“What are we going to do today mommy?” my eight-year-old asked me after we had just returned from several hours up at the farm a few miles from our house. Apparently the time we spent exploring the farm stand, riding the dusty tractor over the pitted fields and walking among the blueberry bushes to find the blueberries that were ripe, not the pinkish blue ones that would make your cheeks suck in from the sour, until we filled our buckets full enough to make not only blueberry muffins, but also blueberry pancakes, fruit pizza, cobbler, popsicles and pretty much anything we could ever think of from blueberries does not count as “doing” anything in his eyes. I wish that I could say that was an anomaly, that my kids always appreciated all our adventures, big and small, but with three ranging in age from 11 to five, that rarely happens. There is always at least one who is bored or embarrassed or left out or too short or tired or breaking out in some kind of rash. . . but I digress, rashes aren’t what I’m talking about today.
A month ago, I would have taken the “what are we going to do today” question as an indictment that I was doing a crappy job of this new-to-me stay at home mom thing. I would have quickly scrambled to think up something else to fill the rest of our summer day, but honey, we are 34 days into summer break and a whole 40 days into the stay at home mom/student/aspiring writer thing and I’m proud to say that I have LEARNED something and mommy don’t play that anymore. Honestly, 34 days in and I’m just plain over “fun-scheduling” my kids. We are now into new, beautiful territory called “doing nothing.” Inevitably what happens when we “fun schedule” all day long is that we end up with kids who don’t see a half day trip to a farm as something, who don’t know how to entertain themselves and who are, quite frankly, a little boring and a whole lot spoiled. Don’t get me wrong, I love the amusement park and the pool and the movies, maybe even more than they do, but it’s in the downtime of doing nothing that I really get to see who they are. And low and behold, psychologists say that it’s in the downtime that they get to discover who they are and stretch and grow the creativity muscles that they’ll need later in life*.
It’s in those doing nothing afternoons that they build a fort that takes up most of my living room, with special rooms and cubbies inside that become submarines and school buses and spaceships where epic Star Wars battles take place. It’s in those unplanned moments that bugs, frogs and worms are caught, and teeny tiny homes are built for them, and one discovers that bugs might need real food and water and AIR to survive. When quiet humming gradually turns into ridiculously loud silly songs and new recipes for “slime” are discovered. When shoe boxes are turned into Lego people apartments, toilet paper rolls become binoculars and suddenly the kids burst out with the names of all the different birds that have made our yard their home this year after they repeatedly ignored me every time I exclaimed: “look! A red headed Finch!”
It’s in that oasis of doing nothing afternoons that time seems to stretch on. When one hour feels like three. When the frantic pace of the world outside doesn’t seem to have its hold on us anymore. And we can think a little. Not react, not go, just think. For me as well, it’s in those moments that I appreciate the uniqueness of my kids, the truth of God’s word that tells us, “we have different gifts, according to the grace given to us.” (Romans 12:6) I appreciate the way that Audrey can take bottles and boxes and garbage and make it into something like a work of art. . . how Aaden’s natural curiosity leads him to take things apart, devour books and ask question after question. . . how Avery creates worlds of adventures within his head that we see only a little of and mainly just hear the sound effects to. . . these things aren’t visible when we are constantly on the go, when we are running from one activity to the next, when we are rushing to fit in everything that everyone else seems to be doing.
So, at least for a little while, I don’t care if my kids are “bored” and I don’t care if they lay in the grass staring at the clouds or on the living room floor watching the ceiling fan go around and around like poor, sad wretches. Opportunities to dream and create are fleeting and being stolen more and more by the pace of this world and the availability of information and technology. There will be time for running, time for schedules, deadlines, practices, due dates and milestones soon enough. There will never be another summer when they are 11, 8 and 5 and if I can stretch an afternoon out into adventures that take them a lot further away than the farm up the road, I won’t apologize or miss out on it by “fun-scheduling” every moment of our day. Not anymore. Or at least not until Day 35. . .
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*Researchers Karen Gasper and Brianna Middlewood, of Pennsylvania State University, found that constructively bored individuals seek out and engage in satisfying activities—much like happy people do. Read their findings here here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103113002205