At a meeting around my dining room table last night, a few parents mentioned that their daughters were bored in Girl Scouts, and the implication was that this might lead to them dropping out of the troop.
Bored is one of those trigger words for me–I get up on my mental soapbox, and start delivering a lecture on the many meanings of the word and how we should and shouldn’t respond when we hear it. Not only does it come from my nostalgia about childhood, and how back in the day, we were never bored–because I know that can’t be true. There were times when my club meetings didn’t provide enough entertainment. They often took place in the crawl spaces under the garden apartments in Whitestone, Queens, with suds coming in from the leaking washing machine above, and lights flickering from a Sabbath candle on an orange crate.
In my years as an elementary school teacher, bored kids were accustomed to having grown-ups fix the things in their lives that weren’t easy.
Sometimes things that weren’t easy meant work that was too challenging, bored as in: “This is hard, I’m frustrated, and I can’t deal with frustration.” Sometimes bored meant, “Help me.”
As a teacher, reading between the lines meant conveying strategies for how to untangle a process into manageable steps for an overwhelmed student. But the bored that was uttered by the gifted student was the cry of passive aggressiveness, with an undertone to the grown-ups of You figure out how to entertain me, or else!
So, here’s my schtick about boredom: Boredom is disengagement. Being aware of your own disengagement is a powerful thing. It poses all kinds of interesting questions. Do you need to feel engaged every second? What can you do if you want to feel connected? These are intellectual, creative and social challenges that kids can get tremendous satisfaction from by figuring it out on their own. If my daughter says she’s bored, I say, “Great.” It’s the start of a conversation.
Sometimes we forget that by playing back our kids’ statements as first person questions, we are providing a bridge for them to use their own resources: “What do I do when I’m bored?” “I read, I take a walk, I find someone to talk to.” The things we do haven’t changed that much since I was a kid, not really. An artist friend says she needs the emptiness of boredom before she creates a painting.
If you had a grandmother who spoke Yiddish, she may have had this answer to calls of boredom: “Gai shlog dein kup en vant!” This translates to, “Go knock your head against the wall!”
In other words, boredom is your problem, kiddo.
Entry by Ellen Kahaner, a writer in South Orange
Photo by AliceNWondrlnd