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.
Thombot 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