The kids are watching some film or other on Netflix when I hear them sigh. When I investigate I see the circle on the screen spinning round and round. Inundated with info and struggling to find space or capacity or to hear itself above all the other techno babble, the computer is buffering.
“I’m bored” moans the 7 year old when faced with this momentary glitch in his passive entertainment. “Being bored” is a new phrase for him, and a thoroughly depressing one at that. I feel a pang of shame: how did I let this happen?
In a flash he’s gone from being exhilarated at finding his toes, to a couple of seconds of buffering bringing on utter despondency.
In a cruel ironic twist, this awareness of boredom seems to coincide with a time when I am unable to move without stumbling upon some action figure, or Innotab charger, or bag of books, or second hand puzzle. Our house is fit to burst with toys, it’s decorated with items chosen specifically with the kids in mind, we have even given over the kitchen table to glitter. Play dates role in. New clubs pop up.
There is no time to do any more. How can he be bored?
The natural first response to this phrase from any Cogito Ergo Mum is to wonder, “What am I doing wrong?”
Have I spoiled them? Do they have too much? Are they watching too many adverts that leave them feeling their current toys are somehow lacking? Is school now so structured that they are now unable to work out how to entertain themselves in whatever free time they have?
My second response is “Actually, I’m a bit bored too.”
With all of our stuff, all of our luck, all of our security it is tempting to dismiss this boredom as a first world problem. It probably is, but it’s a problem I want to solve: I am not going to let us waste all we have under a cloud of feeling generally uninspired.
I look at the 7 year old, who just had his birthday, and I look at me, soon to turn 40 and I find some surprising similarities. It seems we have both reached some sort of cross roads. The mid life one is not a surprise. But the 7 year old’s is.
When I think about it, there seems some subtle but profound change comes when a child reaches 7. It’s like he has taken a step away from engaging 100% with external experiences, and a little step inwards.
He seems to be processing, thinking, reflecting, wondering how he is going to interpret all the stimuli life throws at him. Inundated with all this new information, I realise perhaps the 7 year old isn’t bored at all. I think he might be buffering.
There’s so much to listen to, to think about, to reflect upon, to decide upon, to worry about, to take delight in. The 40 year old and the 7 year old can both sense a change in the road that lies ahead. We are both a little paralysed by all that might come next. It’s easier to claim boredom than deal with it.
As with the computer when it is overwhelmed, I reckon its time to shut down a few apps: stash away the lesser used toys, lose the charger for the Innotab, remember not to worry too much about the homework. Or, in my case, let the more thankless chores slip for a while, turn off Facebook, have faith that the next part of my journey will make itself clear through the fog soon.
But for all this to happen, we have to stop for a while. Perhaps keep a pen at hand, and a book. Keep the doors open to the outside world, and our arms open for cuddles.
We need to not beat ourselves up or fear that we are not just bored but, worse still, boring.
We’re not bored son, we’re buffering.
I don’t know about you, but I see no shame in that.