Thursday, June 25, 2009

On Boredom and Parenting

For the record, I don't think James has ever admitted being bored while parenting but here's a column I wrote awhile ago for the Ashland Daily Tidings that I thought might resonate.

On Boredom and Raising Children

By Jennifer Margulis

I got a blithe email from a friend today saying she was having a fantastic time this holiday season with her two children at home on vacation. When I mentioned to another friend who has three kids that I, on the other hand, was going crazy with my munchkins, she looked at me as blankly as if I were speaking Chinese.

“Yeah,” she said, her voice full of faux sympathy, “I had the feeling you were having problems.”

It was clear from her condescending tone that she and her brood were in perfect harmony, that kids in general do not drive one crazy, and that she found it impossible to imagine being in a similar state of frustration and boredom.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way but why is there such a stigma attached to admitting that sometimes parenting leaves you so bored you feel like your brain is drying up? If your experience as a parent is or was all candy cane sweet and apple pie homey, read no further (why would you?) but I am hereby opening the door to my parenting closet and telling this truth: I get bored sometimes (shh, it’s a secret).

“Mommy, let’s play Bad Guys!” My 4-year-old son suggests while his older sisters are at school and we’re spending the day together. Bad Guys is his favorite game. He’s the Bad Guy. I’m the Good Guy. He does bad things. I die. I come back to life. He decides to turn to a life of good and then we are both good guys and we root out the bad guys and … force them to be good (or kill them). That’s the game. My son can play it for hours, in many iterations on the same general theme. My son’s 4- and 5-year-old friends can also play it for hours. I am 38 and I can play it for about five minutes. Then, as I run away from the Bad Guy at my heels, I start picking up toys off the floor, finding that tidying the house is actually a rewarding activity when compared to Bad Guys.

So then we decide to play Chutes and Ladders … for about ten hours. Since Etani’s newly four, he makes up his own rules to this game. His rules involve zooming his piece around the board like a racecar or hopping it over all the squares like a bunny, never going down a chute, and winning, usually all in the first spin. It’s so much fun to play Chutes and Ladders “My Way” and involves so much uproarious giggling—from both of us—that we have to do it over and over.

I’m so bored I find myself noticing there are only two boys on the board who aren’t white, and both of them are doing something naughty. There is one African-American girl planting tomatoes who gets to climb a ladder. Is this game contributing to racist notions in the United States? Why are so many more black women going to college than black men? What am I doing to fight global oppression?

“Mommy!” Etani cries, interrupting the first thought process I’ve had all morning: “Your turn!”

I suggest we go for a walk. He rides his bicycle and I trot beside him. We’re outside, the air is cold and clear, my son is adorable, the sky is blue, I’m grateful to be alive and be with my child. Later a friend tells me she drove by us and I looked like a glowing and proud mother helping poochie on his bicycle. She’s pregnant with her first baby and she just found out it’s a boy.

“Mommy! I know what!” Etani hollers. “Let’s play Bad Guys and I chase you on my bicycle. Okay?”

I don’t tell Abby the whole truth. She’ll find out soon enough.


Marijke Durning said...

oh yeah, I remember those days well. There are only so many tea parties, so many meals you can cook on the toy stove and so many buildings you can build (and knock down).

Sad thing is, as my kids are grown and starting their own adult life, I miss it now and regret not doing it more. Life is so funny, isn't it?

Ruth said...

Jennifer -- This is great -- very funny and right on target. Brings back so many memories. The truth is, I think it's healthier to admit to occasional boredom than to have to constantly paste on the happy face.

Alisa Bowman said...

I don't know about those deliriously happy mothers who want nothing but more time with their kids. I'm with you. Parenting bores me to death. I would gladly pay someone to play hide n seek for me. Same with chutes n ladders. Same with any number of things. I honestly think the i Phone was invented for bored mothers, so we didn't accidentally shoot ourselves while at the playground.