“I’m bored” (aka mid-winter break)

20 02 2013

It’s mid-winter break, and we have not one, but now TWO teenagers lounging about the house with nothing to do.

In an interesting turn of events, another high school exchange student from Thailand, who was previously staying with a host family in rural Adrian, has been moved to Ypsilanti. ‘Fate’ switched schools and is now staying with Lori and Elizabeth, the two host moms who took care of our Thai son while we were out of the country. So, as they so kindly did for us, we offered to take in a second high school student for the week or so that they would be gone. What I did not realize, was that this was going to be starting on Valentine’s Day and including the entire week of mid winter break. (Also known as “I’m Bored” week.)

I felt some degree of dread as the week approached, mostly for Bethany, since she would be the one stuck at home trying to study with two restless teenagers looking for something to do. We had met Fate briefly at a group outing to the Toledo Zoo, but hardly knew her personality. While Bank is very independent and self-sufficient, I was mentally preparing for a much needier, younger student. I imagined how Bethany would feel obligated to help occupy their time, and therefore get frustrated by the neglect of her own studies. It could go a number of directions, but had the potential to be a very long week.

Our first full day of break was on Saturday, when I was also home. The kids slept in, and I woke up early. I typically sneak downstairs to the living room and work on the couch for a couple of hours while my wife sleeps in on the weekends, and this weekend was no different. When she got up, we had breakfast together, and started planning our various chores and tasks for the day. Bethany had homework to do, so I decided to invite the kids to join me for a walk down to the food co-op. It was still cold, but sunny, and the dog really hadn’t been on a walk in a while, so the three of us, plus Chopper, headed out to leave Bethany with quiet time. Fate was excited to walk the dog, and was very attentive to the important nuances of stopping before crossing the street, or shortening his leash when others approached. I expected the walk to get too cold for them pretty quickly, but both Bank and Fate seemed to really enjoy getting out of the house.

When we got back home, I unpacked the few ingredients that we had purchased, and the kids scattered. I settled back into the couch to work some more on my laptop, and pulled the dog’s large woolen bed up onto the couch, so that he could curl up at my feet. (Bethany doesn’t particularly like that I do this, since she’s had problems in the past with Chopper getting on furniture and chewing cushions, but he and I developed a new understanding last year about his bed being a safe spot.) This is a mutually beneficial relationship, since we both stay warmer and both get snuggles.

As I was working, Fate wandered through the living room, looking lost. I considered the possibility that she might have been looking for something to do, or someone to talk to, but I was not really interested in entertaining anyone at that moment. Still, I smiled and let her know that she is welcome to hang out there as well, since I was just working quietly. This seemed to be the answer to her unasked question, and she plopped down onto the couch on the other side of the coffee table. I continued to work fastidiously, while waiting to see if she was hoping for something more. Every time I peeked over my screen, she was staring at her own small phone screen. I was pleasantly surprised that nothing more was required of me!
For several hours straight, we sat in the living room together, focused on our own tasks. I had my laptop and various projects going. She had her ipod and the sounds of beeps and bloops and bubbles bursting indicated that she was enjoying some sort of games. The occasional sounds of a kitten mewing caused me to look up- and Chopper- too, greeted by a giggle and the explanation, “Is have cat on my game.”

I was actually shocked at how well the two teenagers kept themselves entertained. It was way easier than I expected, and not how I remembered it from my own childhood. The one difference, of course, is that when I was a kid, there were very few screens. We had one Game Boy that I shared with my 2 older brothers, and a rear projection television that was big enough to hide three children inside. Today, the fact that Bethany & I choose not to own a TV seems irrelevant. There are so many other screens to occupy our minds, that I’m not even sure that teenagers care– or notice- the absence of a flat screen TV in our living room.

It got me thinking, what impact have these gadgets had on our next generation? Is it any different than it was 20 years ago? I was one of the last people I knew to get a cell phone, and now I am one of those landline-less iphone owners, walking to my car and multi-tasking between work emails, text messages, mapping my next meeting, and checking facebook messages.

I spend much of my day staring at one screen or another, and my eyes probably pay the price. I do demand that meals are gadget free, and have insisted that our students not be rude by ignoring others at dinner. While I observe how eerily quiet our house can be, I wonder, is this the new normal? Young adults spend their time skyping, playing games, texting, or watching movies on various screens, instead of wandering aimlessly around the house complaining about being bored. Is this preparing them for real life? If our society embraces these virtual communications and endless multi-tasking, does this tendency in a high schooler simply reflect a new form of technical training?

Boredom seems like a valueless, outdated concept, one that nobody misses. I can’t help but wonder, though, what are they missing out on by NOT being bored? What did being bored teach me? Well, first, patience. “Not now,” is a frequent response from annoyed parents, after being pestered by bored kids. Our elders teach us in these situations, that you cannot expect to be entertained by others whenever you want. You have to wait, and if you’re not patient, you will simply further annoy others, and end up being frustrated yourself. This is an opportunity to embrace silence, and listen to yourself instead of others.

The second thing that boredom teaches you is creativity. Slowing down and having silence allows your brain to wander, undirected, to explore the most remote and enigmatic corners of yourself. How can you discover the next brilliant invention when you are consumed by a screen with mewing, blinking, scratching virtual pets? Boredom can be truly inspiring!

As I contemplate these ideas, I realize that boredom is exactly what is missing from my adult life. I miss having time to just sit, or walk, or ride, and let my mind wander. I miss processing my thoughts and emotions, unfettered by tasks and obligations. I know that my most beautiful moments of inspiration come when I slow down, and only then am I able to write, or draw, or photograph the pieces that I love the most.

So, I challenge the readers, as I will challenge myself. Get bored. Go get lost in your head. Tell your loved one that you can love them deeper after you’ve had time alone with yourself. If you are too busy, make time. I can enter a calendar event for “thinking” just as easily as I can for “gym.” There’s no excuse. Much like physical fitness, the reward is how good you will feel afterward. I look forward to “I’m bored” being said with a satisfied smile, and a deep, slow breath.




2 responses

20 02 2013

Hmm, I have never ever thought that being bored could be a positive thing! Self-reflection is, as you say, important though. I will do this before I go to sleep tonight. !=)


21 02 2013

Right? I am still amazed that this is not part of my regular routine. Even ‘being bored’ or slowing down just once a week makes me feel like I have the clarity and capacity to be a better human. Sweet dreams, Young! 🙂


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