A mere four and a half days in to summer break, I heard the not so faint sounds of bickering and whining. Bold statements of “I’m BORED!” echoed down our halls, officially announcing the end of everyone’s pure exuberance that school had been adjourned for three months.
As we await the arrival of our third child, my two boys and I are home for the majority of the summer, leaving us time for pool trips, movie dates, park lunches and the blissful ability to be unscheduled…or so I thought. I intended to soak up every moment of our last days as a family of four before an infant rocks their world (and mine).
We intentionally avoided a plethora of camps and pre-arranged activities to give our kids a break from the, at times, overwhelming amount of commitments we were running to from sunup to sundown during the school year. Assuming it would be a welcomed break from the norm, we anticipated excitement from little voices exclaiming how relieved they were to not HAVE to be anywhere. Our “Summer Bucket List” had been compiled of all the pleasures of summer we wanted to embark upon. A lemonade stand, nights of running through the sprinkler and trips to the zoo topped the list my kids illegibly wrote in green colored pencil on a piece of construction paper and stuck to the refrigerator door. We were set!
Then day four hit. Two fun activities had already been crossed off the list, much to the exhaustion of the parents arranging and paying for such events. We had camped, accompanied by the roasting of s’mores, and relentlessly played with every fun water toy Target had to offer. They were (literally) slipping and sliding, splashing and frolicking for four solid days. After a particularly lazy morning of trying to recover from a slight sunburn and lack of a consistent sleep routine, the moans of boredom were officially in full effect.
Maybe it was the pregnancy hormones, perhaps it was the frustration of dealing with kids who seemed unappreciative, but my reaction was not one of understanding or compassion. Instead, I got mad. I was mad that I had set the precedent they must be entertained every second of the day. I was mad that they were not reveling in the down time and soaking up the simple indulgences of summer break. And mostly I was mad that I might be raising the next generation of entitled rug rats.
After a long morning (for both parties) of enforcing “un-fun” chores of cleaning baseboards, brushing the dog and cleaning out my car, I acknowledged that bouts of manual labor might not solve the problem of whining children. So I decided to try a different approach. Instead of feeling guilty or indulging them, I ignored their requests for constant entertainment. After a few hours of wanting to saw off my own ears to avoid hearing the screams and shrieks, it slowly began to work.
Two hours is all it took for them to wander outside to the backyard and make up a game involving rollie pollies found under a rock and tiny little army figurines. They were not fighting, they were imagining a world beyond PJ Mask and Rescue Bots. For the rest of the day I let them work out their own squabbles. I let them wreck the house, make forts and roll around in the dirt. I didn’t direct them. I didn’t impart my own way to play; I just let them be, kids.
As I pleasantly observed and relaxed with a glass of iced tea by my side, I thought back to my own childhood where some of my fondest memories consisted of adventures we merely stumbled upon. From finding tadpoles in the nearby creek to skillfully learning to ride bikes on the gravel road, we didn’t have the luxury of being constantly catered to, and we were better for it. We learned that we loved the outdoors. We learned how to fill the day creatively and become self-reliant for our own happiness. We found joy amongst us and within us. What a gift! It was in that moment I knew I needed to back off for the sake of my children. Independence can be hard for us parents to watch unfold, but a necessary component in guiding them toward finding their own passions and interests.
This, of course, doesn’t mean our summer bucket list has been thrown to the side. I fully intend to visit the zoo, go horseback riding and run around LEGOLAND. But I also intend to give my children the gift of sitting in their own thoughts and boredom. From nothing comes something, and the sooner they learn to appreciate the silence and make something of it, the sooner they realize the beauty in the process. After all, I’m trying with all my might to raise boys who become motivated, creative and self-aware men. I might as well start this summer.