I’m as guilty of it as the next mom. Somehow I’ve allowed myself to become Julie McCoy, cruise director. My school-aged kids, lifelong passengers on our little love boat, are constantly asking me what we’re doing next, all summer long. I might as well carry a clipboard and a megaphone, cheerfully announcing to all the upcoming shuffleboard tourney on the Lido deck at 11 a.m., followed by a buffet lunch.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of worrying more about their agendas than my own. I’m a busy freelance writer, but since I set my own hours I have “flexibility.” (I put this word in quote marks because when you’re chasing after two children from sunrise to sunset—which occur earlier and later in these warm weather months—there’s precious little time for flexing.) However, I’ve been able to plan entire summers around what’s best for them: day camps in the mornings, pool outings in the afternoons, playdates in the backyard with local kids running through the sprinkler, and occasional excursions to museums and theme parks.
The problem? I can’t get much (no, I mean “anything”) done. Mid-June through Labor Day becomes one big black hole of a never-ending field trip, with me working as the guide. Come September, I’m all but cheering when it’s time for them to disembark this cushy cruise and return to school.
I truly enjoy spending time with my kids; don’t get me wrong. But this is life. And there’s work to be done! Deadlines to be met! Friends to see! Exercise to be had! Hell, even an occasional pedicure would be nice.
In short, I don’t stop needing “me time” just because it’s 85 degrees outside.
A few months ago, well before school let out for the summer, I realized something had to give. My husband and I decided to drop the weekly Sunday family outings. Guess what? Our kids lived. Saturdays were already foregone conclusions, eaten by soccer matches during fall and spring months. Taking Sunday “off” (again with the quote marks) gave us time to, I don’t know, get the laundry done! Maybe even relax!
More important, it allowed the kids the beautiful opportunity to fight boredom. You read that right. Boredom is an opportunity. Why do modern parents seem so afraid of it?
To steal (and tweak) the famous speech delivered by ‘80s Wall Street icon Gordon Gekko: “Boredom, for lack of a better word, is good. Boredom is right. Boredom works. Boredom clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.”
While the kids have occasionally complained to us about being bored since we implanted this change, they’ve also launched new projects driven by their imaginations. My oldest has become incredibly proficient making her own music videos with a free iPhone app called “Video Star.” She learned to shoot and edit fun scenes of herself and her little sister all around the house and neighborhood singing along to their favorite Taylor Swift songs. Some of their homemade videos are surprisingly moody and well made. By backing off a bit and letting boredom to fully marinate, I realize a future filmmaker might have been born.
Meanwhile, my youngest has taken up elaborate Lego creations. She now spends hours in silent reverie building pretend towns, ranches, and spas as she enacts audible stories with the tiny Lego people at her disposal. Sometimes I sneak up silently behind her as she talks out loud, giving dramatic voice to her plastic play. I don’t disturb her. Why would I?
It’s a lesson to me, and other moms, who can sometimes schedule their kids’ every waking moment—during summer or after school. Turns out, down time can be the most productive time of all. Because their minds are working.
This summer, yes, they still have a few days camps lined up. I’m sure I’ll take them to the pool. But when asked what’s on the agenda, I’ve hung up my cruise director cap for good. My answer to them will be: “Boredom. Now, go and enjoy it!”