electric boogaloo

How to help a child who says “I’m bored”

It doesn’t happen a lot, but when the boys complain that they are bored I nod and say yeah, it’s okay to feel that way. The discomfort of boredom is just the feeling that your brain is casting around for something to hook onto. Don’t rush to grab the first flashy thing just to end boredom as quickly as possible. Give in to it for awhile. Let your mind and your interests wander a bit, ruminate. Let ideas percolate. It is okay. The process always yields something cool. Like folding post-it notes into shapes of letters and spelling things out across the table. Or seeing how many times you can scrunch up and flatten out a piece of tin foil, or training the dog to find a treat hidden somewhere in the living room, or inventing a new card game. Or picking up a book you forgot to ever finish. Or going for a walk, or making toast for everyone, or seeing if you can cut a slick of pear thin enough to look through.

If they complain again, I offer to make them take the trash out or work on some exciting grammar exercises. Next I kindly offer to chop off one of their arms so A) the day would be more memorable, B) we could take an exciting trip in an ambulance and C) everyday tasks would be more of a challenge so they’d never be bored again.

If they complain again, “I’m bored!” then I say “Me too. Entertain me!” and then they have to find their harmonicas and dance me a jig.

And if still they complain, “WE ARE BORED.” I say “NO, YOU’RE BORED. The whole system is bored!”

Or I tell them the story of the old rabbit who fretted while he was waiting for his annuity to be funded, until finally after a series of mishaps he called his accountant who assured him that his retirement strategy was well diversified. In a delightful side story the rabbit looked up the word annuity in the dictionary to confirm that he understood what it was, but this only confounded him further as he needed to look up some of the words used to describe the term and on and on this went until he found himself deep in an Escheresque Webster’s fractal, a type of learning experience ironically known in research circles “as going down the rabbit hole”.

The seventh or eight time they say they’re bored I tell them I won’t believe them unless they write it backwards and show me in the mirror.

The ninth time I tell them that boredom is the inverse of de ja vu, and it only happens on days when time is running backwards. This gives them the delightful experience of explaining why everything I just said makes NO sense. The eye-rolling alone helps kill several minutes, plus counts as exercise.

If they complain again I congratulate them and say I will punch their loyalty card. The eleventh bout of ennui is free!

Next I make them look up the definition of the word ennui. Also: Annoy, angst, annuity.

If they’re still bored after a day that I have by now packed full of amusing activities, I point out that I for one haven’t been bored for hours. Maybe they should find a person younger than themselves who is bored and think of helpful suggestions for that person. Helping others feels great!

Eventually I will lose interest in trying to help them remedy their boredom. At this point I recommend watching me take a nap or reading one of my old college textbooks or watching a documentary about the Brooklyn bridge. Which sort of backfires because they sarcastically try my suggestion and then I wake up to them saying “GUESS WHAT. The first guy who designed the bridge DIED in a bridge accident and then his son took over and then HE almost died so that guy’s wife did most of the work and this is SO COOL!”

Then I don’t know whether to feel glad because my kids are documentary-loving dorks like me or lame because after all that I used television to solve their boredom for them. I settle for smug because I got to take a nap.

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Six things I don’t get

1. Trance/EDM, which sounds like a bowel disease. The name I mean not the music. The music sounds like techno that was taken out into the woods and left there and it had a plan to get home but someone ate the breadcrumbs so it just kind of hangs out in the forest awhile.

2. Watching youtube videos of people playing computer games.
I want to make a channel of baffled parents watching videos of their kids watching youtube videos of people playing minecraft

3. Coverlets

4. Advance meal planning. If you aren’t hungry, how do you get motivated to think about food? And if you ARE hungry, well you didn’t do this in advance now did you.

5. Trying new foods when you have no idea.
What if you try it and it’s awful? How can it be worth the risk??

6. 11-year-old humor.
Sometimes to be silly I will send my child messages over skype telling him to unload the dishes or something. The chore is real, but skyping someone who is in his room 15 feet away from me is silly. Being in a chat session with my kid gives me a whole new perspective on what he’s like in conversational writing. And he’s damned goofy, that’s what. Example:

ME: Congratulations! You get to go upstairs and bring the dog in!


