Monday, August 21, 2006

Am I Bored?

A Perfect Post

I’ve been asking myself this question since reading Rebecca Eckler’s column in The Globe and Mail this weekend. Picking up on Helen Kirwan-Taylor’s notorious article in Britain’s Daily Mail, Eckler interviews various mothers (tapping into the blogosphere for at least some of her sources) who candidly describe the unbearable tedium of hours spent in the company of toddlers while mommy’s brain gradually turns into Play-doh.

So. Am I bored?

Quick answer: all the time. I am a notorious multi-tasker, able to tolerate my children’s company only if I’m armed with a crossword in one hand and a Sudoku in the other. Before I began blogging, I could at least convince myself that there was value to my particular approach to child-rearing: I am setting the example of reading, I would tell myself virtuously – and then turn the page and dig back into Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year or maybe Catherine Newman’s Waiting for Birdy or Andrea Buchanan’s anthology of essays, It’s a Boy. (The irony is not lost on me that I find it far more entertaining to read about parenthood than actually to DO it.)

I can sit down with Bub and work on a puzzle for maybe three minutes before I get all restless and twitchy; I can read a book to the Pie once or twice, but by the third request I find myself remembering all kinds of household tasks that require urgent attention. (Unloading the dishwasher is scintillating work compared to singing endless rounds of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat.")

"My problem," I told my husband the other day, "is that I’m incapable of actually paying attention to my children, and yet I think about them all the time." In my head there is a constantly looping soundtrack of observations and anecdotes. My brain is full of language acquisition charts against which I anxiously measure Bub’s progress, and I’m constantly collecting data on the Pie’s developing personality, trying to pin down her Myers-Briggs type before her second birthday (right now, odds are that she’ll be an INFJ like her mother, but I like to fantasize that she’ll turn out to be an adventurous and warm-hearted ENFP, like Anne Shirley or Maria Von Trapp). I’m bored when I’m with my children, but I am never bored by them.

Nor do I see my boredom as a reason to spend more time away from my children. I do occasionally wonder if there are mothers who genuinely enjoy stacking blocks and tipping them over (and over and over), who take a sincere and wholehearted interest in driving Hot Wheels cars up the elevator and down the slide (repeat ad infinitum). Such women may exist (my home day-care provider appears to be one of them), and they are to be envied. But even so, I see boredom as an occupational hazard, not a sign that I’m ill-qualified for the job. Boredom is the price I pay for those moments of pure happiness that can’t be planned or predicted or (often) recreated – the sweetness of my daughter’s hand on my cheek, or the thrill of watching my son hesitantly throw a ball to a neighbourhood border collie, and then nearly burst with excitement when the dog bounds away in hot pursuit. I live for these moments … and I put in a lot of boring hours to get them.

40 comments:

Mouse said...

This is something I was thinking recently, even crafting a post myself. And you really capture the feeling. I won't give a post-length comment here, but there are only so many times I can send James around the Island of Sodor. On the other hand, my son himself has never been boring, not even when all he did was eat and sleep.

Mother Bumper said...

oh thank you, thank you, thank you! I thought I was the only one.

I'm never not thinking of Bumper (well never might be an exaggeration - you know what I mean) but I have the shorter attention span of the two of us. I'm a multitasker as well and I'm always darting around like a hummingbird and then chastizing myself for not playing with her 100% of the time. Gah! But I think if we keep them safe and engage them most of the time, they shouldn't turn out to be stone-hard killers. I hope.

Minnehaha Mama said...

I love that you've analyzed the Myers-Briggs type of Anne Shirley and Maria Von Trapp. I'm gonna put Elizabeth Bennett in there with them too. Or would she be an ENFJ?

Latte Mama said...

Great post! I found you through mama tulip's blog.

I can play and play and I am frequently surprised by my creativity when it comes to inventing a new and exciting activity for them to try, only to find myself sneaking out of the playroom when the kids are engrossed in their mischief just to fill in one more square of the Sudoku. I feel guilty sneaking out, well, at least until i get to the coffee pot.

Marla said...

This is such an interesting topic, and I started thinking about it a lot after reading this post:

http://daycaredaze.blogspot.com/2006/07/benign-neglect.html

As an only child raising someone who in all probability be an only child herself, thoughts along these lines have been frequent visitors to planet Marla's brain.

