Nothing sends me into an apoplectic fit quite like the atonal strains of “it’s not faaaiiirrr” or worse yet, “I’m booorrrrrred.” My long-suffering daughter, she of more books than shelf space, five friends in a 2-block radius, three different summer camps plus swimming, and an overflowing cupboard of art supplies, yes that long-suffering daughter, she doth complaineth way too fucking much.
The problem is not, as you might believe, that I’m driven off the cliffs of distraction by her whiny laments: no – well yes but that’s beside the point – no, the problem is that I don’t know how to respond in that graceful, oh-hurrah-a-teachable-moment way this situation seems to call for. I should know that summer days are long and dull, and only things like sprinklers and popsicles and county fairs and endless maternal attention have enough gravity to pull one up and out of juvenile ennui. I should be able to gaily wave egg cartons, pipe cleaners and poster paint with gentle witticisms about thankfulness and intellectual wealth. And yet.
Much of my parenting requirements involve empathy, and usually I’m pretty decent at it. This, however, requires an empathy I simply don’t have. Oh, you’re bored? Well! Why don’t you catch up on the laundry, or clean the bathroom, or cook a gourmet, vegetarian, gluten-free, toddler-friendly meal, or write 2 articles and 3 pitches, or fix that thingy in the car that needs fixing? And oh? It’s not fair that your brother got to go to the park this morning while you were at gymnastics camp? Well! Let’s cancel all your not-inexpensive activities for the summer so you won’t miss anything exciting here at home!
No, rummaging around in my empathy compartment only comes up with biting sarcasm and seething resentment. Which does not exactly encourage the wonder and innocence of childhood.
Prostrating myself on the therapeutic sofa for a moment, I vaguely recall parenting magazine stories that cheerfully advise “getting down on her level” and “taking a few minutes to do a craft project or read a story together” and oh-ho let’s not forget “use a reflective statement such as I hear that you are bored, what can we do to channel your energy? to validate and redirect her feeeeelings.”
Well bollocks, my inner martyred narcissist hisses, she should just quietly entertain herself so I can do the nine gumptillion important grown-up things that need immediate doing! Oh for a few rows of peas to hoe or a basket of mending. If we lived in pioneer days you can bet she wouldn’t be complaining of boredom – she’d be thrilled to have even five minutes to play with a balloon made of pig intestine.
But alas, we live in these modern times, with WebKinz and Polly Pockets and more than a hundred Boxcar Children books to blitz through, not to mention – gasp! – the strictly ornamental tv cable snaking innocuously out of our living room wall.
It occurs to me, writing this, that the problem is not one of nothing to do. It is one of nothing useful to do. What is more validating than being a contributor, a cog in the great wheel, a sort of familial proletariat? My daughter will be the first to tell you the answer is certainly not some whacko communistic ideal. Her ideal is the archetypal ideal, involving chaise longues, bon-bons, and some sort of intravenous, streaming Pixar setup. Somewhere between the two lies peace.
Maybe I can get her to draw us a damn map.
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