ME: Yep. Go do it soon, please.

HIM: I can’t.


HIM: I’m a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread.


Nic: A peanut.

ME: Before she starts barking.

Nic: Cheesecake.

Nic: Apples. Pasta. Mango.

ME: …

Nic: Is grapefruit all one word?

ME: You know you can’t just list foods and expect to win an argument.

Nic: LOL
Nic: Grapefruit.

ME: You would make a terrible lawyer, you know that?

Nic: Sad face. NO!
Nic: Cereal.
Nic: Sandwich.
Nic: Hot dog. Salad. Potato.

The dog howls, and a kid made of giggles runs up and lets her in.

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Current Kickstarter projection

Current Kickstarter projection

So many big things are going on, but my mom is here and I said the word brunch and even though it’s 2pm she is holding me to my word. Brunch is a word you should only say if you mean it. But in the meantime, if you’re reading this, please GO CHECK OUT my kickstarter. I will love you forever if you back this project.

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Go ithn hnay to bnd bnforn your loving mithnr ithntnns to cill you.

I was getting ready for bed when a kid knocked on the bathroom door to ask me something really important. “Just a sec,” I said, figuring it was Graham needing to run in and pee. He gets trapped in the bedtime water cycle:
pee cycle

But I opened the door and Nicolaus was there pacing, waiting patiently to ask me a question.

About Tolkein.

Which he knows I have no interest in or knowledge about beyond “that thing my kid likes”, but maybe he figured I would get excited about looking something up on my phone — a reasonable bet seeing as I grew up using microfiche and card catalogs and haven’t ever gotten over the high of instant looking up of stuff. Instead I hugged him and bounced him back to bed. “We will talk about this in the morning.”

A little later I let the dog out, and he joined me out on the porch to laugh about this ridiculous abridged graphic novel version of The Hobbit hahaha it leaves out something important in this one conversation, well, I mean not IMPORTANT but it sounds better with those two words you know?

Once I was all settled in bed, he tapped quietly on our bedroom door and came in to tell me the rules of his new elf story that is based on the elves from the hobbit but they aren’t the same elves, so now he needs to make up a language for them and here are the rules he’s come up with so far, and so “Want to hear me translate something? -CK is pronounced like a long A sound. All Es are replaced by N sounds, including silent ones but that makes a slightly different kind of N sound. And TH will now be said like ITH. So say the phrase “The feather is under the brick” which is just a random thing I am saying that doesn’t really mean anything about anything, I mean it’s not from my story or whatever but say that’s the sentence? It would be “Ithn fne-ithner is undnr ithn bray.”

We are constantly reassuring this kid that he is not in trouble. He often assumes any level of “nope, sorry” or “Hey, please don’t do that” means we are mad at him or he’s in trouble. So I feel a little bad that I reassured him that if he did not go to bed and stay in bed and never get out of bed again until the wee hour of 9 a.m. released him from bed then he would be in TROUBLE. But it didn’t faze him. No wet eyes blinking back tears, no stressing at all. Just: “Okay, sorry. I am also thinking that there’s no need to have the letter K really at all? I mean we have a C already and it can do both the K sound, well really AND the S…”


“I know! Just one more thing I promise! If someone uses a silent K then it wouldn’t make sense to –”

“STOP. I love you. It is after one in the morning. BIG TROUBLE NOW.”

“Okay, okay, goodnight…”


“Can I get some paper?”


“So I can write down some notes?”

“Good idea.”

“For in the morning so I won’t forget –?”


“From your printer?”


And he did, he went to bed and slept until 5:30 in the morning when he whispered. “Mama? Did you charge the ipad? I want to listen to that podcast by the Tolkein professor…”

This is when I remembered something: I gave my son a nice big glass of unsweet tea with his lunch. He seemed really exhausted from a weekend social-a-thon and I thought it would be a nice treat. Perk him up a little bit! Awesome idea! I’m basically a genius at parenting! What’s the worst that could happen?

