Blessed Be The Bored

The best thing my parents ever did was kick us out of the house.

I get strange looks when I tell people that. I think they picture 5 barefoot innocents roaming and starving. They half-laugh uncomfortably in hopes that I’m kidding. Then that blatant pity stare washes over their faces. They want to pat my back sympathetically like a wounded puppy, and I just keep jabbering, telling fondly of nights out climbing trees to cheat at Flashlight Tag, days trekking through big, sweeping fields to get to the river, the thrill of cold splashes and the mystique of rusted out trucks and crumbling barns grown down into the earth. When I get to the part about rainy afternoons spent swooshing pennies across the kitchen table (choreographing the coins to radio pop)  I notice they’re sufficiently horrified.  I change topics: sports teams, sports teams, weather.

Don’t go too hard on my parents for forcing us outside.We had shoes, and bikes, and attention, even. If anything, talk stern to them for those wooden spoon spankings because -Sting of all stings!- that behemoth hand was heavy enough on the ouch.

Because the most precious gift of my childhood was boredom, the steady training that if I wanted fun I could damn well get up, go out and make it. We have two feet for stomping, two hands for clapping and a mouth that can sing. When sitting still without toys and tools, without a platter of instant entertainment settled neatly on my lap, I had to think. And it was when I thought that creativity stewed and simmered. Those simple feet and hands and parts could be more than enough to play, run, skip, cart-wheel, dance, and climb. Suddenly sticks and pennies, garden sprinklers and pebbles were magnificent props, exciting extras. Simplicity sparked creativity, and I was never bored again.

But then time happens. I’m a mother now in an age where forcing my kid outside will get him forcibly removed from my care, where futuristic gadgets that sync to an infant’s personal iPad are the norm, where I’ve forgotten my roots a bit, fallen victim to a good marathon of bad reality TV.

So my toddler has his own wing in an otherwise modest house. His palace of play things is impressive and guaranteed to distract and preoccupy even the most frantic attention span. At 3 he has amassed more toys than his woefully motorcycle-less dad and I combined. Throughout this bitter, cold season I’ve dutifully dished out fun in the standard form of blocks and big, shiny trucks, flashing-light sing-songing motion-censoring things to protect him from that stir-crazy hunger that is boredom. When those lights lost their shine, blocks had been built and demolished, when those gnarly truck crashes stopped making him flinch and smile, we’d pay for trips to establishments of arcade games and bouncy houses, cupcake shops and toy stores. Just weeks ago, we wasted a cold day working through a collection of cartoon movies. Thomas didn’t even laugh at the punchlines. I thought to take him to bounce on bouncy houses before remembering our last experience when, after paying the inflated fee for fun, he bounced one time and said he was ready to go. And it wasn’t good parenting or wisdom that led me to say to him then “I don’t know, homeboy. You’ve got two thumbs. Twiddle them?”. It was a complete lack of ideas. I was all out of magic Mom tricks. I was out of practice, rusty in the ways of making the most mundane miraculous.  He looked a bit betrayed, disappointed in a lady who always seemed to have the secret ingredient (or 12 buck for an entry fee) to fun.

After some quiet minutes I heard a shuffling. A minute more and I felt the house shake as loud thuds boomed. He found his answer to boredom. I found… this.

March2013 026Thombot 3000 formerly known as a random box from the garage. The small man seemed like he’d just won a prize. The way we find a $20 bill in our pocket when we thought we were broke. It is the relief of finding an endless supply of fun just when he fretted he had nothing to do.

We are trading pennies and playing grocery store. And when we get to the grocery store the boy is stealthy and alert, scanning each aisle of freezers and referring to me as Special Agent Mommy. In chilly days that follow I am a dragon and he is the slayer; he is the fireman, and I am over and over again on faux fire. We are washing our already clean hands because soap bubbles are exciting. We are playing Duck Duck Goose which was really only Duck & Goose which is really only me getting bopped repeatedly and trying to keep alert enough despite the head trauma to run around at a second’s notice.

This week the weather cleared. Sun- real, warm sun- covered every new, green thing. Locking us both out of the house I watched those bouncing steps (leaps, really) as he discovered so many options, so many games. There are sticks for sword fighting and rocks to climb and dirt to dig and a little spot around the corner to investigate and rid of ghosts when he deems it The Spooky Forest.

When a local kid asks if Thomas can go inside and play the Wii Station X Cube video game contraption I try not to slap her blasphemous mouth. Because she’s only 9, and because she clearly hasn’t had the opportunity to get bored yet. She can’t know. Blessed are the bored for they were never truly bored at all.

