Boredom, imagination, and childhood

daydreaming sockmonkey

daydreaming sockmonkey (Photo credit: Sarabbit)


I read this article about children and imagination and, since one of my goals as a parent is helping my children have the same ability to fill hours with daydreams that I had, it caught my notice. Parents have many reasons for the things we want for our children, and often there’s at least some narcissism where we wish for them to resemble us. In this case–my hope that they can daydream and fantasize as much as I did–it isn’t narcissism; it’s just realizing how much empty time there is in life that we can fill more enjoyably with imagination than with any alternative. It’s also the reason I carry my kindle with me when I expect a long wait. It makes the long wait something to appreciate instead of something to resent or get stressed over, which is a nice quality-of-life improvement in a world that sometimes involves a lot of waiting. Daydreaming was helpful in filling the long empty summer hours of my childhood. Unfortunately, double-edged-swordlike, it also filled more elementary school hours than it should have, was a very effective form of procrastination in later school years, and helped me terrify myself with horrible possibilities whenever I was left home alone at night and saw a shadow outside or whenever someone was ten minutes late picking me up from school. I’d like to spare my children the nightmares I gave myself imagining axe murderers outside my window, but I think it’s a price worth paying for having a nice fantasy life. This article refers to studies that suggest that having such a fantasy life is actually even more useful than I expected in that it apparently encourages people to plan better for the future and show more responsible, delayed-gratification behaviors now. Who knew? All the more reason I hope to encourage their imaginations. (Plus, I actually know the psychologist they cite, though he probably doesn’t remember me, which makes me feel in-the-know and connected in a way I rarely experience!)


Encouraging kids’ imaginations is tougher than wanting it, though, and I often wonder how well I’m doing. As with curiosity and a wish to learn, I think one of the biggest things a parent can do for imagination is to just get out of the way. Kids are curious and imaginative without any encouragement. The question is how to get them to stay that way. That’s not to say that they can’t be encouraged to even more creativity, but I think if I can manage to avoid damaging their curiosity and creativity and love of learning, then I’ve done them more good than any games or tricks could do. And one of the main ways I get out of the way and let them be creative is by letting them be bored. Bored kids can be a real challenge to a parent’s peace of mind. They bicker with each other. They bicker with us. They make messes and go through closets and raid the kitchen and whine and do all sorts of things that can be irritating to parents, and so it’s very tempting to fill their days so they won’t drive us bonkers. I certainly don’t think we parents should just leave them home with nothing to do and nowhere to go and no one to play with and think we’re doing them a big favor. I’m not advocating for doing nothing all the time, just for doing nothing some of the time. They’re out of school for the summer, and I don’t have them in summer camp because I think it’s good for them to have unstructured time when they don’t have entertainment handed to them pre-planned by adults, when they have to think of what to do and who to do it with and how to do it. Maybe it won’t help them at all and I’m just giving them long hours of boredom, but I hope that I’m giving them practice at motivating themselves, entertaining themselves, and planning for themselves.


Did you have an overactive imagination in childhood too? What made you daydream then? What about now? Do you think boredom helps? How do you encourage your kids’ creativity? Do you think they’re better off being scheduled and stimulated or left to their own devices or somewhere in between?


No time to daydream? Why imagination is still key for kids –


In defense of helicopter parents

It’s all the rage these days to vilify helicopter parents. They annoy colleges and high schools and elementary schools and coaches and principals and teachers and college admission officers. They handicap their children by hovering and preventing them from having freedom or responsibility or new experiences or failure. They make all the other parents irrationally defensive as we try explaining why we aren’t bad parents if we let our kids walk to the library  alone or have a fight with a friend without our intervening with suggested solutions or send in a college essay on a topic of their own choosing. We’ve all heard the outrageous helicopter parent stories. I read an article last week about how American parents are all overprotective. None of us let our children ride their bikes or go to the store or use a knife or pour their own drinks, while parents everywhere else do, and so our children are growing up to be infantile, helpless followers with low self-esteem. Or so this article claims. I let my children do those things, and I’m American, so the article can’t be completely right, but I get the point.

