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?

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?


Why I hate mother’s day


I hate Mother’s Day. I hate anniversaries. I hate birthdays too (mine at least). No, I’m not a horribly negative hateful miserable person. I actually LOVE the little homemade cards and gifts and pictures my kids give me for Mother’s Day and for my birthday. I love all the sweet fawning and hugs. What I hate is the pressure.

On my birthday two years ago, my oldest son fell off his bike and needed stitches. On my last birthday, my youngest son dislocated his forearm and had to make a trip to the ER. On my husband’s last birthday, I don’t remember what happened, but I do remember his telling me later that it was a horrible day. All three were worse because they were birthdays. My oldest son recently turned ten, and he ended his day crying at the dinner table because he got in minor trouble at school and was scolded by his favorite teacher, and on his birthday it was too hard to take. On any other day, it wouldn’t have bothered him. I wouldn’t have been happy that he needed stitches or that my youngest dislocated his arm, even if neither accident had been on my birthday, but I sure wouldn’t remember those accidents as well as I do if I hadn’t noted the irony of spending my birthday in the ER with an injured child.

All I wanted for Mother’s Day was a sunny day and a peaceful family. What I got was a sunny day (hooray) and a spectacular fight with my husband about, of all things, where to put a basketball net in our yard. There was a lot more to the argument than just a basketball net, of course, as there always is when a small disagreement becomes a big argument. And while we haven’t resolved the question at hand, we have resolved the underlying issues that led to the fight in the first place. So I guess I could consider that argument a success. But my eyes are still burning from crying, and I  remember my daughter trying to convince us that we shouldn’t argue on Mother’s Day, and I will never forget feeling that I wasn’t particularly deserving of a day in my honor today.

We all have bad days. We all argue with our spouses or upset our children or set poor examples sometimes. Maybe it’s good for it to happen on a day that makes it memorable, so we can learn from our mistakes better than we would on just any old day. But somehow the pressure to make the day special seems to make it more likely to be bad, and I’d rather have my good days and have my bad days and take them for what they are–just good days and bad days–instead of making one day represent all I mean to my family and all they mean to me.

I’m glad my husband and I ignore Valentine’s Day. I’m glad we don’t make a big deal about our anniversary. And boy am I dreading Father’s Day.


I hate the flu


I hate the flu. I doubt I’m unique. In the past week and a half, four of my six family members have had the flu, including lucky me. No mother wishes her children sick instead of herself. We would always bear any suffering if we could spare our children from it. But, the fact is that, when kids are sick, they can lie around and rest, and we can fret over them and give them their medicine and their drinks and take care of them as much as they need. When the parents are sick, the kids don’t suddenly feed themselves and dress themselves and drive themselves to school, and the parents don’t get to rest and recuperate to our hearts’ content. Especially when we have three sick children. My two youngest children spent three days last week in their pajamas. At bedtime each night, I changed them into clean pajamas, but I never bothered to actually dress them in the morning for those three days, because I knew we weren’t going anywhere and I felt like crap. Thank God, my husband was one of the two people spared the virus, and he carried quite a load all week, doing all the things we normally do together while carefully keeping himself and our four-year-old out of cough range. He missed work for three days to pick up my slack before I was finally functional enough for him to go back. I was still sick, but at least I wasn’t in bed under a down comforter shivering so hard he could hear my teeth chatter.


My dad is very vocal in his opinion that his secretary and just about everyone else he works with is lazy. Given the opportunity, he will go on for hours about how no one cares about their work anymore. We’re all lazy bums expecting everything to be handed to us. He works SO hard, and others apparently don’t, and his evidence is that his secretary calls in sick often and he never does. Certainly, there are lazy people with an overblown sense of entitlement who will call in sick for no good reason. But while I was sick last week, I couldn’t think straight. I tried making a grocery list for my husband, but I couldn’t concentrate. I spent hours lying in bed with a book and magazine beside me, neither of which I ever opened because I felt too bad, my hands were shaking too hard, and I was thinking through such a haze that I couldn’t have made sense of anything I’d read. I couldn’t possibly have gone to work (if I, you know, had a job), and if I worked and a coworker came in as sick as I was, I’d be furious at the blatant disregard of everyone else’s health.  My husband missed three days of work not because he was sick but because he was needed at home, and he really WAS needed. It wasn’t laziness or entitlement that made him stay home. One of my neighbors recently praised his father on his retirement for never calling in sick. Apparently, that’s a common feature in our parents’ generation. It’s admirable never to have called in sick falsely, but there are plenty of hard-working, conscientious people in the world who have the misfortune to get the flu on occasion. Or to be related to someone who did. Or to have a child with a fever or pinkeye that keeps him out of school. Life happens, and we aren’t missing work on a whim.  There’s more to being a good person than going to work every day.


