Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Sign of a Happy Adulthood

I heard once that the greatest gift you can give a child is boredom.

Dear friends of mine just left from an overnight visit. This family has five children who have mastered the art of play. You can send them out in a yard, and within a few minutes they've devised a game. They also know how to get dirty faster than most children. The mother said to me: “The sign of a happy childhood is dirty children.”

Because this family stayed a part of the morning today, my youngest daughter asked if she could “take the day off” and miss preschool. Well, then, what would we do all day? I wondered what it would look like to not schedule one thing. What if she just got dirty? What would happen if I observed this child, created deliberate boredom, and just sat back and took note? So many other cultures and so many other mothers just let their children be. Could I be one of them?

Left on her own, she jumped rope, rode her bike, picked flowers, sang songs (even ones to God), made a bakery out of sand and grass in pie pans, dipped cookies in milk, and went to her room to check on the status of her window greenhouse. Two days ago, she planted cucumber and green bean seeds. Today, they sprouted. She's amazed by this. Now she's back to running around somewhere. Oh, and she's absolutely filthy. My friend would be proud.

If one of the gifts I give my children is boredom, and the sign of a happy childhood is being dirty, I wonder what great gift I need as an adult. What's the sign of a happy adulthood?

Taking the day off with my daughter, doing nothing but sitting and watching her, feels like flair. No schedule, no stress, no rush. In fact, if you try to rush a child, guess what happens? Tantrums. Tears. And when you try to rush an adult, the inner landscape is no different.

Living with flair (and perhaps the gift I give myself) has something to do with the space for boredom. Even if I have to schedule a space for absolutely nothing, I'm on my way to a more vibrant adulthood. In that bored space, I can let my mind tell me what it needs. My daughter enacted the very rituals that I find I need to feel balance: exercise, time in nature, artistic expression, worship, snacks, and cultivating something. A doctor once told me that a healthy adult needs to know 5 or 6 ways to refresh and relax. The average adult can't think of one—unless it involves watching TV which, ironically, stimulates the brain instead of soothing it. My daughter's bored day—taking the day off—taught me something about living with flair.

I need to enjoy some boredom. There's flair in just sitting. Like those little seeds in the greenhouse window that don't do anything but sit and then bloom in the sitting, I wonder if I could really be still and unscheduled for a day.

I'm wondering if I can go dig up some earth somewhere and get really, really dirty.


Julie said...

Heather -
I stumbled across this post this morning while following links from today's post. I stopped when I got here. You have put into words something I've been grasping at for several months now, the need for boredom in my life as a healthy and healing thing.

Thank you for sharing this piece of insight. Now to figure out how to create it, or create the space for it? I think I need to continue pondering this.


Kar said...

just popped back to this one....such a great post and reminds me of one of my favorite children's book called "Nothing to Do" by Douglas Wood. All about what kids find to do when there's nothing to do.

In the author's note he said something really profound, in that as adults, we are so busy doing, we forget how to just be. And that we are called human beings, not human doings for a reason.