Boredom – the universal dilemma of summer
by Gary Huerta
It’s that time of year. The season when hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of kids around this country of ours utter two words that terrify parents.
If my calculations are correct, the initial onslaught of this phrase has already begun to trickle out of children’s mouths with mind-numbing regularity. And as much as we parents try to find activities like summer day camp, music lessons and our 15th trip to the zoo, we’re helpless to stop these two words from torturing us from now until Labor Day.
Of course, the Fourth of July provides a brief respite, especially if you live in an area where “safe and sane” fireworks are legal. Nothing thrills the progeny of America more than the opportunity to blow shit up under the supervision of drunk, inattentive adults. That said, strapping numerous roman candles and sparklers together and lighting them simultaneously only occupies offspring for a few days, or until the gunpowder supplies are exhausted. Once the bright and shiny objects are nothing more than a cloud of smoke, the onslaught begins anew.
It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard. Kryptonite. The ultimate thorn in the side.
To those of us with insanely busy lives, boredom seems like the ultimate luxury. Every day as I head down the freeway towards the mayhem and madness of my day job, I think of how glorious it would be to bask in the luxury of boredom. To wake up and not know exactly what to do with my day…or the next…for an entire summer! I sometimes picture myself on an empty beach with a stack of good books, a Camelback filled with margaritas and no cell phone reception. I’d get up at my leisure, stumble down to the shoreline and let the incoming tide wet my toes. Or maybe I’d just sit and think about stumbling down to the shoreline for a while longer.
Slurp. Glug. Zzz.
Ah, boredom. Of course, to achieve this state of nothingness, I’d need a clone to go to my Fortune 100 job so that my paychecks will continue to arrive. I will also require someone to do my laundry, pay my bills, clean my house, watch my kids, and feed my turtle so I can preoccupy myself with the rigors of slacking. Oh yeah, someone is also going to need to shop for margarita mix – after all, how else is my hydration system going to remain topped off while I am doing nothing, nada, zippo under the shade of my striped umbrella?
And since it’s nothing more than a fantasy, “Where are my three cabana girls? I need Coppertone rubbed on my back, dammit!”
Personally, I think kids get bored because they don’t know how good they’ve got it. But it’s not their fault. It’s a right of passage. I probably told my mom I was bored several thousand times between kindergarten and 6th grade. And admit it, you probably said it a few times, too.
Being bored is the childhood equivalent of death and taxes. It’s unavoidable. So too is the inevitable role reversal. One minute you’re the kid rolling his eyes at every stupid suggestion of how to fill your time. Then, in a flash, you’re the parent, trying to convince your child that your suggestions aren’t stupid while he or she stares back at you with utter contempt.
How about cleaning your room? Putting away the peanut butter and jelly you left out? Seeing how long you can hide before I find you? Side note: This last one was always a favorite suggestion of my mother’s, although for some reason she never found me. Go figure.
Oh well, at least those momentary conflicts between young and old are guaranteed to fill two minutes of their time.
Now, what to do about the next 75 days? From personal experience, I know telling your kids to “Go out and find something to do” can lead to real trouble. Every time my mom requested I find ways to occupy myself, it usually led to me getting into trouble.
In the summer of 1972, I decided it might be fun to wander into the supermarket and help myself to a squirt gun and some Lemonheads. I was immediately apprehended and summarily grounded for a month, thus giving me nothing to do but make life miserable for my mother/prison guard. I was ultimately released from custody two weeks early after setting the world record for saying, “I’m bored.”
When left to my own devices on other occasions, I would usually end up in the home of one of my friend’s homes – the ones whose parents both worked. If there’s one thing worse than an unsupervised child, it’s five or six of them. My mom stayed at home, so this foray into the adult-free home was always quite the adventure. We snuck cigarettes, played spin the bottle, watched TV and ate crap until our bellies ached. There was always one kid who wanted to take his clothes off and run around naked. For the record, I was never that kid. Our mischief was nothing like the cough syrup drinking, bath salt sniffing escapades of today’s youth, but we were unproductive nevertheless.
I remember one particular instance when I played a game called, “Heroin Freak” with a friend named Binky. He’d take a rubber band, put it on his arm, use a spoon and mime filling a needle with something and shooting it into a vein. He’d then collapse on his back and pretend he couldn’t move for 10 seconds. Then I’d do it, even though I had no idea what I was doing. Hell, I didn’t even know what heroin was.
Only many years later did I put two and two together and surmise his accurate portrayal of a heroin high converted to a game may have been an imitation of something he was seeing in his environment – perhaps from his older brother.
With that experience forever and vividly burned into my memory, there’s no way I’m going to tell my kids to go out and find something to do when they say they’re bored.
So what’s the answer? I have no idea.
Try as we might, I think it is impossible to keep children from saying, “I’m bored,” at least two or three hundred times between June and September. We have a pool and boredom still reigns supreme, for God’s sake!
The insane thing about this struggle is how much more today’s kids have to occupy their time. That said, this argument always fails, even though every generation has tried to use it. Our grandparents had nothing but a can to kick. Our parents only had board games and trolley cars to hop on. We endured with nothing but Little Rascals and Three Stooges reruns. Among other things, our kids have: 3D games on the Wii, iPods, iPads, Skype, and their cell phones – the latter of which may be used to text you with insightful messages like, “I’m bored.”
In the end, when all is said and done, parents will never find the ultimate cure for summer boredom. It’s been an ongoing rite of passage for generations and will most likely continue until apes rise up and take over the planet. For all we know this could be a universal condition – an element as necessary as oxygen for a species to survive. There could be little blue kids on some distant planet driving their parent’s nuts in the exact same way.
“I am bored,” said Meep, the blue alien.
“Why don’t you use the teleporter and travel back three million years?” replied his mom.
“Aw. That’s all there ever is to do,” sighed Meep, slithering away in disgust, his two heads hanging low.
Parents everywhere look at kids through the jaded filter of their grown-up lives, where there’s never enough time to get anything done, and wonder how in the hell anyone can have the gall to say they’re bored. And as we rant and rave like lunatics about how great it would be to have enough time to reacquaint ourselves with boredom, our kids look right back at us with an equal amount of curiosity. At least for a few minutes.
And then they’re bored again.