“Your true traveller finds boredom rather agreeable than painful. It is the symbol of his liberty – his excessive freedom. He accepts his boredom, when it comes, not merely philosophically, but almost with pleasure.”

- Aldous Huxley

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81 thoughts on “Blessed Be The Bored

  1. Oh, I was kicked out side too to play as a kid – into the street, at that, not even into the fenced in yard with the nice vinyl fence like my yard has. My kids were the last to get wii. No iPads or touches here – I am still partial to boredom. So beautifully written – as always.

      • I’ve just started a new job and my working week is quite short. I’ve got tonnes of spare time now and it really is a treat. Nothing better than a big block of time with nothing to do is right! Boredom is the best!!

      • Isn’t that funny? As adults we LOVE the down time. A weekend with nothing to do sounds glorious. To a kid that wide, open time is about the worst thing in the world!

    • Kids are smart like that! I get tempted to schedule Thomas’s days full of activities, games, trips and toys. It seemed like keeping him fully entertained was part of the Mom job. But that’s not doing him any favors. When I stand back and let him do his own thing he shows me he’s got this fun business handled.

  2. It makes me sad that so much has been lost of the magic of childhood in a world that protects them to the point that kicking them out of the house is not acceptable. I’m glad you found the magic of imagination again inside the home. I plan on throwing Sarah out a lot more in the future.

    • I had a favorite playmate when I was little. I loved going to her house because she had the fanciest most outrageous toys. For me, just getting to play with her toys for a few minutes was a treat. The funny part was that she didn’t seem all that impressed or excited about them. I think that really said something. When we get handed all of everything it takes more and more to make us happy.

  3. Amen, and amen.

    My grandmother lamented the amount of toys and lack of imagination of my mother’s generation. My mother lamented similarly for mine. I lament similarly for my sons’. Yet somehow we all manage to grow up and propel the world forward generation to generation.

    • I just get a little terrified thinking about what could possibly be MORE futuristic than the crazy gadgets and technology and cyber-intelligent toys we have right now. I’m already the old lady wondering what all the cell phone fuss is about :)

  4. Being a child of the 60′s and 70′s we didn’t have all the crap that’s out there now. So when the stuff in our rooms was tapped out, we headed outside. We knew better than to complain to mom that we were bored. She wasn’t the entertainment committee. So out we went.
    I will admit I spent more time with my kids on a playing level than my mom did. I did the playdough, the hours of building Legos, painting, crafts, baking, sand box, softball (the plastic bat and ball phase was the best!), bike riding…..but there was also a time and place for the tv and computer. There were times when they did spend too much time with their noses in the GameBoy, but then there were the days when they didn’t even go near the thing. I will say my kids had a happy childhood. They’ll bitch that we didn’t let them do this or we didn’t go there, but when they look back when they’re parents themselves, they’ll remember the good stuff!

    • I get swept up in the peer pressure junk ever so often and think I need to be buying this brand or that fancy toy for Thomas. Then I remember he’s 3. He thinks Angry Birds is fascinating, but he also finds my giant yoga ball pretty amazing, too. I’m going to try to enjoy this Easy To Please phase as long as I can!

  5. Boredom makes you learn new things. We took long walks and played with the children outside. Thanks your blog was great. It brought back memories of times gone by.

    • I love taking walks with the boy, mostly because he notices the smallest, oddest things. We once counted every crack in the sidewalk. We walked the same route a few days later, but this time we were hunting for “pretty flowers” (really tall weeds).

  6. My sister & I were expected to be outside all day, all summer. Of course, then you didn’t have predators to worry about. We lived in the country (rural area) and lived on a fairly busy road for the area. People would pull in asking for directions and my sister & I would be allowed to help them, once we were old enough to know where places were and could adequately explain! Now, your child better not be talking to strange people that just pull in the driveway. So much innocence lost.

    • I never remembered having to fear or be suspicious of adults or even strangers around me growing up. It just wasn’t thought about. Obviously now I keep an eye on everyone within a 100-foot radius of my kid.

  7. We had two sticks and a rock to play with when I was a kid. And we had to share the rock. Okay, so that’s a huge lie, but… anyway. I’m a bit surprised by how quickly some kids get bored… I really don’t remember having that feeling very often. :)

    • Me either! I don’t remember my parents scheduling playtime activities or going crazy with the toys, either. Somehow we all stayed entertained.
      P.S. Thank God for the two sticks… to use for balance… while trekking up the hill both ways in the snow to get to school :)

  8. Hooray for imagination! I got kicked out, too. Locked out, in fact. Til the streetlights came on or I heard my dad’s whistle. Taught me, among other things, how to deal with boys… since I was the only girl on the block. Wait, scratch that – I still don’t know how to deal with boys. But I’m damned good at tag.