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What in the heck just happened? My 30s, that’s what.

When our babies were small enough that they rode in the front part of the basket, nice ladies with silver hair and watery eyes would stop us and urge: “Cherish every moment. It goes so fast.”

And we would assure them oh, for sure! We are cherishing every moment so hard! Even though those women know damned well it doesn’t work that way. Even if someone had handed us a real live actual no-shit time downslower, we still couldn’t have stopped the moments from sliding by because we were so sleep-starved and stressed about money and laundry and babies who wouldn’t JUST OMG EAT and everything else that there’s no way either of us would’ve had the mental clarity to operate the Time Slowdown Machine. Especially if it was a fancy one with more than one or two settings where wait, read the quickstart guide, I think the rate of time passing is controlled by the other remote. The black one. It can work with either but you have to set it up. So this one turns the thing on and calibrates — NO, SWEETIE you have to aim it right into the cone of perception or else it won’t read the signal. It’s infrared and… just let me see it. What the heck did you do? Now the box is turned off and we have to

Okay you know what? We will just let time pass at the normal rate for now. Then later when the kids are grown and we have years where we constantly feel a deep heart-stabbing regret over not slowing down time when we had the chance, well THEN we will get one of the kids to come over and use the machine to speed time up for us. Assuming I haven’t misplaced the remote, in which case we will just go to grocery stores and accost new parents like creepy sad old soothsayers.

I really have cherished the holy heck out of my kids’ childhoods. Maybe not every single moment, but definitely a lot of them. I savored mundane things like bedtime stories and morning snuggles and the way toddlers point and flex their feet when they are concentrating. I blogged, I took candid photos in natural light, I listened to them intently.

And just like those old ladies knew it wouldn’t, all of that did nothing to slow down time.

Despite all of my frantic cherishing, our youngest is now eight. No more talking to a tiny person; we are in the middle stretch of parenting. I don’t feel as frantic to cherish moments and milestones but for the kids, this is Childhood. These years are where their lifelong memories (and/or false memories, if we decide to troll them with photoshop) are made. This is where our failures and parental shortcomings will be fished from when they’re old enough to talk to a therapist about their issues, and this is where they’ll get all of the things they try to repeat or avoid with their own kids. This is where kids start putting in their own hard work towards forming their identity, their social connections, their future selves.

At the same time, life becomes hugely easier for parents at this point. Which sort of sucks for me because having little kids is a great social equalizer. People who just met me in the last decade don’t know how scattered I was before I was a parent. We are back to where we were before we had kids: lame messy people who don’t know anything about being grownups that wasn’t clearly spelled out in an IKEA catalog or episode of Friends.

When your kids are 5 and 7, people 100% understand if you show up late and your given reason is Shoe Drama. It’s not worrisome if you’re visibly exhausted and have a sticker in your hair. You have little kids! Of course your socks don’t match and you just ate peanut butter for dinner — lady, you’re doing great to survive each day!

But that level of sympathy is over once your youngest turns eight. Not only are you free of little kids slowing you down, heck now you have extra field hands. 8 and 11 can do real chores. 8 and 11 get their own band-aids. In fact if you say “Ow!” they’ll run to get YOU band-aids. 8 and 11 can shower and dry their own hair. They might do a terrible job but so what? They can unload dishes!

The little bits of freedom keep surprising me. Wait, did you just let the dog out without me telling you to? Did you refill the paper tray in my printer just because hey, paper? Are you genuinely helping with dinner in a way that helps instead of slowing me down a bunch? These things are GOOD things.

So here I am, at the start of my 40s. It seems like the next ten years will be less frantic, but still intense in a new way. I see these kids becoming people. People! People with friends and interests and quirks and habits and social lives. What they need from us now is listening and talking, guidance, reminders, help understanding all the social weird stuff about being human. And rides to friends’ houses. And popcorn with lots of butter. And help setting up Skype.

No grocery store ladies have warned me to cherish every moment of pre-adolescence, but I’m finding that as much as I adore and miss conversations with four year olds, I wouldn’t mind slowing time down right now. Just a little. You know?

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