I am waging war against the words “I’m bored”.
I’ve never been very tolerant of that complaint. I believe that kids need to be bored sometimes, and to develop the ability to find something to do. Which is what my mother always said to us if we complained we were bored. What came next was the ominous or I’ll find you something to do.
Thanks to a chance encounter with a cousin in Adelaide a few months ago, I have a new and lethal weapon against boredom.
My cousin and I ran into each other during a session at Adelaide Writer’s Week. We hadn’t seen each other for about three years – since her brother’s funeral, actually, which made for a charged atmosphere as we sat through the session, a panel discussion on death. Afterwards, we withdrew from the crowds assembled by the tents and sat under a tree high on the hill, overlooking it all. Voices drifted up to us, strangely disembodied, channelled through the speaker systems. In the shadows of this very public conversation, we talked intimately – for four hours straight – about our families.
Among the heavy issues, we laughed about how my approach to parenting often echoes my own upbringing. Our mothers, sisters-in-law, have always been close. We realised, unsurprised, that they also shared a lot of the same mantras. (“I’m hungry.”/ “Eat an apple.” / “I don’t want that.” / “Well, you’re not that hungry then, are you?”)
We got onto “I’m bored”. My cousin was surprised at my mother’s punchline.
“We NEVER said we were bored,” she laughed. “Because my mum would give us a chore to do!”
“I might borrow that ...”
A few weeks ago, F and his best friend, the boy next door, were asking if they could play the computer. “No.” Could they watch a DVD? “No.” Deep sighs. They stretched out on the dining room floor.
“But we’re booooored,” they moaned. "There's nothing to doooo."
“Right!” I said. “Clean your room, then.”
Their mouths literally fell open, their eyes wide. I wanted to laugh.
“I warned you a month ago about this.”
“We’re sorry! We didn’t mean it! Can this be a warning? We won’t do it again.”
“Nope. You had your warning.”
F had been absolutely charming all weekend. Polite, affectionate, fun. Now, from the bedroom, there came banging. Stomping. A low-level growl (the best friend) and a louder, black-toned barking (F).
“I HATE my mother! I wish someone else was my mother!”
Stomp, stomp. Shuffle, shuffle. Bang, bang.
“This is SO UNFAIR.”
I stifled giggles. Despite the anger, things were obviously getting done.
“Whose STUPID idea was this anyway?” called F.
“It was my cousin.”
“Well, I HATE your cousin. I wish you didn’t HAVE a cousin!”
“Maybe she’d hate you, too,” I replied serenely, and returned to my keyboard.
Twenty minutes later, the boys had called me in to inspect the room, and had eagerly bounded outside to find something to do. Success.
This morning, as F shelved his toothbrush and toothpaste, he sang out from the bathroom, apropos of nothing “I’m bored”. Pause.
“Okay, you can clean your room then.”
“But I’ll be late for school! I’m not really bored!”
“I know.” I looked up from cling-wrapping a sticky clump of frankfurters for his lunchbox. “You just wanted to see what I’d do, didn’t you?”
I let him off, in the spirit of healthy curiosity and – more importantly – getting to school on time. But this is one weapon in my parenting arsenary that I’m holding onto.
Thank you, cousin.