    • Haha. We moved when I was just hitting puberty. I remember running into a couple boys from the neighborhood when I was 17. I was SO uncomfortable because I suddenly realized my old buddies were tall, manly looking things. It didn’t occur to me back in the day. They were just fun to climb trees and play tag with :)

  9. Nothing like an empty box to spark hours of play. I remember the great excitement of my mother when she got a new refrigerator and the even greater excitement of her 4 kids who spent days playing with the box it came in. Your son is a lucky child to have a mom like you.

    • GIANT. BOXES!!!!!!!! Ahhh, I mostly loved Christmas because we had a fake tree. When that big, glorious box came down from the attic I knew I had at least a week to make it my clubhouse.

    • Would send you Thombot, but the boy is really attached to it. I definitely have my own bored moments. It helps that Thomas never sits still and always has me playing Mommy Dragon, or Wizard, or Firewoman.

  10. Wonderful, wonderful post! I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you for sharing!

    I was never sent outside. I just didn’t grow up that way. I wasn’t one to complain about boredom either though. My dad kept me well stocked with books, and those were all the fun I needed. Sometimes I changed the scenery a little by sitting in the plum tree to read. Hahaha. I was not into tv or anything like that. Strange, strange child, I was!
    I’ve decided not to buy my children (which I have yet to have) toys until they’re at least 5. It doesn’t seem to make sense. Boxes, balls, pots, pans, and keys seem to be all they really want.

    • I think waiting for 5 is a BRILLIANT idea. Also, I kind of want to read in a plum tree. Sounds lovely :) My husband and I laugh every holiday season because all these parents are rushing out to buy their toddlers the latest gadgets and high-tech toys. We are firmly in the “Dude, he’s 3″ category. So far he’s been pretty thrilled with simple gifts, coloring books, books, puzzles, balls, and, of course, all the leftover wrapping paper and boxes keep him preoccupied for days!

  11. Awesome. When I was young in the summer we’d leave our houses after breakfast, bike around, walk in the woods, do all sorts of things, stop by one of the gang’s house for lunch, then do the same thing all afternoon. I remember we’d pretend we were Starsky and Hutch on our bikes, or that we were riding horses. We’d also pretend we were tracking things in the woods. Imagination was everything.

    We’ve got to give our kids a chance to experience these types of things. Screens (tv, computer, xbox, etc) are not everything. –Lisa

    • Absolutely! I get the million reasons why I can’t let my kid have the free reign like I had as a kid. I know I need to watch him outside, not let him ride his bike too far away, keep an eye out. But it’s worth the time outside with him, or the time inside away from a tv or crazy gadget. His little brain is a brilliant thing if I turn down the volume enough to hear it!

  12. I cannot imagine a different childhood from the one I had (for myself that is), running around like a wild animal, being outdoors was great but not something we could do all year long, just when we were at the country. Growing up in the city was mostly indoors, we would get regular walks like dogs, then it was all matter of our imagination. No video games for us, we never liked them, instead we had 2 dogs, huge dogs and the poor things would endure all the games my brother and I would play. Was I rised by 2 dogs? No I wasn’t, they were baby sitters.
    If my brother and I would get too annoying we would be sent to the patio with the dogs because “you cannot behave like humans go with dogs” (my dad’s words lol).
    The robot looks great to me.

    • Hahaha. Love your dad’s rationale. And wild animal sounds about right for me, too. I had a weird thing for swinging through trees, digging in mud, and trying to eat any and everything that looked like a berry.

  13. I think now about biking around our neighborhood with my bestie as young as 7 and I can’t believe my mom let me out of the house unsupervised for hours on end. We think fondly of summers when he would bounce on my bed at 9am waking me up, immediately running outside, dragging ourselves back in famished for sandwiches, then playing all over the neighborhood until mom yelled my name for dinner. I miss that freedom for my kids.

    • It is a little sad to think about. We have kids that go door-to-door selling things for school fundraisers. I remember doing that as a kid, too. But today their parents are waiting two steps behind them, watching out for potential safety threats.

  14. It’s true – being kicked out saved my life! I got kicked out of house all the time or I was forced to clean. LOL. But had I been forced to stay inside – my mother would have killed me at age 10.

    Now – I try to do the same with my munchkin. But things are different – I don’t like her being outside without my husband or myself watching her.

    But we do go through those I’M SO BORED days. They are the worst!

    • Times have definitely changed. I’m always outside with Thomas because I’ve watched all the news and crazy crime shows. No way I’m letting him ride his bike around unattended now.

  15. I love Thombot 3000! I have a similar cardboard box in my basement that my then-kid-now-grownup daughter made, and I can’t bear to part with it. That kind of creative play is the best.

