Monday, June 4, 2012

Embrace the Boredom

Summer is coming soon. I can feel it in the softening of the air but I can see it, too, in the state of my kid's backpacks -filthy!- and in their homework agendas, the binder plastic ripped and frayed at the edges. An old remembered glee rises up in me because I know what lays ahead. Open windows. Fresh stone fruit. Day trips to the beach. Boredom. Especially the boredom.

Summer is the season that was the making of me as a human being because it was when I was bored for the longest period of time. Boredom breeds downtime and downtime is when we most become ourselves: looking into the middle distance, kicking at the curb, taking bike rides to nowhere, sitting in the backyard staring at the tedious blue of the summer sky. I believe that you can't become who you want to be - writer, actor, neuroscientist - without plenty of nothing to do. Boredom is nothing more than the quiet moving of the wheels inside your head. In my world, this is the sound of progress.

Apparently, in the last twenty years or so, Canadian kids have lost about four hours of unstructured play time per week. Recesses are getting shorter so that kids can get home faster for structured after-school activities or jobs. How did this happen?

Adults did it.

There is a culture of adult mistrust that suggests that a bored child who is not attending science-enrichment programs or cooking classes is out boosting cars or knocking off liquor stores. This is utter nonsense. I'm not saying these classes aren't for the good. I'm simply suggesting that if kids aren't left alone every once in a while, when are they ever gonna contemplate whether Wolverine could kick Green Lantern's ass? And then draw a cartoon of that exact thing. In the sand, with a stick.

That type of summer doesn't have to be gone for good. I've got two kids: one spends a good portion of her early summer at summer camp in Algonquin park, her days filled with new activities and almost constant social interaction. She loves it and I wouldn't change that for her because it's where she lives. But, she has a brother who thinks that scenario is like being stuck in the seventh ring of Hell. He spends his summer days sleeping in, playing with his Lego and swimming in the lake. He lives for the summer because that's when he lolly-gags, as my father once called it, busy exploring the inside of his own head. It's a wonderful place to be.

This year when you're rooting through the backpacks on the last day of school and chucking out the snacks left to mold in baggies at bottom's end, can I make a suggestion? Take a respite from the clock and throw out the schedule, too. Drop the organized day for a week or two. Embrace the boredom. Get outside and don't come inside again unless it rains or I call you, my mother would yell at me every day of my childhood summer. I intend for this sentence define my kids' fate this summer. Their characters depend on it.

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