There are new words that are coming out of the Eldest’s mouth, with increasing frequency: “I’m bored.” Today in the shoe store searching for work boots for Mark, it was its common variation: “this is boring.” I guess I should be surprised that it took this long in his life for him to complain, really. But let me be honest: I have such little tolerance for this. Life is full of have-to destinations; shoe shopping wasn’t my idea of a brilliantly fun morning either. But I have to wonder: when did my Littles embrace the idea that they are entitled to be entertained every minute of the day?
He has always been the type of little boy who loves interaction. He thrives on the engagement that comes with friends, with visitors. He delights when my sister is here to spoil him with her ferocious love; he can’t get enough of his grandparents. In fact, I would even accuse him of sometimes monopolizing their time with our family. His sister is so happy to play independently with her own imagination that this is even possible. But the Eldest, he seeks engagement, always – he is built up with feedback: “Look, Mama, at this letter I made. What color should I chose next?” It could easily be argued that his love language is heard in words of affirmation.
Combine this personality with his position within the family as the Eldest, the one whom had all the attention for some 22 months before he had to share; the one who is paving the way for his siblings in so many arenas, and I shouldn’t be surprised. My life as a new mother revolved around his, as I learned my bearings and began to claim motherhood as my own. He taught be how to mother in those early times as we figured life out together. This is still true today, as we navigate our way through difficult patches, these out-of-bounds-fours together.
I was reading the classic children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day to my Littles just yesterday, and was struck by how normal and unexciting this typical day is for Alexander and his family. It’s breakfast cereal around the kitchen table, carpool to school. It’s packed lunches and dentist appointments. It’s school shopping and sibling rivalry. It’s bath times and bed times, and mostly it’s about family being family. It’s not about trips to the zoo and dance recitals. Sure, it’s the day that Alexander wishes he didn’t have, but it’s the day we all have (even in Australia). It was also written in the 1970s when these children, arguably, had less structured activities, and felt less entitled to be constantly entertained.
And I understand, truly, that much of our life these days has not been exactly fun. A trip to the grocery store, an errand to the shoe store. Folding laundry, dusting bookshelves, sorting summer clothes. Pulling weeds, mowing the lawn. Drive to school, bath time at night. It’s daily maintenance of family life, and yes, it’s mundane, and it’s not always thrilling. The fun activities that used to be more commonplace now are used as punctuation instead of the building blocks of our time. I miss a bit of that, too. I guess that’s just what happens as Littles get older, and our family continues to grow. Our responsibilities and time constraints grow, too. The work it takes to make our home grows. And we do make time for the extraordinary: a rightly-timed day of hooky a few weeks ago, and we enjoyed a family day at the zoo, though admittedly the best part of that day was our picnic lunch on the banks of the river afterwards.
Maybe I have no one to blame but myself. There was a time a few years back when I complained about feeling like a cruise director, always making sure we had something entertaining to look forward to, something that would bring us together as a family, provide some educational fun, and of course create lasting memories. True, I was motivated by the crazy-making long hours alone with just one toddler that stretched ahead of me at the time. But now, a bit of activity burn out and a few years of mothering later, and I know that nothing beats the gift of time and unscheduled activity, and actually, the gift of boredom, to turn these years into forever memories.
We’ve given our Littles every chance to be bored, unscheduled, and embrace the blank slate, the day wide open before us. Mark and I are mostly not planners by nature, and though grown-up family life dictates a bit more predictability, we often let things happen a bit more organically.
And, honestly, I’m ready for life to be a bit boring. Much of our life, unexpected recently has not been the good kind of interruption. It has had to do with sickness, and death. With working way too much, way too hard, for too little return. It’s been the surprise of car accidents and broken furnaces. So I’m okay with it if days are a bit more tedious, tending towards mundane. What it lacks in suspense it makes up in stability.
And then it happens: those golden glimpses that remind me that I’m on the right track. Sunday morning, I was inside nursing the Littlest while Mark had taken the bigger kids outside to play. When the Littlest and I made our way into the cool dampness to join them, Mark was standing back, drinking his coffee, watching as they reveled in their own play, entirely of their own creation. I joined him and together we watched them take turns helping each other into the wagon, and aim it down hill. With a simple nudge, and a peal of smiling laughter, they careened in that wagon down our yard, then eagerly hopped out, raced back up the hill to catch the next ride. Simple, oh-so-simple: a small plastic wagon from Target, some mediocre weather, sibling companionship and a good ol’ hill, and the right opportunity, left open to be bored. This is likely to be a memory that paints a more accurate picture of our family life than a more thoroughly orchestrated event. And as, with everything, it’s balance: their play lasted for a bit, and then they were ready for someone to push them on the swings, and play catch. And I was ready to play, too.