My 4 year old finds me at the kitchen sink, he stands beside me whining that he doesn’t know what to play with. I remind him that it’s not my job to find him something to do. “Yes it is,” he says smartly. I continue scrubbing the pot from last night’s supper.
He follows me into the bedroom where I start to fold the mountain of shirts and towels on my bed. “I don’t know what to play with,” he whines again. I don’t respond.
His feet trail behind mine as I collect toys, socks, down the hallway.
“Mommy! I don’t know what to play with!” His voice is louder now, angrier. I pull out the vegetables in need of chopping for dinner. I know (from experience, of course) that any suggestion I give, be it play-doh or playing a beat on the drums downstairs, will be met with a stubborn “NO!” So I stay quiet. Calm.
Because as much as the whining irritates me, I see myself in his restlessness. There are many times he comes to me complaining about being bored and it takes all of my adultness not to yell back “Me too!!”
But boredom doesn’t scare me anymore. Not in myself, and not in my kids. It used to, during those long summers between school seasons that left me not knowing what to do with myself. The sun would be shining, the beaches calling, but the boundless amount of free time was overwhelming to me. I was used to schedule, structure, productivity. I had forgotten the joy of freedom. I had forgotten that productivity is not always the highest goal. I hadn’t yet learned that exploration, spontaneity, lazy afternoons spent dreaming are what often spark inspiration, give birth to ideas, kindle creativity.
Sometimes we have to be at empty before we can be filled.
When I decided to stay home with my kids, the boredom that crept into my days motivated me to start writing again. I finally started reading more. This boredom gave me a reason to build new, life-giving friendships.
Boredom made me pause and think about all the things I used to love but had stopped making time for. It has also pushed me to find new interests. Boredom reminded me of my desire to create, and it was the force that got me in motion.
I don’t think we can help our kids deal with boredom until we’ve experienced it ourselves, fought our way through, and came out the better for it.
Now when my 4 year old says he’s bored I can breathe past the immediate annoyance, and wait to see what he will make of it.