November 11, 2014

The Glory of Boredom

The following is another blog post I had started at the end of 2012 and inexplicably never finished, until coming across it in my drafts folder recently while cleaning up. Or perhaps not so inexplicably, considering that we were, well, in the midst of a move at the time.

A few days ago, the packers were here.

The house was a whirlwind of activity. I was running around like crazy directing and rescuing items from disappearing in the container (not diligently enough, it turns out, but that is a topic for another blog post), and then, opening the door to one of the kids' rooms, I witnessed a sight almost forgotten at our house:


It was a scene so calm and so enchanting, I almost cried. When did our kids last play Monopoly together? And an entire day of it, with not one of them storming off after half an hour yelling "your rules are stupid, I'm no longer playing!"

The reason, of course, was that there was nothing else to do. All the other toys were gone - except for the few board games Noisette had had the foresight to tell me to set aside - and the TV, horrors, was in the process of being unhooked and loaded, relegating the Xbox to a lonely existence next to the suitcases, rendered more or less useless.

The only time we ever play board games, in our hectic modern lives, seems to be when a natural disaster strikes. Like Hurricane Fran in Raleigh in 1996, which brought together neighbors helping each other and passing time in unconventional ways. Same with the ice storm a few years later. I suppose we can count moving households across international borders as another one of those natural disasters. Judging from the way your house looks during one, it's definitely comparable to a tornado.

Sometimes I wish that we could all return to a world where the kids play monopoly all day without having our houses first blown to smithereens. A time and day where they sit around their rooms bored out of their minds, trying to come up with some idea to pass the time. Which might be to build entire cities out of Lego bricks. Or organize a backyard olympics. Or play hide and seek. Or even make a YouTube video, for all I care, but together in a collaborative effort, not each one of them locked up in their own room with their very own screen.

Boredom was a big part of my childhood. I vividly remember sitting in my room staring out the window being bored. And, it being winter, watching all the birds in the backyard, and retrieving a bird guide from my parents' bookshelf and learning all about birds, just to beat the boredom. Or, when it was summer, I'd climb to the top of our cherry tree and look into the distance while stuffing my mouth with so many cherries I was sick for days afterwards. And worrying if what my older brother kept telling me, that if you swallow a cherry pit you'd have a tree growing out of your mouth, was actually true.

Of course there is no way for me to prove that boredom was indeed good for me. Maybe I would have moved on to win a Nobel Prize if my parents had scheduled my day around the clock, who is to say?

Although, speaking of Nobel Prizes, I did read that Einstein came up with most of his Relativity Theory while stuck in a totally non-demanding job as a clerk in a patent office. His mind wandered while he was stamping forms, and the rest is history, as they say.

There is so little time nowadays for boredom. We are so afraid of our kids being bored, we constantly keep them busy with homework and after-school activities and scheduled play dates, carefully choreographed and supervised so that no one's feelings get hurt, social integration without the pain of the olden days where you had to stand your ground in a street dodgeball match with a group of bullies.

I'm grateful our kids got to live in Africa for a while, where time seems to move a bit slower than here, and parents are less preoccupied with schedules and the need for some stupid charity program in preparation for their kids' college application.

Boredom may be the biggest gift we can pass on to our children.

I just wish we didn't have to pack up our entire household and move abroad every time we want to achieve it.

More boredom beaters: Throwing blueberries in each other's mouths...
...and a makeshift ping-pong game on Moving Day.