Friday, April 01, 2011

I'm Bored

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.


Blotz said...

First off, let me say... I understand. God how I understand. And i'm in this swamp three kids deep. The Schmoo is 6 and the Grommit is 2 and the Peanut is about to turn 4 and it will be 2 more years before the youngest is in preschool and I can get 1/4 of my time back. And yes there is an almost overwhelming pressure to stiff upper lip it, show no weakness, never let it be known that you'd rather be doing something for your own enjoyment. And its a double wammy for SAHDs because we "chose" this path against the wishes of history and society and no wonder we're bored doing "womens work" all day when we could be bringing home the bacon like our dads did.

Also... I'm past 40 as well, 42 to be exact, and you should definitely consider that we're also at the prime age for a mid life crisis which could be coloring our perceptions.

blue milk said...

A few things sprung to mind reading this terrific post - first of all, come sit next to me, I find conversations about boredom quite stimulating.. and second of all, you have a little job burn-out I think, which means you must be due for a holiday/break; as with any job, this parenting job makes you a little restless from time to time, and that's when you need a complete mental break from it.

chicago pop said...

What perceptive readers! I suppose it shouldn't surprise me if my midlife crisis - which by this point I would say has been going strong for the better part of a decade - is out there on my sleeve for all to see. However, there will be no red Ferrari's in my future, I assure you. The Rx of a long overdue holiday is on the money. I won't even ask for a proper vacation; just a change of scenery, maybe only a jog across state lines; perhaps even a little warm-up in the weather, and a few extra moments here and there when a complete break from parenting is possible. And I only have one kid.

Cassandra Miles said...

As a stay-at-home parent stuck in metaphorical Indiana as well, I salute you, sir, for your willingness to start a conversation about it. So often when I've mentioned my soul-crushing boredom to my partner or our childless friends (and practically ALL of our friends are, which is silly), I'm met with rolled eyes and scorn. "How can you possibly be bored?" they say. "You get to stay home and lounge around in pyjamas all day! Bon bons! Bon bons!"


(P.S. He's watching Nihao while I check blogs and email, and the guilt! Oh, god, the guilt.)


I agree with Blue Milk - vacay time :) I already commented over at her site (something about stabbing my eyeballs with pencils)... Our strategy to stave off the ever lurking boredom is to become hyper-social. Network my friend, network! There are tons of bored parents in every community! Find them. Join forces. We go out with some combination of mom/parent/toddler/child every morning. I get my fix of adult convo and the kids get each other and an extra adult to hug and kiss them. It works wonders.

At the risk of inducing nausea due to sap-overload, I will also say that I try... TRY (doesn't always work) to allow my boredom to remind me to be present. To remember as you said, how infancy disappeared, how soon they will be teens and we will be left marveling at the cloud of dust they left as they sped away from us, into their own lives. This is all so temporary. And it is such a privilege to be able to be at home. But yeah, boring too sometimes :)

Anonymous said...

Boredom is a phase of parenting. Most of which stage I missed because there were two working parents in the house, so until kids were in school we needed day care.

Do not feel guilty, all one can do is the best one can manage one day at a time.

Plus consider this: not only does parenting get booooring, watching TV while dad does mysterious nothings on the computer downstairs is pretty lonely and boring also.

Since he can talk, one can now try negotiating things like daddy needs time and how important is this interruption?

Try scheduling regular play breaks with kid from work, and adult time when someone you trust and kid likes helps with kid for a while.

God bless and good luck getting across the plains.

chicago pop said...

Cassandra and Momsicle Vibe, you have both managed to be delightful, helpful and poignant while discussing boredom in a most un-boring way. Thank you!

chicago pop said...

@ anonymous: excellent suggestions, and recognition that the boredom may be a two-way street (daddy doing mysterious things on the computer ... that must drive Jr. crazy). We do try to verbally negotiate a 'quiet time' period in the afternoon when daddy can pay bills, fix stuff, of just read blogs and reply to comments....) and he's pretty good about that.

Unknown said...

That sounds more like restlessness than boredom. Soon when he's just a bit older--a matter of months--you'll be able to delve deeper together into a lot of new stuff. What do you do for your own mind? What was the last non-kid thing you googled? How about reading sites from other countries for a fresh perspective? What fascinates you?

clara said...

