School’s not yet done. Which is a good thing. I’ve just completed my grades and cleaned out my room, but I raised my hand to be in a week of curriculum meetings next week. Biggie will be at Burgundy’s summer camp, so he will be taken care of others for this time of transition.
And, boy, do I need a time of transition.
“So what’s in store for summer?”
“I’ve… got to figure out what’s next.”
Part of what I have to figure out is how time is going to work. Aside from a few set activities (sports, music lessons, meals, chores, church, etc.), there’s a lot of empty space that I now have almost complete say in. There’s also a lot that Biggie and I are interested in, and want to learn. How do I use one for the other?
I’m going to set aside another time to talk about pedagogical approaches, educational philosophies, curricula, and all that jazz, but for now, let’s just consider boredom.
“Daddy, I’m bored.”
This is now almost a daily struggle with Biggie. He doesn’t know what to do with his time, whether it’s five minutes, 20 minutes, an hour, a couple of hours, or a whole day. And he doesn’t know what to do about that feeling of uncertainty, of the anxiety of potential unrealized, of vaguely frustrated aspiration.
I’ve lectured to him about boredom. “Only boring people are bored.” Use your creativity. Look around you and make up something to do. If you wait around for people to run your life, you’ll never think for yourself, you’ll never do anything out of your own heart, you’ll never develop true responsibility and integrity. Being bored is good; it’s purifying; it calms you and agitates you at the same time. You need to learn to sit with your thoughts and feelings and be okay with that. I’m glad he heard it, but that was only good for sending him sulking off for a handful of afternoons.
I’ve caved in a lot. Go ahead, watch TV. Play the iPad. Let’s go out to eat. I distract myself a lot; it’s inevitable that I let my kid get distracted. The easy way out is… easy.
Sometimes I think up of chores and activities. Sometimes we play catch. He eats it up. He burns through them so fast, with so much excitement and energy, that I find myself exhausted just hanging around him.
Sometimes I let him loose with other kids. This is a good one. Learning is often (one could argue, always) social, and that may be because the burden of creativity, activity, and administration is distributed across the group—and the very negotiation of that sharing is itself engrossing. Sure, even groups of kids can mope about, but generally we’re happier being bored together than bored alone.
The thing is, time is different for kids. Without obligations and a habituated sense of regimentation, I imagine time must warp and wobble for them, stretching out endlessly beyond a horizon at some times and compressing intensely like dwarf stars at others. It’s impossible to get Biggie to sit through a meal and eat it in one 20-40 minute sitting—at least when I’m watching—but then he’ll finish an entire book on the 15 minute car ride to school.
I think that might be a big chunk of what is meant by kids craving structure. Biggie now knows that there are times that are not his own, matters he has no choice about, things he must put up with (up with which he must put). For the stretches that are his own, he wants to maximize his enjoyment; he wants to feel a sense of purpose, of meaning, of belonging. But time seems to be an unruly ride outside of his management, a rabbit hole down to some strange and uncomfortable places. Instead of mastering moments, it’s easier to be given something to chase. For fear of the open door, one chooses the known confines of a prison.
School is a prison. Home is a prison, too. The thing is, with Biggie chained to me, will I lead him to freedom?
While we out here, say the hustler’s prayer: If the game shakes me or breaks me, I hope it makes me a better man.