Thursday, August 03, 2006

boredom and the dog days of summer

Everyone has already commented on the article about boring kids, so I probably shouldn't even enter the fray. But being late to the party has never stopped me before, so here I go anyway. The thing is, this is hardly a new thing to say. Susan Maushart managed to get at it a little bit in The Mask of Motherhood, for example. (And I think I managed to mention that little bit when I reviewed the book years later.) I think Helen Simpson has the best fictional depictions of the occasional moments (or, ok, depressingly long stretches) of boredom that come with parenting in her fabulous book of short stories, Getting a Life.

The Daily Mail article is, of course, annoying because the author can send her nanny to do the "boring bits" instead of simply sucking it up the way most of us do. So there's a class problem here: is it ok for poorer women to be bored so we can be fulfilled? I don't really think so. But the boredom, she is real.

Andi's take on this is not quite the same as mine, perhaps because we define the word "boring" a bit differently. For her, as she says, "life with small children, or even big children, can be tedious, repetitive, and exhausting... but I only WISH I had the time to be bored. Being bored means there's nothing to engage you, nothing to do, nothing to consume your time or occupy your mind." That's a great way to think about it...but to me, "tedious, repetitive, and exhausting" often does equal boring. But that doesn't mean it's not a necessary part of life.

Here's the definition of boring for me: being commanded to watch your kid play, but not really participate. This used to happen to me all the time: "play blocks with me, Mommy," Nick would command. So I'd get down on the floor, ready to engage, pulling out blocks to build some fabulous creation, and Nick would say "No, you can't have that block! No, do it this way! " And I would be reduced to watching, frustrated because there were things I could be doing (reading, writing, preparing for class, building a fabulous creation), but his need for a witness stymied those while not, somehow, allowing me to participate fully, to engage, to occupy my mind (to go back to Andi's words). There wasn't fear in there, there was simply, mind-numbingly, boredom, tedium, exhaustion. And no nanny to send in to do my shift, either.

Watching soccer games was another intensely boring part of parenting, one that is thankfully over for us. Talking to other parents on the sidelines was not so boring, so there were compensations there, but I will not lie and say I enjoyed it or found it engaging. And that's ok. I did it, as I've done other boring things in my life (practice scales on the piano, read certain academic books, pay bills, clean house), because they were (and are) necessary. On occasion I can surrender to those necessities and do them with a certain amount of grace, but most often I grit my teeth and just get through it. Attitude does matter, of course, but sometimes just showing up is good enough.

Andi is, of course, absolutely right when she says, "When she says she's bored with her life as a mother, I think what she really means is that she is scared of what it means to surrender to it. This "boring" is a provocative-sounding label to give a problem that is too scary to name when you're in the middle of it -- the huge identity shift that happens when you become a mom, and the crazy-making emotional, psychological, cultural, and political contortions women -- and only women -- are still expected to make when they enter the world of motherhood." There's certainly a great deal of truth to this analysis--which is, again, much like what Andi's already said in MotherShock and what Maushart says in The Mask of Motherhood (hey! is packaging those two together!) and what Anne Lamott says in Operating Instructions. Which is also to say, again, this is not a new issue by any means. Why is it that we have to keep hashing it out instead of trying to do something to, oh, I don't know, alleviate the boredom? And why do we have to keep publishing provocative articles to stir up yet another storm of mom-bashing? (Tell me dads don't find fatherhood boring on occasion. Frankly, I think we expect them to.)

So what's my point? We're in the boring days of summer right now. It's beastly hot (but you know that), and there are hours to fill that shouldn't be filled with TV or videos, but can't be filled with scooter-riding or other outdoor play. Thankfully, Nick has reached the stage where he can (mostly) entertain himself. He may claim he's bored, but a book or a piece of paper and some colored pencils can usually alleviate that, which means I can get on with the things I need to do. Sometimes I'm with him, sometimes I'm not--and, since he's now nine, that's OK. I may miss the cuddly days of earlier childhood, but I really don't miss the boredom. And I'm willing to call it that.

