She never actually says the word. And good for us all that she doesn’t. Because the words that come next, from me, have been plotted out in my brain for years. Most of the things we believe about parenthood, the ways we plan to be as mothers, the ideals with which we’ll raise our children, fade as reality makes clear what dreams do not. But on this topic? On this one I have not wavered. The word ‘bored’ is not to be uttered in my presence.
Nevermind that our shelves are stacked from floor to ceiling with toys, a sight that causes my eyes to ache almost daily, because oh, the clutter. I don’t even have to point to the plethora of materials at her fingertips, just waiting to be maneuvered and transformed. Because the size of her imagination rivals them all. She knows it. I know it. And she knows I know it. So she rarely tells me that she is bored.
Instead, she’ll occasionally utter, “I don’t know what to do.” Call it a matter of semantics but I’ll take “I don’t know what to do.” over “I’m bored.” any day. Not just because it doesn’t grate on my ears the same way. But because, to me, it conveys something different. “I don’t know what to do” tells me that she knows she has options. She knows there is a whole world of possibilities and, though she stands a mere three feet off the ground, she knows they are all within her reach. She knows that the moment she takes a first step, she’ll be doing something and the minutes will fly by like seconds. She knows there are always things to do. She just can’t choose. Her brain is still forming and she needs help with the planning. “I don’t know what to do.” is a statement I can answer with a reasonably sized list with just a couple of options to make the selection easier. We do a lot of toy-related decision brackets in our living room.
I’m bored, on the other hand is a two-syllable white flag of defeat. It is a declarative statement that opens no doors, requires no response. It conveys to me that she has given no thought about how to fill her time or what she feels called to do and she’d rather that someone just plop an activity into her lap. (And she’d prefer that activity to be watching TV). I’m bored is not a planning problem. It’s a motivation problem. It’s a problem of refusing to engage. It’s a problem because I refuse to do the work for her.
Parenting is, of course, a long game. The trick is to think ahead to what today’s lesson does for tomorrow’s life. What am I teaching her now that will help her years from now when she is working, living, thriving on her own? I’m, admittedly, bad at this, partly because I much prefer to live in the current moment and partly because I don’t want to spend much time thinking about the days when she lives under her own roof. But years from now she will start a new job. She will want to impress her boss who will probably give her scant details and vague instructions and expect her to get started on her own, ignited by a fire she lights. And when that day comes, I want her to have no idea where to find a white flag of defeat. I want her to take a stand, recognize the options in front of her, and engage.
Linking up with Lisa for One-word prompts. I chose ‘Bored.’