I agree that it’s unhealthy for parents to be overprotective or too intrusive into their children’s lives and that helicopter parents ARE overprotective and too intrusive. If ever a helicopter parent there was, my  mother-in-law is one because…Her youngest child is now 29, and as far as I know, my husband is the only one of the four who has actually bought his own car, and then, only because I told him to tell her to leave us alone. She calls to remind us to write thank-you notes. She sent me an article about frostbite when she thought my oldest son was underdressed for the cold, and she has lectured me on various health issues in complete disregard of the fact that I’m a DOCTOR!  She cannot be in my house without taking over the parenting of both my kids and my husband and me, and she cannot remember to knock before entering my house. For heaven’s sake, when my husband thought he might have a problem with grinding his teeth, she spoke to her dentist about it and then called us with potential appointment times for him the see her dentist. The important thing is that she means well. She isn’t trying to control. She isn’t trying to intrude. She just wants to help, and what makes her happy is working on behalf of her children. She has hovered over all four of them, and they have all turned out to be happy, healthy, productive people with healthy, supportive relationships, good jobs that they enjoy and find fulfilling, and nurtured and loved children. All her children have grown into the kind of adults that parents hope their children will be. She didn’t ruin them, contrary to all the dire predictions in the helicopter-parent hate literature. Is she too intrusive? Yes, except when they tell her to mind her own business. Does she do things for them that any normal adult should do for themselves? Yes, except when they tell her not to. She means well. She loves her children. She has to be reminded to give them space, but she does it when she’s reminded. There are worse things in a parent than caring too much. There are worse things than doing too much for your children, protecting them too much from pain and illness and cruel people. There are worse things than taking too much interest in their lives and their friends and their education. It’s all the rage to vilify helicopter parents. How about accepting their good intentions while trying to convince them to ease the iron grip on their children’s lives and vilifying the parents who just don’t care?

The Free Parent’s Manifesto


School has changed a lot since I was a kid, and I think most of the changes have been for the better. For one thing, my kids don’t fear their teachers the way I feared mine. There seems to be more emphasis on kindness and age-appropriate expectations than there was, so the teachers seem more willing to work with the kids’ needs rather than punishing the kids for such things as needing a chance to get up and move around once in a while or needing to go to the bathroom. My kids can have water bottles at their desks so they can actually drink during the day, while we had to beg and grovel for a minute at the water fountain, only to have the teacher claim that we weren’t really thirsty and just wanted to get out of the room. My kids have three recesses each day, which is two more than we had and which means that they never have more than two hours at a stretch during which they’re expected to sit still and silent, and as far as I can tell, kids aren’t allowed to torment each other during recess, which is another welcome change. The school has an official anti-bullying policy and procedure in case of complaints, which certainly wasn’t the case when I was in school and bullying was considered part of the educational environment. The teachers now seem to actually like kids, while the teachers then seemed to think kids were a necessary evil (I’ll grant that impression might have more to do with my being adult now or with this particular school compared to the particular school I was in, rather than any actual change in the type of person who becomes a teacher. Then again, it might not, since women now have more stigma-free career options than the women in my teachers’ generation, who really didn’t have many other choices whether they liked kids or not–but that’s another subject). All that seems unchanged is that many gym teachers are still bullies who obviously like the athletes and dislike the rest of the class.

What I really wish hadn’t changed is parties. We have a beginning of the year picnic and party. There’s a party before winter break. There’s an end of the year party. There are parties for various milestones during the year, when the class completes any big unit or project, usually two or three per class per year for these. I love going to the school and seeing my kids’ classrooms. I love seeing their artwork on the walls or seeing the play they put on to dramatize the part of history they just studied. I appreciate the school’s efforts to include the parents, to encourage the kids to have a good attitude about school, and to incorporate more interesting ways of learning and reviewing than just tests and papers, such as plays and field trips and themed art galleries. I would have no problem with all these parties IF WE DIDN’T HAVE TO BRING REFRESHMENTS.

