In praise of boredomBARBARA KAY
Boredom never hurt any healthy, well-educated child. In fact, recurrent patches of it should be regarded not only as a desirable component of a normal childhood, but arguably the best possible spur to elite literacy.
No sooner after clicking in her seat belt and turning the ignition key did I hear the familiar sound of a peppy Backyardigans tune from the back seat. The little tyke is quite expert with the built-in DVD player and can shuffle all her favourites with no adult assistance.
"Pumpkin," I chirped (in an assiduously cultivated non-judgmental tone I reserve only for grandchildren), "do you really need to watch a DVD? We'll be home very soon, you know." She just as sweetly chirped back, "When grown-ups say 'very soon', it is a long time for children."
I'm not sorry I had them installed. On extended trips they are a godsend, and since I often ride shotgun on five-and six-hour trips with my daughter and the kids – Montreal to Toronto and Maine – I'm a grateful beneficiary of the automotive peace these miracles of modern technology furnish.
When I was a child, I remember vast swathes of boredom as a stoically endured part of life: In cars and at cottages, on days too rainy or cold to play outside, and especially in sickbeds.
The only known antidotes to situational boredom in my generation were books and radio. I wasn't a radio type. So for me it was comic books, then books, with no distractions for full days at a time: no email, texts, Facebook, no social connectivity of any kind.
Boredom never hurt any healthy, well-educated child. In fact, recurrent patches of it should be regarded not only as a desirable component of a normal childhood, but arguably the best possible spur to elite literacy. Many successful writers formed in a pre-digital era – George Orwell and Christopher Hitchens spring to mind – credit childhoods spent largely alone, surrounded by great piles of books, for their love of the written word.
So will my grandchildren be readers? They have no idea what real boredom is. When not in school, structured activities or arranged play dates, they are hovered over by nannies, who patiently play with them to their little hearts' content, which my at home mom friends and I never did with ours. After nanny leaves and on weekends, their working parents feel that it's only fair to devote every precious free hour to their kids, or at least make sure they are otherwise "stimulated." A child's boredom looks a lot like a negative performance review.
Thus, in cars it is the DVD; in restaurants it is a big backpack stuffed with art supplies, dolls, toys and of course an iPod Touch for games and movies. At times, dining out with the whole brood along, my husband and I feel like mealtime visitors at a daycare centre.
I send my grandchildren new books every month. They are eagerly received, I am told. But apart from bedtime, it is rare for one of them to ask me to read to them, something I long to do, since "playing" with children – well, frankly, just as it did when I was a parent of young children, bores me to tears. Which is why, when my children would interrupt my own reading to tell me they were bored, I would reluctantly promise, "I'll play with you very soon. Just wait 'til I finish reading this chapter."
By that time – very soon for grown-ups is a long time for children, you know – they'd picked up a book of their own.
Barbara Kay "In praise of boredom." National Post, (Canada) 14 July, 2010.
Reprinted with permission of the author, Barbara Kay, and the National Post.
Barbara Kay is a Montreal-based writer. She has been a Comment page columnist (Wednesdays) in the National Post since September, 2003. She may be reached here.
Copyright © 2010 National Post
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