Seven weeks ago, my car was stolen. I was devastated. Living in a village with my three year old daughter and seven month old son and totally crap public transport links meant that the car was our only ticket out of here and enabled me to transport my two to various play dates, soft play, farms, cafes, swimming, gymnastics, kids parties, toddler groups, shopping trips, etc. Being busy was my way of coping and I felt I was doing well as a Mum if their days were crammed with activities.
I felt that I was preventing them from boredom by filling their days up like this, as if they were empty vessels I could fill with 'experiences.' I felt that I was stimulating them, encouraging them to explore the world, but you know what? Actually I was just exhausting them. Actually I was just not giving them the space or time to really explore or experience anything.
When we lost the car our world got much smaller. Apart from the odd kind friend or family member taking us out here and there, we were limited to our house, the park (thank god we have a park nearby!) and a few little footpaths we can walk through surrounding the village. I started doing the food shopping online, gave up carting my daughter around to her various gymnastics, soft play and trampolining clubs, and generally embraced spending much more time at home doing 'activities' such as;
Sitting on the bed with the kids.
Playing in the garden.
Hanging around in the local park.
Aimless craft activities like dipping stuff in glitter and a sellotaping stuff together from the recycling bin and not in any way that produces something you could put on Pinterest.
Sitting on the floor in the kids' room building stuff and pretending things.
The thing is that kids are never really doing nothing. They will always find something to do unless they are asleep so I suppose I am not talking about doing 'nothing' so much as I am talking about a different way of approaching a day spent with children. For maybe the first time since having two kids rather than one, our days became unscheduled. Normally my daughter is at preschool for fifteen hours a week but just as the car was stolen, preschool began a three week holiday. No preschool, no car, no clubs, no toddler groups, no structure.
So are my children happy spending more time at home and taking part in less 'activities'?
Well, the baby is very happy spending a good amount of time doing 'activities' like picking up an apple and dropping it back into a fruit bowl over and over again. My four year old daughter is quite happy making magic potions and mermaid caves in the garden and I am realising that it is really ok for them to do stuff like that some days and not even bother going out that much. Boredom is basically a space. By denying my children this space I may have been denying them a space in which to grow.
Why was I so scared of my children being bored? What would happen to them? What would happen to me? Am I neglecting them if they don't get to feed five farmyard animals a week, try out every swing and slide in the district and visit six sites of historical interest?
Look, all of these things are great and I will continue to do them with my kids (within reason) but I'd like to put forward the argument that children who are given the chance to be bored (play in a child led and unstructured way) are actually happier and maybe even more intelligent.
There are some woody bits near our house we like to walk through but just take it really slowly and look at everything. To be honest, I am trying to kill time and make the few activities I can provide last much longer but actually, I have accidentally given the kids what they really needed which is just to have the time to explore and enjoy things. For instance, if my four year old wants to stop for ten minutes to hit a tree with a stick (which in turn makes the baby shriek in delight) why don't I just let her? The tree doesn't mind and I don't have any more interesting activities up my sleeve.
One day we stopped and played in an underpass for a good half an hour. They loved listening to the echoes made by their voices, splashing in puddles and looking at the graffiti (thankfully, not too many penises) on the walls. The thing is, hanging around in a dark underpass and listening to your own screeches and whoops bouncing off the walls is probably way more fun to my children than being taken to a farm to feed some chickens, but as it is not really a typical 'afternoon out with the kids' they do not usually get a chance to enjoy this kind stuff.
Hopefully one day soon I will get another car but in the meantime, I'm so glad I've got better at doing nothing. Doing nothing has made my children and therefore me, much more happy and relaxed. Car or no car, from now on we will definitely be doing nothing on a much more regular basis.