So, when I put this all together with what I learned from my doctor last month when I asked her "Why does Josie always want to play imagination games with me, when I give her every opportunity to have friends and when she has so many toys and things she could be doing? Am I not helping her to be either social or independent in the right ways, and is that because I have always been a rather solitary and introverted person and I'm doing something wrong?"; and the Dr. told me simply "It's because she finds you more stimulating than others to play with; I can see it in you two."

So when I figured out that it's only certain types of play I find boring, and that it's me, not that type of play she finds interesting, and we started doing more "parallel play" - life got better. And this "benign neglect" thing? It increased her independent play, which the dear doctor who knows and loves our family says is incredibly valuable - and eavesdropping on it while I blog lets me spy into Josie's little mind. I love it. Less guilt - it's not rejecting her in any way - it's helping her in a different way. It's working for us. For now. I hope.(runs off to knock something wood)
(does a bit of Nutella on a cookie count? Nuts are woodlike, right?)

kittenpie said...

The part I tend to find boring is standing around while she explores. If I can sit down with her and draw my own sidewalk picture with chalk or build my own railway track, I'm okay. Otherwise, I'm enjoying that she can now play alone for a while before she needs to come and find me or drag me into paying attention.

Mrs. Chicky said...

Oh GAWD YES! Seriously, how many times can a grown woman with a college education read "Goodnight Moon" before she wants to set that book on fire?

Not that I'm bored by this post - 'cause I'm not - but...

Is that you?! Up there in the corner? How cute are you?! ;)
(yes,the use of exclamation points was necessary.)

Piece of Work said...

This is so very true. My mother in law happens to be one of those women who actually enjoys playing with kids, and she's always playing blocks with my son or dollies with my daughter. THis is great! But then she asks me what games I play with them and I just have to stutter. Fortunately, my own mother was obviously bored to tears by us and never spent any significant amount of time playing with us that I remember (until we got older and could play board games like Trivial Pursuit), so I know I'm not the only one. I never felt neglected or anything,despite the fact that my mother was always shooing us away, so I don't fear that my children will feel that way either.

bubandpie said...

Minnehaha Mama - Yep, I think Lizzy usually gets tagged as ENFP (those ENFPs get all the good INTJ men, except poor Anne who got stuck with ESTJ Gilbert).

Marla - I love, love, love Mary P., and I read that post with interest as well. I come at it from the opposite angle: both my kids have very independent natures and play well on their own (or with each other). If I'm needed at all, it's to break up the occasional fight, not because of my scintillating personality! But I worry that I'm fostering too much distance and too little social interaction.

Mrs. Chicky - *blush blush blush* Thank you!!!

bubandpie said...

POW - My FIL is another fabulous games-player - he invents challenging tasks and creates amazing feats of construction with the Mega Bloks. My mom was definitely a practitioner of benign neglect and I'm exactly like you - I appreciate it so much now because it takes the pressure off immensely! (There - another way to pat myself on the back: I'm setting the example of reading for my children and I'm setting the mothering bar nice and low for the Pie so she won't have to live up to a SuperMom when her turn comes.)

Becky said...

I can so relate... I'm not a SAHM. I work full time, and my sweet, sweet husband is a SAHD with 4 part-time jobs (about 5-6 h/week each), two of which involve looking after not only our 3-year-old, but other babies and preschoolers as well! I admire him, but I just don't think I could do it! (I stayed home with Kai until he was 8 mo, and then went back to school to finish my phd - my husband has been home ever since.)

Maybe if I was a SAHM, I would be able to settle into the mindset of being able to slow down to Kai's pace, and just enjoy playing with him, but right now it takes a very conscious effort - especially when I'm tired from a long day at work.

I think the strangest aspect of my ability to multi-task is that sometimes when I am reading a bedtime story that I have read countless times before, I can be reading the words aloud but I haven't actually paid attention to the book for at least 4 pages having been completely lost in thought about all the other things on my mind.

so yeah... I relate.

Eric said...

I have learned that children begin to see through the whole multitasking-while-taking-care-of-them thing as they get older. I am the master of taking care of little ones while surfing the Internet, or watching the game, reading, or all three. But at some point children actually demand that you pay attention to them. That is usually the point at which I summon my wife to come in and take over.

