There’s a familiar scene in my life. It opens with me in my office when my daughter comes barreling in like a gust of wind. Within two seconds, she’s flopping around on the couch and declaring to all within earshot…
Immediately, my brain jumps into save-the-day-dad-mode and I’ll start offering random suggestions of things she likes, has liked, or might like in the future. Each idea makes her groan louder.
Why don’t we watch a show?
Want to play a game?
I don’t know. We can go work in the garden.
That’s when I finally settle on the right response.
Fine. Be bored.
I turn my chair back around as she hangs upside down from the cushioned seats to the floor below. She calls me mean and storms out in the same sweeping manner in which she came. I’m left behind to finish whatever it was I was doing before being so rudely interrupted. Despite the situation appearing cut-and-dry, I still worry that I did the wrong thing, even though I know I didn’t.
I know where that unsure feeling comes from. For me as a kid, being bored was the rule rather than the exception. That’s not a statement on my childhood as much as the time period I grew up in. Outside of an occasional Gameboy or Walkman, car rides were spent staring out the window. Waiting for stamps required standing on line instead of logging into a website. Kids were dragged everywhere. I spent many a day bouncing off of velvet ropes at the bank and pretending I was a pro wrestler ready to land a clothesline. My eleven year old daughter has barely waited on any lines at all. Velvet ropes are far less common in her world.
Because of those memories, it strikes a chord when my child tells me she is bored. Something in my brain says, “This was something you didn’t like about growing up. Correct it for your own kids.” So, I try to. The problem is that you can’t correct it all the time and, to be frank, you shouldn’t.
Being bored has led to some of my most creative moments. My best ideas don’t come when I’m focused on something specific. No, they’re born from standing in the shower or staring at the bedroom ceiling before taking those first steps of morning. Sometimes, creating something has to come from doing nothing.
I remind myself of that when my kids come begging for me to fix their moments of blah. It actually does more than just foster creative thinking. It’s a good way to learn self-control and self-soothing techniques. That’s why I apply the same approach to my son too.
Lucas loves Sesame Street. He can’t get enough of it. Actually, if I’m being honest, he likes seven episodes of Sesame Street. The rest of them might as well be hot garbage. He enjoys the ones based on singing and the one where Mario Lopez thinks Cookie Monster is a Veggie Monster. Other than that, Sesame Street might as well be the evening news.
I’ll be at my computer while he watches one of the Seven Sesames in the den. Inevitably it will end and he will come creeping in behind me. I sense his presence and, although my little Ninja boy is practically silent, I’ll know he’s there. From my peripheral, I’ll spy his tiny hand inching to my arm as he ever so gently nudges me.
…tap, tap, tap…
He pats his finger like a butterfly playing a paper piano. It’s sweet, but I know the problem already. The next Sesame Street has started and it is not one of his pre-approved episodes. He wants a new one. I send him away.
No, Lucas. Go watch this one.
…tap, tap, tap…
He remains undeterred and continues his persistent taps. It’s straight out of an Edgar Alan Poe story. The relentless tapping tests my patience, but it’s so light on my arm that I can’t help but smile. Adorably annoying is the best way to describe it.
No. Lucas. Go watch this one.
He’ll lock eyes with me as he moonwalks away. Within seconds of turning back to my computer, I’ll feel it again. It’s so light that I think I’m imagining it.
…tap, tap, tap…
As I spin around in my chair, he’ll hand me the remote for the television. It’s gigantic in his little hand and the look on his face is downright heartbreaking. Sometimes I give in. Sometimes I don’t.
For those thinking this is a laziness issue on my part, realize that his Sesame is being broadcast via Chromecast. That means I can change it to any show I want with the push of my phone screen. In many ways, it’s easier to just give him the one that he wants and be done with all this tapping.
The reason I don’t is because life, especially for a child with Autism, is going to be boring sometimes. Given his unique view of the world, events that many of us might enjoy won’t be as exciting for him. Lucas has to learn now that you don’t always get the Sesame Street you want. In fact, sometimes you don’t get Sesame Street at all.
An even greater lesson is that something those events might turn out to be his next favorite thing. Same thing with his forbidden Sesame Streets. All of these episodes had once been new to him. It was forced moments of boredom that reeled him in. He may only have seven Sesames, but there was a time when he had six. And five. And so on. It’s a big world and he’s not done experiencing it.
Sometimes he learns that he likes it. Sometimes not. In those cases, he’ll return to the den and, after a little bit, I’ll hear the familiar sounds of his Leapfrog computer or talking Scout Dog. I smile because I know that he solved his boredom issue on his own and, when the time comes for a real world boredom scenario, I’ll have more confidence in his ability to make his own life better.
I want to be the fun dad, but I also want to be a good dad. It’s a delicate balance sometimes. My goal has always been to give my kids the most exciting life possible, but not at the expense of their creativity or personal growth. Making fun and exciting people is the goal that trumps them all. I’d rather they be bored people now than boring people later.