Friday, April 01, 2011
This post is about boredom. Because of the subject matter, it may also be boring to read, so if that's a problem for you, go back to Facebook or the activities of your otherwise exciting life. For those fellow bored parents who remain, let me state the problem: I'm bored.
Boredom is a taboo topic of modern parenting. I'm bored right now, and I've been seriously bored quite a lot lately. This seems like the kind of thing which, if said too loudly among prospective parents, might lower the rate of human reproduction and adversely affect the future of the species. No one wants a boring job, and parenting is certainly a job that is often boring. But there's a kind of general rule that you just don't go there. Instead, you suck it up and go release on Facebook. Maybe you post some vapid pictures of your kid, get some ":-)" and some "♥♥♥" feedback, and take that buzz to bed with you instead of another shot from the bottle of Bacardi that you're about to run out of anyway. To confess to boredom, or to whine about it, is to give hostages to all sorts of enemies who would be happy to devalue parenting for all sorts of reasons, most of them not in the best interests of children. For me to mutter, "How f*cking boring," or "God I'm bored watching this crap on TV" or "I can't wait for Mama to get home and relieve me of this utterly boring sh*t Junior is making me do," suggests that I don't love my kid, that I'm not infatuated with everything he does and says and thinks and eats. Parenting is not for anyone with a brain, anyone who has seen the world, parenting is for nannies, etc. All bunk, of course. But knowing that doesn't help me with the fact that, as I said a moment ago, I'm bored.
The thing about boredom is that, because you're bored, you're afraid that anything you write about boredom will by definition be boring, revealing that you are in fact a boring person, and deserving of your fate. So I've held off. Until now. Because I don't care anymore. Partly this is because I'm over 40, partly it's because I'm really bored. Perhaps I can take satisfaction in knowing that, in about nine years, it will be my son's turn to be bored out of his mind by everything that has to do with his father, family, and the home we provide him. At that time, rather than be personally hurt, I will instead savor the payback for what I am enduring right now. But nine years is a long time to wait.
So I'm trying to figure out what's going on: why the sense of boredom has become acute at my fourth year into the parenting stint? Am I tired of my job? Has it lost its novelty? Am I just played out as a parent? Is it really just over? Or is this just a phase, a plateau that has my son and I cruising across the family version of rural Indiana? Despite all my past bloggery in which I waxed lyrical about jungle gyms and long walks and soccer class and preschool moms and diaper genies and everything else, the one thing I haven't touched on is how very often, how defining and foundational, is the experience of utter boredom.
I say this all while knowing, by virtue of hard-earned wisdom, that the one constant thing about both parenting and life is that all things change. Was the infancy thing hard? Immensely. But it was over in a heartbeat. My son will spend far longer with gray hair pushing me in a wheelchair than we ever spent changing his diaper. So maybe we are driving through Indiana now -- or, God forbid, Kansas, or West Texas -- but eventually if you drive far enough, you hit the Rockies, or West Virginia, and things get interesting again. But right now, to pursue the analogy further, we are driving through rural Indiana, and there's not much to listen to on the radio.
So why am I bored now, while I wasn't when Spot was six months old? At six months, he was an all-consuming project, and nothing else mattered. My individuality was like a well-charged car battery that could run all the auxiliary features for a good long while before going dead and needed a jump. And frankly, the novelty was sharp. It truly was a new world, and I enjoyed entering into it.
But here's the crux: this was all before Spot could talk, before he could express his own view of things, or act with any degree of independence. That has all changed, and Spot, now become Junior, is a semi-automaton, capable of thinking and talking and doing quite a lot, though a lot of it not quite all the way. This, I have determined, is the source of my boredom. Imagine walking a dog. Not for half an hour three times a day, but all day. You've got an animal on a leash, you want to let them sniff around, entertain themselves, read the book of the world in the litter of the sidewalk, you pick up their poop and intervene when they start trash-talking the dog next door -- all this for about 13 hours. It would be nice to instead open the back door at around 7 o'clock in the morning and then check back at lunchtime, but that's not how it works right now. The leash has me hooked to the dog as much as the dog is hooked to me. So I am, more than at any point previously, in his world most of the time.
And after a while, as fascinating as it has all been, that gets boring. Junior can't find something in his toy box? He calls me from upstairs while I'm on the computer. Junior gets hungry? He lets me know from upstairs, once I've gotten back to the computer. Once Junior is well fed, he now feels a bowel movement coming on. Again, he lets me know from upstairs, and I ascend to help facilitate. In all these cases, Junior is able to handle a part or most of the process of finding a lost toy, feeding himself, or taking a dump and wiping his ass, but not all. And so I live la vida interrumpida, a life of fragments. In fact, right now, as I write this, I am leaving Junior upstairs to his TV and Lego's, feeling moderately guilty that the Nickelodian Moose is subbing for me as primary caregiver so I can share this all with you. Four times now, Junior has called down to me, "Daddy, are you done working?" and four times I have replied "Hell no, leave me alone! Can't you entertain yourself for an hour?"
When he was an infant, I could strap Junior into my Baby Bjorn and head off on my rounds. Some feeding, some attention to matters of hygiene, and all was well. Now, he is so burgeoning with thoughts, with the most astounding and surreal and hilarious musings on language and reality, endless questions that must each be answered (a point of principle for me), so full of commentary that must be processed, that a much larger portion of my brain is now used to deal with him than before. Subtract the much-missed naptime break, and add the ability to verbalize his needs without the ability to fulfill them, and you have the roots of my predicament.
So I thank you, gentle reader, for providing me with an excuse for diverting myself for a little while. But I can tell, from the nervous, rhythmic hopping I hear on the floor above, that Junior feels the need to visit the potty, and so my prosody must be cut short. Until, that is, the next installment, when we meet together as writer and reader again, perhaps when Junior and I are at least on the border of Indiana and Ohio, somewhat closer to West Virginia.