Mary-LUE said...

Wow, this post got quite a response B&P...

I've always said that I take my kids to the playground so they can play not for me to play with them. I'm a sit on the bench and talk with the other mommies kind of mom!

Now that my son is older, we've been able to enjoy watching certain television shows together. I enjoy that much more than Mousetrap, or Jenga, or Kerplunk, or, or, or...

That is a really cute picture. I didn't notice it was a new one until I read your comment about it. I'm assuming that is Pie. Very cute.

bubandpie said...

ASM - Actually, it's Bub. (It's a few years old, that picture. I don't think I look quite that good in any of the more recent pictures!)

Mary-LUE said...

I went and read the post Marla referred to and it is quite good. It reminded me of a post my friend wrote awhile back about where she finds time to blog, knit, read, etc. I think it fits in well with this discussion.

http://musingsofamommy.blogspot.com/2006/04/finding-time.html

B&P, Well, Bub it is then. Still very cute! ;)

Haley-O said...

I'm actually one of the lucky ones. I'm not bored at all as a stay-at-home-mom. But, that may be because I was bored out of my mind when I was working. And, maybe because my daughter's only one. So, we can still do what I want to do.... ;)

Mommy off the Record said...

Oh, the boredom! I feel it too! Stacking blocks is NOT my cup of tea either. I love the way you say that the price of boredom is worth it to get to see those special moments. When you put it that way, it's all worth it. Now pass me that crossword puzzle...

P.S. I'm an INFJ also!
P.P.S. I LOVE the new picture of you!!

Her Bad Mother said...

This is exactly the distinction - because you're right, there's more to it than being bored by diapers. Board books can be boring. Blocks can be boring. The child? Fascinating.

I am almost never NOT thinking about WonderBaby. But am I gripped by all of the activities of her daily life? No.

bubandpie said...

Becky - Staying at home doesn't make it any easier. I've tried almost every combination of working and being at home, and the one that does help is working part-time, around 3 days a week - a few days of built-in break-time (yes, work counts as break time in my world!), but enough time at home that you don't forget how to cope.

Haley - Being at home with just one baby was the MOST boring part, so I think you're good.

HBM - Funny that diaper changes keep getting mentioned as the epitome of tedium. In my babies' first few months, a poopy diaper represented a welcome break from the constant challenge of figuring out what toy to wave in front of the baby now. And once they hit that fighting stage, diaper-changing is anything but boring - how you can you be bored while dodging flailing legs and trying to prevent the baby's hands from getting covered in poo?

Aliki2006 said...

Yes, this post resonated with me as well. I think about my children all the time, yet my patience for the repetitive things my kids want to do is wearing thin. My poor daughter--with my son (6) I had much more patience and would sit endlessley drawing boats for him over and over and over again. My attention span for this sort of thing has waned with my daughter (2 1/2) and she's lucky to get one boat out of me.

metro mama said...

I started to comment, but it was getting too long, so I did my own post.

I'm not really bored. I think there are ways to keep it from getting boring.

something blue said...

I found myself comparing your love of reading about parenting to my love at gazing at photos of my children. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I can look at the real thing instead of the photo. Then I grab my camera and take another.

This reminds me that I too love your photo. Gorgeous!

Pendullum said...

Life before playdates and friends...
I can not tell you how many games of Barbie, How many playdoh snakes I have under my belt...
There were times that my life was a complete fog in what i did as it was spent in its entirety in Neverland...
Once 5 years of age comes around... there is a whole new world of playdates that go on Forever!!!
They come down for snack and then they are gone again...Off to Neverland with a friend that enjoys the adventure...

Kristen said...

Well said. I always feel guilty for not being more into the games and role-playing that Bryce and Quinn beg me for. I want to watch THEM, I don't want to have to DO it... but then I know that the interaction, while boring, is so important.

It's a complex situation.

Devra said...

I am so relieved to see *this* dialogue happening over here as opposed to the nastiness depicted in the letters to the editor following the article, the ones condemning other moms for not loving their children and/or taking thier fertility for granted. I think those writers missed the point of the article. The idea was to get teh dialogue going so that moms (and dads) could figure out if they need some tools to deal with parenting issues that puzzle, annoy, bore, frustrate, etc. Everyone here appears to have gotten the point, so I just wanted to give you a bravo! : )

Bobita said...

