didn’t have the time to help us figure out how to be “un-bored.”
We played with sticks and rocks in the yard. We made forts in the basement. We played ice cream shop with my Barbies (and routinely fought over who would be the store manager). We played school with a chalk board. We watched tv and acted out scenes together. We figured out how to get “un-bored” together.
And from boredom grew my love of reading and writing. Drawing. And listening to all kinds of music. Boredom allowed me time for self-expression. And to discover what I actually enjoyed doing versus being told what to do.
So of the many mom fail moments, not letting my kids to be bored was now at the top of my list. To let them talk aloud alone. To let them play alone. To let them just be alone. To let them be still. And to allow me to be still.
They are not used to being bored. And neither I am. We are working on being bored together. Slowly I am watching them (and myself) embrace boredom over the last many weeks. As we adjust to so many of our everyday actions and traditions have disappeared. We also adjust to the idea of being bored. And to welcome and include boredom in our new normal.
What has now been born out of boredom in our home for our daughter? Creating a car with an Amazon box (don’t worry, we let it sit by itself for a day before touching it). Making forts with the couch pillows. Reading to her baby dolls. Discovering freeze dance. Inventing new card games with new cards games with her brother. Drawing and coloring on her own (without me sitting beside her).
“Mama, watch me! Watch me!”
“I don’t need to watch you,” I said to her again recently. “It’s OK for you to do that alone.”
To my kids I now say. Yes, please be bored. And yes, please let me be bored. Let’s be bored together.
Originally published on Working Mother.