An Accomplished Woman

My kids are better than I am. I don’t mean they’re better looking, cuter, smarter, more fun, funnier, nicer, or just generally better, though they are all those things. They’re more efficient. Here’s my proof.

What I’ve accomplished in the past few days- aside from the essentials like grocery shopping, meal prep, cleanup, and driving to and from school.

  1. Place scholastic book club order
  2. Write this post (though, I should note, I don’t have time to finish it today, so it won’t be published until days after I’m writing it- does it still count as an accomplishment?)
  3. Waste obscenely large amounts of time trying to do worthwhile things and failing

I would list taking my kids to the park as a success except

  1. it’s really one of the essentials I’ve excluded from the list. Taking them outside to play on a playground should be a given, not an accomplishment.
  2. it ended with a broken arm.

What I have NOT accomplished

  1. Two failed attempts to place said scholastic book club order online before calling customer service for help. Silly me, I was using the wrong browser.
  2. One read-aloud e-book purchase for my six-year-old, only to discover that this e-book doesn’t have the read-aloud feature, which was the ONLY reason I was buying it instead of borrowing the book from the library
  3. Failed search for a deleted e-mail from my oldest son’s teacher. My e-mail program is set on an overly enthusiastic empty-trash schedule, so all the previous deleted messages, including the one I needed, are gone. This wouldn’t be a problem if the school sent their messages to the e-mail address I TOLD them to use–once on paper and twice by phone–instead of the one I have told them not to use, but I’m afraid to correct them again, lest I have to add that attempt to my list of failures.
  4. Fail to download songs for my toddler to a toy that’s supposed to support these downloads but doesn’t
  5. Failed search all over the house for the toy money that goes with the toy cash register
  6. Failed search for one kindle
  7. Make a lot of ready-to-do activities and projects for my two youngest children. Okay, I did accomplish that–I actually made the games and activities–but they don’t want to do them, so it counts as a fail.

By contrast, here’s what my kids have accomplished

  1. Break two bones
  2. Erase my dry-erase calendar for this month
  3. Make several picture books which they sold to my husband (pushover) for $1 each
  4. Glue advertisements for their books and their bookstore to my kitchen cabinets. Glue, not tape. They used tape to make the books and glue to hang the posters. Why?
  5. Spoil one batch of rice by opening the rice cooker before it was done
  6. Tear twenty pages out of one book
  7. Distribute one rock collection throughout one room
  8. Lose one kindle
  9. Extract one box from the garbage three times, each time scolding me not to throw it away
  10.  Empty all the clothes out of one closet and two dressers three times
  11. Steal an iPad and watch cartoons on Netflix behind my back three time for a total of two hours

See how much more effective my children are than I am? Where was I while they were doing all this stuff? I’m not sure. I was probably putting clothes back in the closet, or trying to salvage dinner, or on the phone with customer support.

I think I should start counting those bare essentials–feeding everyone, keeping them all reasonably safe (broken bones aside), taking them to the park, driving to and from school, reading to them, playing with them, cleaning up after them, arguing with them to get them to clean up after themselves, intervening in fights, watching tricks, listening to stories, answering questions, hugging and kissing and cuddling and bathing and dressing and generally adoring them. When I think of it that way, I don’t feel like such a failure. Maybe that’s a lesson we parents must learn.

Life is a circus

I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck. Or one cast at least a glancing blow. Why, you ask (or maybe you don’t).

Circus: vuurspuger (1)

Circus: vuurspuger (1) (Photo credit: doenietzomoeilijk)

Yesterday, I made dinner! Most of the family even ate it, except my six-year-old, who never eats anyway. I watched my children do their new tricks! Look, they can jump off the top of the slide! Look, they can jump off the top of the fence! I kept my four-year-old from falling off a teetering three-legged patio table he was using as a stepping stool to climb over the fence into the neighbor’s yard! (FYI, tables really need four legs.) I explained meanings of words I wrote to my hovering nine-year-old while trying to convince him to stop standing over my shoulder. I woke up in the night to find my husband replaced by that same six-year-old, whom I like to call “the kicker.” Want to guess why?

I forced myself to run this morning, and when I returned, the children swarmed me, needing tape, needing someone to sign their homework, needing chocolate milk, needing a diaper change, needing a sketch book for school by tomorrow. You would think their father was invisible, given how many needs they stored up for me. My four-year-old has already has his first crying jag of the day, because I wouldn’t buy him a new toy car at CVS, where I had stopped to buy the urgently-needed sketch pad because I was too lazy to drive all the way to Target. He insisted that he doesn’t like “anything in the universe,” because I wouldn’t buy a $6 toy police car. Now, I plan to spend a luxurious few minutes letting the two children who are still at home now wreak havoc while I have some more coffee. Maybe I’ll even try to write a little. I can barely think in complete sentences. It’s lucky for me that complete sentences are optional.

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