But we do. Every time I turn around, we’re divvying up supplies to be provided by each parent in the class. This person brings the plastic tablecloth. This one brings plates and napkins. I bring juice or pretzels or fruit or cups or whatever hasn’t been claimed by the time I actually see the email. I’m always the last one to see the email, I think, because I’m the only one (or so it seems) who doesn’t check email at least once an hour. I don’t want to make another trip to the store to buy pretzels or paper plates for 40 people. Why can’t we start the year or finish the year or finish the unit or look at the kids’ projects without ANOTHER party full of junk food and garbage? Why can’t I just eat a snack before I come? The parties never last more than 30 minutes anyway. Honestly, is it so difficult for everyone to go 30 minutes without a snack and a drink? I don’t mind that we have to get flowers for all the teachers and give teacher gifts at least twice a year, at the end of the first semester and at the end of the year. I’ll grant that I think it’s silly that it’s so compulsory that it’s hardly a gift anymore, and I’ll grant to still being annoyed that when I brought the flowers for the first grade teachers before winter break, the “room mother” commented that I’d left the price tag on them (I looked and looked but didn’t see the tag. She glanced once and saw it!). But the teachers work hard, and they deserve the attention. But I DO mind having to buy food for everyone when we’re a couple miles from our own perfectly-well-stocked kitchens and had lunch two hours ago. I do mind having to show up twenty minutes early to set up, when coming to the party in the first place involves waking my two-year-old from his nap and getting there early involves basically not letting him nap at all. I’m sure the room mothers (I’ve been one several times, but I never drafted the whole class into potluck entertaining) think the refreshments add to the festive atmosphere. I think they add to my list of errands and significantly diminish my enjoyment. I could not volunteer to bring anything, but of course, the list of necessary supplies is always exactly calculated to equal the number of families so each family brings one thing, which means that not bringing something would make me a deadbeat.

I’m not a deadbeat. I volunteer extensively to help my kids’ classes. I drive on every field trip. I run errands for the teachers. I pick up supplies they need for actual schooling, and when I’ve bought supplies for the school, I’ve never asked them to reimburse me and have considered the expense a donation. When one of the teachers needed to leave the school and find another job, I wrote her a letter of recommendation, and when circumstances changed and she didn’t need to leave after all, I was genuinely happy for her, for the school to be keeping her, and for my younger children who might still have her for a teacher. But I don’t want to buy pretzels for the class. I just bought snacks for girl scouts two weeks ago when I substituted at the last minute as the parent volunteer (voluntarily, I might add). I have to buy snacks for a community youth group in two weeks. The parent draft boards assume that if they require each parent to contribute on a rotating schedule–all families must volunteer to help at least x times per year–no one is being overburdened. But we ARE overburdened because there are so many groups and so many parties and we apparently can’t figure out how to be happy or celebratory or just plain friendly without potato chips and disposable dishes and a requirement for the parents to provide these things. I’d pay an upfront fee to cover the cost of refreshments if it would spare me yet another last minute trip to Party City for plastic tablecloths and yet another reply-all email conversation to divvy up the duties.

I don’t remember snacks at every activity when I was a child because WE DIDN’T HAVE THEM! And you know what? We survived. I am not scarred by the lack of juice I suffered on the last day of first grade. I also don’t remember parent volunteers at everything. I know with absolute certainty that my parents were never field trip drivers, group leaders, girl scout chaperones, or room parents. And you know what? Even without drafting all the parents into “volunteering” for these activities, they still happened because the parents who were interested enough in each activity volunteered, and when they did it, it was really volunteering and they didn’t mind doing more for that activity than the other parents. I know, because I’m that kind of volunteer on several fronts. I don’t mind in the least that I’m working harder on those things than other people are, partly because it’s truly voluntary and partly because I care about those things. I don’t care AT ALL about popcorn at the end of the year party. And I DO resent it.

The school recently announced that next year they would require all families to provide 20 hours of volunteer service. What’s wrong here? You can’t require volunteerism. I have definitely done more than twenty hours of work for the school this year, but I resent that requirement. I don’t tally up the time I’ve spent helping out, and I don’t want to have to. I don’t want to have to track it and make sure I’m staying on course. I don’t want to compete with other parents for the good jobs like going on a field trip rather than the bad jobs like–I don’t know–weeding the garden. And I don’t mind if I give more effort to the school than some other families whose parents both work. They have less time to give and more things to give, and that’s fine with me. They can provide new sports equipment while I provide transportation for a field trip. It works out nicely with little resentment until you start measuring contributions only in hours spent and requiring “volunteer service.”