[edited to add: why do British writers get to say their kids are boring? I think it's actually some kind of strange self-deprecating humor.]

[and edited again to add, Miriam already said this more concisely.]


Claudia said...

I find that article sad, really. I mean, yeah, there are many times when I am, not so much BORED, but just not in the mood to be Mommy, but to not even want to be around your kids? And, maybe it is a class thing (for me) that I can't get past the nanny bit. I think there are people who maybe shouldn't have children if this is how they will be raised: by a hired hand, with a mother who can't be bothered to be around them. I don't know. I feel sorry for her that she can't even enjoy the good things about having children in her life because they bore her so much. Life with kids is not pretty and not always "rewarding", god knows, but this woman strikes me more as someone who had children without really thinking through whether that was something she wanted to do. It was expected of her, so she had them.

Anonymous said...

So kewl to think about this again thru Libby's blog not on Salon where I wrote from the moment, no idea what I said, except I did wonder if this mother would be loved by her kids as they grew.
Libby, from Wendy man, signing in is too much work, took me an hour and I gave up...
So one anecdote. Parenting scared me far more than bored me. I was a single mom to an only kid and that's hard for both. I was busy making play dates as my kid, and talking to her and I found all kids totally fascinating... Mine was a girl who on salon I called a boy, a rare moment of 'hey no self disclosure to the max here'

but here: anecdotes. My kid had an ability to play make believe, as Nick did, for ten hours at a stretch. Once I had to go out and I was at a friends' house in Cambridge, and knew she couldn't handle the little pony, "NO you SAY THIS AND THEN MY PONY SAYS THAT." so we called the emergency baby sitter's office, and my friend stayed home while the gal, first and last babysitting, stayed out on the porch and sure enough, she was totally beyond exhausted by the hours and the bossiness and the BORING.

Later, I met her in a shoe store where she worked, and my daughter who was adorable, thank the lord, saw her and she pulled me aside and said, "I never baby sat again, that is one hard job." And I said, "But you didn't put up limits. That little pony play is the pits, there is much more fun if YOU GIVE HER RULES" she looked at my daughter the dictator amd I sensed she had vowed to never have kids.

But to follow up with this theme, I got divorced when she was only 9 months old. Then at 2 I felt the hole in her heart, aka: that she didn't have a daddy. So we went to her dad, in Jamaica WI where he lived. And then we three stayed together until she, the child was three.

At three, our biggest fights were, me and ex, abou play times. We had no baby sitters up in Vermont, where we spent the summers, and I had to laugh one afternoon when it was HIS ,the Dad's turn, and nothing in the world was more BORING than my daughter's bossy and creative and endless play... the litte pony's being prime movers in her young mind.

so the real joke, sorry so long, is this: In the divorce papers which arrived when we did precisely in Jamaica, written by me before at age 2, she and 45 me and 47, he, which stated 'father has to have baby sitter with him until child is aged eight," that's how careless I thought he'd be. Well, one day, we can or I surely did choose to forget aged eight, I could take about ten minutes of play time and then it was his TEN MINUTES and he rightly dreaded it, tried to bribe me with cooking, and nice rides, and etc etc but he forgot in was in the divorce papers and I knew but those minutes, 10 or 20 were jump out of yr skin unbearable... and the dad tried to slip in newspapers and... eventually she found friends who loved these imaginative games, like aged four but 3 I rarely played and the dad expressed this one most boring actiively:

"That is pure claustrophia, how do you stand it?" Well, I didn't much longer. The End

expatmama said...

Hmm, I agree with your take on boredom-- tedious, repetitive and exhausting spells boring to me, too. And the class aspect of that article bothered me, too-- kind of shades of Caitlin Flanagan SAHM-ness, even though the message is ostensibly the opposite. Oh well...