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Shuffleboard, anyone?

July 28, 2009

This is the one and only week in which we have absolutely no programming. Summer camps are over for the summer. And while tackle football started yesterday, AJ has decided to take a year off. He’s playing flag football in a neighboring town instead, but they don’t start for another week or two.

AJ is not good at no programming. He’s constantly moaning about how there’s nothing to do. His default reaction is that he wants to watch TV or play video games. If that isn’t allowed (it’s usually not, unless it’s raining or someone is ill), he wants to play with a friend. He is almost desperate not to be left to his own devices. I find this deplorable. I don’t understand it and it makes me impatient, even angry. This kid who used to be interesting and interested has become lazy and witless. I know this is an unreasonable reaction, but it is a state of mind I fundamentally do not understand. This kid has been dying, DYING for unprogrammed time. Why can’t he make use of it? Keep your own damn self busy, boy! Do I look like the cruise director? Don’t answer that.

And so we’ve instituted some alone time for AJ, during which he has to find something to do that does not involve others’ involvement. He can read for some of the time — and he usually does. But he also needs to come up with something else. The penalty for saying, “but there’s nothing to do!” is that I get to decide what he does. If I decide, the project usually involves cleaning his room or other chores. He’s getting better at it, amazingly enough. Kind of a pity, though. I was enjoying some help with the housework.

I spent most of my summers when I was about his age near the top of a spruce tree with a book or two or nine. The tree grew across the street from my house, on the strip of easement land between Jeni and Isabel’s houses. Jeni and Isabel were a grade ahead of me. Jeni was a good friend when Isabel wasn’t around. Our parents were close friends (still are). Isabel didn’t take much notice of me when Jeni wasn’t around, although I was very interested in her because she seemed so elegant and glamorous. You know, for a fourth grader. But when Jeni and Isabel were together, I did better to make myself scarce, for I often ended up on the wrong end of their jokes.

I went to the library every couple of days in the summer, checking out anything that seemed interesting. I’d haul the books up the tree with me — the branches were perfectly placed for climbing and the heavy needles provided all the shade I needed from the summer heat. Sometimes I carried an apple up too, holding it with my teeth for later eating while leaving my hands free for books and climbing. I sat on a branch and leaned my back against the trunk. My mother groused at me about the state of my clothes, which were always smeared with irremovable sap. But I didn’t care much about that. It was the perfect way to spend a day.

If I wasn’t reading, I was probably at work on some project or another of my own devising. Or maybe I was at the town beach. I loved the beach in the winter, but it made me nervous in the summer. I wasn’t comfortable around all those kids from school with whom I didn’t get along so well and I was nervous about my swimming. But we usually set up our towels under a tree toward the parking lot and pretended to tan and cooled off in the water when we needed to. If we were lucky, we’d get to walk to the Snack Shack, which always smelled like French fries and coconut sun tan lotion, and buy ice cream.

What I didn’t do is sit around the house moaning about there being nothing to do. At least, I don’t think so. I’ll have to interview my mother for proper verification. But I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have gotten away with it. It was always very clear in our house that boredom was your own damn fault. If you didn’t want to be bored, then you should do something about it.

And I still feel that way. I’m hoping enough boredom will drive AJ to do something really interesting. But for now, he’s given up and moved on out to ring the doorbell of the boy across the street. I’m almost hoping he’s not home. I want to see what happens next.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. freshhell permalink
    July 28, 2009 10:48 am

    I think what you have is an extrovert on your hands. They really don’t know what to do with themselves alone. Dusty is very much like this and I too puzzled over why until I realized it’s a personality difference. I was much like you as a kid – introverted, loved being alone, could almost always find something to do,etc. I could sit and do nothing but read books for DAYS and never tire of it. Dusty needs friends, someone to play with. She doesn’t like it when she says she’s bored and I tell her to read. She needs activity, things to do (and I also veto the computer; the tv actually rarely occurs to her as an option) which is why I put her in the daycare camp this summer despite the expense because, if nothing else, she gets friends to be with, stuff to do, and swimming. If she’s bored beyond that, too damn bad.

    Red on the other hand is an introvert and, like me, when sent to her room can happily occupy herself for long stretches. It’s not really a punishment. Almost a reward for bad behavior.

  2. crankygirl permalink
    July 28, 2009 11:36 am

    I wish I had a day off. I’d either be reading, sleeping or swimming at the local pool. Ok, I might be watching tv. Either way, better than sitting at my desk at work.

  3. July 28, 2009 12:49 pm

    Your lovely ironic title makes me think of Joe’s comment on my recent post about identifying with a generation–“these kids today…”
    Enjoy unprogrammed time while you can. As your kids get older, it goes away. High school activities have ALREADY BEGUN here.

  4. July 29, 2009 11:24 am

    Yes, you whined too and I don’t even have to ask your mother.

    I’m guessing this transition to free time will be short and AJ will remember what he used to do before life got hectic. In a week he’ll be “busy” when you ask him to come to dinner and you’ll wish he had more “free” time. I’m emailing you my List Of Things To Do When Bored that I keep on the fridge all summer.

  5. July 29, 2009 11:49 am

    Your list is a great idea, Jill, and it reminded me of something we used to do here when AJ was in preschool. Back then, AJ was in love with school, which was still something of a novelty. So we made up 3×5 cards for each subject (reading, math, social studies, science, art, music gym, recess, nap, snack, lunch) When AJ wanted to plan his day, he’d pull out the cards and arrange them in order. For each subject, we had a card or series of cards with lists of activities on them. He’d pick one for each subject and that’s what we would do that day.

    These days, I think I’d need to have him make his own list, but I like the idea of breaking it down into categories of things he can do himself vs. things he needs a parent’s help with vs. things that require going somewhere. Thanks!

    Jeanne–alread? When does school start?

    Cranky, we just don’t appreciate summer vacation until we don’t get one anymore.

  6. July 29, 2009 1:53 pm

    School starts here on Aug. 21. Eleanor had band sectional rehearsal yesterday and starts band camp next week. Walker starts mandatory soccer practice for the high school team next week.

    Today was a day I had painstakingly kept everyone from scheduling anything on (aside from tonight’s driver’s ed for Eleanor). We were going to go to the lake with Lemming and her daughters. But alas, it poured rain all day. We went to the Indian/Greek restaurant that Ron likes to call the “Alexander the Great” restaurant instead. And then they went to the post office and we came home to watch Dr. Who episodes they’d lent us.

  7. July 29, 2009 6:26 pm

    We did not complain about being bored when I was growing up. If we did and my mom heard us, she would find a chore to be done. There were always chores, especially the hated laundry folding.

  8. readersguide permalink
    July 29, 2009 8:11 pm

    I think it always takes about a week or so to get used to having unprogrammed time. When you’re not used to it, you almost don’t know how to use it. It takes a while to get the pacing, I think. Or that’s how it was for my kids, and even is for me, I think.

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