    • I need to find a premium storage space for the bot when he gets sick of playing with it. So far he’s used it as a robot, treasure chest, refrigerator, and boat. Fingers crossed he’ll love this thing come Christmas time. I will put a bow on Thombot and put that sucker under the tree!

  16. I am seldom bored . . . because mom kicked us out of the house like yours. “Go Play.” As a result, I love having LOTS of unstructured Play Time. :D

    • Ah, play time! I look at my childhood as an amazing training period. Now I can look at my kid and there are years and years and years worth of games he hasn’t even thought of yet. I challenged him to Dodge Ball the other day. But he’s 3, and mostly not fast enough. It pretty much turned into a game of Mom Throws Ball At Me, so we’ll have to wait on that one :)

  17. While I wasn’t exactly told to go outside, I was definitely encouraged to keep myself occupied as a kid so I spent most of my time either reading or else making up ridiculous stories to then relate to my mother and test her on to see if she was listening. Good times.
    I shudder whenever I see kids whining about going home to play their game machines, go on the computer to check their Facebook, or else use their iphones/ipads.

  18. Don’t feel bad. At least your parents didnt have Time Slot!! This was an actual machine that hooked up to the tv and you had to have a card you swiped to turn on the tv. Once your allotted time was up, it turned off. Didnt matter if there was 10 min left in your show, off it went!!! It did bolster our creativity though, we creatively found says to break into the time slot machine and we logically and methodically searched the house until we found the “parent card.” Jackpot!! Unlimited tv watching with that baby!!

  19. I grew up in a place with nowhere to go outside. I mean if you step out of the house, you’ll be on the street, in traffic. So I stayed inside…but I still had to entertain myself. I didn’t have a lot of fancy toys. And I did have fun. I found a toy in everything from cardboard boxes to lotion bottles…and it was awesome.
    This is a point well made, Tori :)
    Kids these days don’t really know boredom.

  20. Thank you! I make my parents sound evil when I talk about them! Mom would say “only boring people get bored. Find something to do. (You are driving me crazy!)” I turned out great…ish! Stay strong!

  21. I loved reading your blog. It reminded me that when my brother and I would complain to my mother about being bored, she gave us the vacuum or made us clean the bathroom. We are super careful about saying it today even though we are grown.
    I releate to running free and playing outside until dark. Now I have to go outside with my sons, to avoid the darkness that sometimes creeps into people’s lives.
    Still I try to relax and remember how much I learned by being alone and being bored.
    Nikki

  22. This post is so on point. I remember growing up we all played outside. We had to be dragged back in. Would play ball in the dark until we couldn’t see it anymore. Yet, on rainy days I did things like Thombot 3000! This brought back so many fun memories.

  23. I have “chewed” on this post for awhile, with trepidation, almost like an old Amish man living in NYC. Keeping video games from my five children served many purposes. Foremost was, as you stated, make some fun for yourself like I did with three TV channels ( PBS didn’t count), go outside. Second of all I had learned by the time you where all old enough that I pretty much always lost on those games. I could not have my five kids kicking my butt everyday.
    To your point it takes more work, love, and attention to NOT park your kid in front of a TV or electronic device. Yes you all had sports, dance, gymnastics, ballet, etc. But the benefits show everyday! Please pass this “Spartan” upbringing along to all your friends. We will have a better society!

  24. I`m so with you Tori. My kids refer to me as the “mean Mom” because they`ve never gotten any gaming stuff and were not allowed to do it on the computer. I also wouldn`t buy any electric powered scooters, bikes, etc- mainly because I wanted them to wear themselves OUT. Now they`re teenagers reaping the benefits of a mean mom. Great athletes, imaginative writers and thinkers, and they can play computer games at their friends houses.

  25. Very true and very well written. My folks did the same thing and I plan to do the same for my future kids. I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who thinks giving kids tech to keep them quite is a dumb idea!

  26. I can’t tell you how much I identify with this! All to often us parents are accused of not looking after our children properly if we are not constantly devising new games for them to play or other such ‘perfect parenting’ tips! Children need to learn EVERYTHING! Including how to cope with boredom in a constructive way. They need imagination and this does not come naturally, it is learned behaviour! I say Ignore all the busy bodies in the world with their parenting tips! Children will never learn the reality of life if they are constantly Molly-coddled! I thank my parents for sending me out to play! I have logical life skills developed from their amazing parenting and I hope I can pay it forward to my kids!

  27. Great post! I used to get “sent outside” at least once a week, and you know what? I, too, once created something clever out of a cardboard box! And I also had an array of imaginary friends…which was probably more concerning than anything :) But at least my imagination was working!

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