You nailed it with the part about the 13 hour dog walk. Yes. Leashed and yet chomping at the bit, ready to be free.

Ah, but the driving metaphor is also apt. Coming from the mountains as I do, the first hour of the prairies: wow! How flat! How beautiful! But by the fourth hour: kill me.Don't care how you do it. Just do it fast.

Because of the way they're learning at this age, every game has to be repeated 20 times. That's why - to my mind - TV isn't *such* a bad thing. They watch the same thing over and over, it feeds that repetitive need they have, and then maybe you only have to play Superheroes Battle The Bad Guys And Win (Of Course) *three* times that day, instead of five. If you're lucky.

Hope you get the time to write another post sooner than later.

Anonymous said...

Nice boring post! Yep, I can definitely relate, and let me just say that I share your ennui. I'm 44 and I too have felt these pangs of drudgery. I am reminded of the talking skull above the entrance to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland: "Abandon all hope, yee who enter!"

Like others have commented, I think it comes down to a combination of job burn out (been there, done that) and midlife crisis. I'm 5 years into this gig and the honeymoon may be over. If I didn't have an over active imagination to take me away at times I don't know what I'd do.

So now I am looking to re-invent myself again, to evolve into something else like I did when I first became a Stay-At-Home Dad. I have 2 daughters, and I feel guilty that I haven't been as present with the youngest. But I do feel lucky that I can spend this time with her, because, yes, I know that when I blink she will be asking me for the car keys.

A fine blog you have. Carry on. Keep writing. And breathing.

Emily May said...

I'm a stay at home mum to a 5 month old. An incredibly beautiful 5 month old whom I love more than life itself.

And I am bored out of my TREE!!!

That's for saying it like it is and making me feel normal rather than guilty!

Anonymous said...

I feel you on the boring! I'm 32 and my daughter just turned 1. I work 12 hour days and come home to eat shower and rock a baby. What about me, were did I go?

Anonymous said...

Oh man I have no mid life crisis for an excuss, I am 24 and a woman, aren't I suppose to be amazing at this :( anyway I have a 3 year old who is trying to get a hang of going pee in the toilet as well as poop. I have a 1year old as well and a cat and a 4 month old dog that is still figuring out where it is okay to potty. So on top of feeling like the family pooper scooper I get bored and my kids watch t.v. and I feel terrible about it but sometimes I need a break from the whining and screaming and telling them to share and be nice. I love my kids and try to do as much "fun" things as I can. See we only have one car and my hubby takes that to work from 6:30 a.m to 4 p.m, so I am limited to around my apartment. It doesn't help doing face book and all that, I get bombarded with pictures and status update of girls being amazing moms (or at least look it) then of course I compare myself and feel terrible and sad. I only happened on this blog because I was bored out of my mind because I have been stuck inside. I found this blog sooooo true and some of the comments funny they made me laugh and I felt the need to write and say I feel you.

Unknown said...

Totally agree! I'm a stay at home mum to a 3 and 1 yo girls. They have been sick for 2 weeks, so quarantine lockdown, no gym, no daycare, no playdates no break, stuck inside arrrrrggggghhhhhhh!!!!! My 3yo can now use the f-word appropriately, or not, depending on your perspective. I usually love being a SAHM, because usually, life is varied enough to keep us all happy. I highly recommend finding a gym with a free crèche, I work out just for the break, then we all go to the park. Something for them, something for me. Same with playdates, or anything really. Also don't feel guilty about letting him entertain himself, that's an important life skill. There's a certain amount of 'constructive neglect' that has to occur to develop a well rounded human being. And take the pressure down too honestly, I used to work for child safety, it takes a lot to mess a kid up, and a few hours of nickelodeon just ain't gonna cut it in that regard. ;) love the blog!!!

MReardon said...

Very interesting post! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I am not a parent yet, but I have many hopes and apprehensions. Right now all my friends are having babies and they are so deeply immersed in the romance of it all that they can't see the realities they are about to face. I want to anticipate these realities, and posts like yours help. Best wishes on your journey as a SAHD!