“So, what camps do you have the kids in for the summer?” my friend asked me the other day.
“Um, I didn’t put them in any?” I said, feeling the full weight of my decision pressing down on me like the stomping foot of an elephant.
She, of course, looked at me with something akin to horror. “Why? Why would you do that?” she asked me in a panic and possibly shook my shoulders to snap me out of it. I work from home, and she knows that I depend on those hours that the kids are out of the house being “enriched” to get a chance to hear myself think and form complete sentences with other adults that depend on me.
“I don’t know what I’m thinking,” I said quickly, ignoring the rising sense of WTF, “but I just have this feeling that we need this.”
This being them learning how to just go outside and play when I need to work, without a million scheduled camps, without their electronics, without every minute planned to the millisecond.
This being them getting so freaking bored that they start to stretch the muscles of those creative minds that are snuggled all cozy under a thick layer of iPad hours.
This being a little more spontaneous with our summer hours, like deciding at the last minute to throw some sandwiches in a cooler and have a picnic in the middle of nowhere.
This being me trying not to be so controlling about our environment and letting them destroy the house with forts and toilet-paper-tube art projects and just buying a shit-ton of construction paper and letting them have at it.
This being winging it and hoping that I come out on the other side of summer knowing my kids a little bit better than I do right now.
And if I’m being totally honest, this being closer to what I experienced as a child.
When I was a kid in the ’80s, I went to maybe one weeklong Girl Scout camp per summer and the rest of the time I got up in the morning, and somehow figured out how to make my own memories. I don’t think I ever went to the zoo because we didn’t live close to one. There wasn’t a Learn to Bike camp — I just scraped the shit out of my knees until I learned to ride. There wasn’t a “100 Things to Do With Your Kids This Summer!” Pinterest board for my mom to pore over and judge her craft-making ability against those of her girlfriends. She went to work, or she did whatever she wanted, like gardened or read or cleaned or made me a lunch of canned Vienna sausages and Kool-Aid. I know for a fact that she did not stress for one minute about me being bored.
If I said I was bored, she would find me something to do, and I knew I didn’t want that to happen.
I remember my summers were filled with a lot of unwilling caterpillars who didn’t know they were racing each other. My days were filled with lying on the ground and watching clouds, or hurtling down dirt hills on my bike, or eating the pine nuts out of pine cones. I tried desperately to befriend the chipmunks that lived in my yard by feeding them the dog’s food. I learned to whistle with a blade of grass and had fantastical, intricate games in my mind that involved the ant hills in my yard. Once, I waited for hours to try to catch a frog I thought I’d seen, but most days, I just created entire worlds in my backyard with random stuff lying around. Our shed became a troll’s cavern, the thicket of trees was my castle, the small hill in the front yard was the fairy boundary lands.
My mom didn’t know what I was doing half the time. I know that this isn’t always feasible today, for various reasons, but I want to give my kids at least a taste of the freedom that I had as a child. I want them to quiver with fear at the thought of saying, “I’m bored,” just like I did. I want them to spend hours outside making up their own games and learning how to sit with their own thoughts.
Most days during the school year, we are going from place to place, from activity to activity, and right now I just want to hit that damn pause button — even if it gives me anxiety. I measured them on the wall today, their bodies stretching long and thin, my daughter’s gap-toothed grin so pleased that she is getting bigger and bigger. I wanted to curl up in the corner with her newborn onesie and sob. I couldn’t believe how much my baby had grown since the last time we made those marks.
I don’t know if this is my most brilliant idea yet, but I do know that we will all get annoyed with each other and that I will often be working late at night to make up the time that I will be spending encouraging my kids to find the beauty of boredom. And to stop tattling and go play.
I think I might be bonkers. But I’m going to do it anyway.