In Praise of Boredom...
The Gift of Unfilled Time
Part Two by Katherine Ruch
The most sobering aspect of this generation of mediated children is that we have let it happen in our own exhaustion and our need to be given space and left alone with our own interests. I am not saying that there is not a time in which a movie is not a nice family activity, but it should be intentionally chosen and scheduled. There have also been occasions in which it is imperative that my husband and I have a meeting that is not interrupted; so on those occasions we might stick in a movie, and because our children so rarely see movies, they are truly hypnotized.
But overall, it is not too much to ask a child who is waiting in the car or traveling many miles to come up with a game to play, make up a story, look out of the window or keep track of license plates. If we listen to music or audiobooks in the car, we listen together. (We have done a 4,500 mile road trips without any movies. Sometimes we wished for them, but we are glad we didn't succumb).
At home, the sky is the limit as to what can occupy or stimulate. I check out art books or books on subjects that I think will interest my children and simply leave them around the house. Many times I will find them "in a moment of boredom" leafing through one of those books. Recently, I found one on different Civil War regiments and their regalia open on the floor in the bathroom--bathroom boredom reading. My six year old was poring over the different kinds of money of the Confederate army.
Recently a friend was traveling on a greyhound bus and found his seat companion to be a freshly released convict. The ex-con asked what my friend was studying in college. When he mentioned "finance," the ex-convict started asking him about different authors and theories. My friend said the ex-con knew more about finance than he himself knew. So he asked him how he knew all of this. The ex-convict's response was, "When you're in prison, you get bored; so you read anything you can find." This man had educated himself in his boredom. So many of my children's interests have grown out of reading and exploring during stretches of unfilled time.
These are some of the games my children have made up during swaths of available time: "Achilles' Heel"(when one child keeps all the others from touching his heel), any and every sport inside and out, Irish fleeing the potato famine, an African market, library, many plays, Victorians, medieval knights and princesses, The Trojan War (with neighbors--including the girls as Amazons), "Voco Humans" (?), Julius Caesar acted out with togas and ketchup, cowboys and Indians, pioneers, doctor office (including baby deliveries), all kinds of doll games, hanging a rocking horse high in a tree or a chair that different kids could rock on, using grapling hooks for climbing up trees, burials for birds, parachuting off of the playscape, the Oregon Trail, many Lincoln Log fort wars, countless Playmobil extravaganzas, hiking, creating forts and lean-to's, and every year with cousins, a rehearsed show (some of the past have been: a rodeo, circuses, an elaborate jousting tournament, Church of the Baptism and the visitation of the bishops--with tea cozies on their heads), a yearly acting out of the Christmas story with Jesus in a laundry basket, a magic show including cutting someone in half, making movies with the neighbors. This does not touch the books they have read, the cooking, the Play Doh, and the art. Now as they are older, they love table games, sewing, cooking, reading, making music together, sports, hiking, and simply sitting around and talking and laughing. This did not evolve in one weekend, but has developed over the course of years.
All of these things unfold even though my children sometimes long and hope for media and are more than glad to watch anything, even if it's "educational." It is always a battle, and we have had seasons in which as parents we have given in too often. When this has happened, we have instituted fasts from media by putting away the DVD player. We have never allowed computer games of any sort; so our children never expect that. (I know that video games can be very useful for children who are greatly restricted in their capacity for activity due to health issues). We realize how necessary it is to set strict boundaries on media when we see how sad and disturbed some are when the DVD player is being carried into the basement. Even though we use it sparingly, the possibility of distraction through media is always a lingering hope. That response motivates our fast more than ever. It is amazing how quickly they get over the hope and expectation of media when they know it is simply not available.
Now with media in your pocket through the cellphone, it is more important than ever that we not use our phones to entertain our children. Just last night I watched a child at a restaurant watching a movie while the family had dinner. Don't hand phones to children to distract them. Insist that they learn to sit and listen to others (of course this cannot be expected of children under three...you will have to take turns distracting them). You will never be sorry when they are teenagers and want to be with the family, listen to the guests you have over, tell stories, and simply be present to what is happening. In another post I will expound on my deepest concern about the accessibility of all media at all times, which is that people are losing the ability to be fully present to the moment.
When my children first started complaining of boredom, I felt no pity. Instead, I offered a list of chores that needed to be done. And they quickly found they had endless other ideas waiting to be incarnated. I won't lie that sometimes after their creative bursts, I don't look longingly at the DVD player. Today, New Year's Day, arrived after several days of unstructured time at home in a small house with high volume and activity and plenty of scuffles between the youngest two who had had too little sleep and too much sugar. We brought in 2014 watching an episode of the Andy Griffith show and two episodes of Lark Rise to Candleford. I was pleased today to hear my teenage son learning two worship songs on his guitar (using the computer...we aren't Amish) while my teenage daughter organized a family cabinet and made Austrian dumplings. One son was dressed up as a police man sneaking around with his two year old brother who was in various costumes. My other son worked on playing his trumpet by ear and teaching himself to play the recorder, while his sister in the next room worked on a scrapbook and cleaned up her room. Later we all took a long walk in the falling snow. But if I so much had turned on a YouTube, and they had heard the sounds of media, they would all have come running from their productive and interesting engagements, glad to throw it all away for a "quick fix." As much as we wanted the break ourselves of quiet, order, and some mindless distraction, my husband and I were quietly thankful that all of our children know how to be together and amuse themselves with worthwhile and enriching activities.