"My problem," I told my husband the other day, "is that I’m incapable of actually paying attention to my children, and yet I think about them all the time."

I have said THESE EXACT WORDS to the Irreverent One.

I share your sentiments. The price of boredom is minimal...for the reward of those precious, unforgettable moments.

Blog Antagonist said...

I recently wrote a similar post, but after 11 years at home, my boredom is becoming insurmountable and kind of crazy making. But, my kids are much older. When they were little, I felt very much the same as you. Yeah, I was bored, but I was convinced it was for a good cause. And it was. Great post.

crazymumma said...

Oh ya, the monotony can get to you.I am past those long days spent building blocks or reading the same book over and over. but in a way, I miss that cloistered, sort of pre world time.....

Mayberry said...

I haven't time to read the comments so I'm sure I'm repeating, but Thank you for this! I am bored in precisely the way you are.

sunshine scribe said...

My son is older now so maybe I am blocking out the feelings I had when he was younger but am I the only looser here to admit that I am not bored? Ever.

He's hysterical, facinating and anything but boring. Maybe it is because he is in school now and I work away from the home too. But even early on I worked hard on not being bored. Whether that was seeking out activities with other moms or finding a way to just savour the moment. I was told I could never have children so when I did I vowed to not take a second for granted. Makes me a bit polly-annaish? Yep. But everyone has their own way.

Also I think there are many definitions of boredom.

I loved reading this and your honesty and look at the cord you struck in all of your readers. The insights you presented reall ressonated. Well done as usual :)

Mom101 said...

My problem," I told my husband the other day, "is that I’m incapable of actually paying attention to my children, and yet I think about them all the time."

THANK YOU.

You just put into words what I think I've been feeling for a while.

bubandpie said...

SS - I think maybe it was Penelopeto who pointed out that the article did its best to imply that boredom was a sign/result of high intelligence. Which it's clearly not. I think it has more to do with an inability to turn off the verbal part of the brain - it's more like restlessness than boredom, really, and I think it must be a lot like a kind of verbal ADD. I won't get into my theory about how that nonstop verbal thinking affects one's sex life (that's a whole other post in itself ... or maybe not).

Of course, with Little Sunshine, you were probably getting a verbal workout by the time he was 11 months old!

lildb said...

holy crap. that's true. true, true, true.

and the pay-off is like a dream realized.

gingajoy said...

love love this post--and nodding my head through the whole thing. this morning as i was "mama heffalump" for a whole three minutes, and actually did the voice and everything, i congratulated myself for being so creative and involved. but 3 minutes--about my max on that little game. (yawn). my husband is WAY better.

one reason i enjoy knitting is that i can be "with" my son as he watches t.v. or plays, and focus energies on something else. same goes for reading. i like the "i will set a good example" rationalization. works for me;-)

thanks for the generous comment earlier today on my post. that means a great deal from you!

Nancy said...

This is a great post. I know that Eckler was taking an extreme point of view in her article -- for illustrative and/or entertainment purposes -- but I think it came off as too snotty and extreme. I think it's possible to be bored by the mundane aspects of motherhood without equating that to boredom with your child/children.

Sarah said...

Exactly. I have to have a book in my hand. But I do notice those precious moments anyway... I think. :)

Waya said...

I can see why this post deserves a PPA. You eloquently describe how I feel but I was not brave enough to put it into words myself. Thank you!!

the mad momma said...

oh my God... let me bow down and worshop you for what I have been vaguely feeling but not really able to put a finger on till now...
sigh... thank God.. now that I know what it is, I can begin to work on it. thanks !

Momma Bean said...

This is so true, and I'm not home with my girls all the time (I'm PT). I find myself zoning out sometimes and when I've read a book for the fifteenth time that day ("Just Like Daddy", which, I can quote for you, if you'd like), I'm forgetting to turn the pages even though I'm droning on and on and on...

However, the girls just received a big bag of Mega Bloks for their birthday and I must admit that I pushed them out of the way to quench the thirst of the inner architect in me. I made a killer castle.

Lisa said...

I bow before thee. You've said what I feel so beautifully but couldn't quite sort it out and put it into words....