It’s time for us to call off the conscription of parents by other parents. If there aren’t enough volunteers to run an activity, then the activity should die; it’s not carrying its own weight in our lives. If there aren’t enough volunteers to organize five big parties per class per year, then we need fewer parties or we need them to be simpler. The point of girl scouts is girl scouts. The point of youth activities is the activity. The point of the end of the unit and end of the year parties is to celebrate the kids and what they’ve learned. I can do that without any crackers in my mouth or cheese squares on my plate. So can everyone else.

Vacation shmacation

English: Pensacola Beach, FL, June 12, 2005 --...

English: Pensacola Beach, FL, June 12, 2005 — Empty orange bucket in the sand at the beach suggesting vacation or leisure time. Fema Photo/Leif Skoogfors (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I recently read an article about the benefits of vacations. In addition to the obvious things like relaxation, a break from work and chores, family time, leisure time, and seeing new places and trying new things, there are health benefits such as lower blood pressure and lower incidence of heart disease among people who vacation annually. The article I read didn’t actually cite the study that found these benefits, so I don’t know if they determined somehow that these health benefits were larger than we’d get from merely having ample leisure time and recreation at home. Whatever the case, between the health benefits and the psychological ones (which aren’t exactly unrelated!), going on vacation seems an attractive prospect.


So why am I dreading our annual beach trip?


Well, since you asked–
I have the good fortune to have grown up in a vacation destination. It’s a resort area, and my father still lives there. He can’t be bothered to get on a plane and fly to see me, nor can he bear to see his grandchildren only rarely without passionate, frequent, and loud complaint, so we load up our clan into our van and make a day-long drive to see him every summer, and we call it a vacation. It IS a vacation, technically, since the kids are out of school and my husband is off from work and I have an excuse to make easy, lazy meals that are less nutritious but easier to prepare than what I make at home. We have more time to spend playing in the water and playing games with each other. Truth be told, for all my annual angst, I always enjoy the trip because I really love the beach and because it’s a vacation.


My relationship with my father is–shall we say–strained, largely because he has never been remotely kind or respectful or welcoming of my husband, has never held back in telling me, my husband, and anyone else who will listen or happens to be within earshot what he thinks of us, and disapproves of every decision I’ve made in my adult life. My relationship with his wife, while cordial at the moment, is one I’d break in a heartbeat to free myself from her nearly psychotic delusions of importance, insult, and grievance if I could only do so without ruining what’s left of my relationship with him. Right now, she claims to love me and have a complete life only because I’m willing to let her be part of mine. Two months ago, she was sending me frequent, unprovoked, belligerent emails and text messages, lying to me about things my brother said about me, and lying to my father about things I said to her. He claims it was all a misunderstanding. I think it was a drama queen perfecting her craft. And in just a few short weeks, I get to immerse myself in the drama and see how I can manage it, with nothing but my entire future relationship with my father hanging in the balance. Based on how I get along–or don’t–with my dad, you’d think I wouldn’t really care to put up with her for his sake. But I do. Because he’s my dad. And the burden of being someone’s child is that you always care what they think of you, and you always want to win their approval or their affection. And he does that thing that mean people do where he’s horrible, and then he’s nice, and how do you walk away while he’s being nice? I mean, he hasn’t done anything, right? So if I give up on him when he’s behaving well, then I’m the source of the breach, not him. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s how it feels. It’s amazing how much power people have over us when we care about them, and it’s amazing how resilient that caring is.


So, I have to let my kids’ enthusiasm for the trip suffice for the whole family. And really, it does, because they think this is just a big fun trip to a giant-sized water park and sandbox. And when I see their enthusiasm, I can’t let my own dread overshadow it. So we’ll go to the beach, and I’ll smile and nod and pretend that I want to be there and wonder if it even counts as a vacation. Maybe I can think of it as a summer drama camp for adults like the ones they have for kids. I’ll give it a try.




What are the Benefits of Taking a Vacation?


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