I spent the night at my grandmother’s house often as a child. She would set her alarm for 5 am. It didn’t matter if the next day was a Monday or a Saturday. She was always up way before anyone else. When I asked her what she needed to get up for, she said, “Nothing.” It took me years to figure out the magic that laid inside doing nothing. It’s something I’ve been trying to model for my own children so they can experience that magic too.
All The Activities
My children have entered a phase in their lives where there is an abundance of activities they can participate in. Whether through school, the community recreation center, or private groups, there is everything from sports to crafts to theater to LEGO challenges. We could have an activity for them every night of the week. We started with one activity that meets twice a week. They are enjoying the experiences so far. I also believe it is teaching them responsibility. Having a place to be twice a week, being in charge of the items needed for the activity, and practicing pushes them into a new level of maturity.
While we are so fortunate to have these opportunities for our children, starting activities has also brought a new level of stress to the family. My mental load, especially, has significantly increased. It has changed bedtime routines, dinnertime, laundry, and the ability to do many social events. The nap and feeding schedules for our baby have also needed to change for the needs of the activities. I am constantly plotting how I can make our commitments run more efficiently. When I’m not planning to ensure we are prepared for the activities, I’m planning to ensure I have something ready to go in the interim when the kids declare that they’re “bored.” I have made myself my children’s personal concierge.
When I was a kid, I spent many days creating alternate worlds for my dolls and lying in the grass staring at clouds. I was enrolled in dance. My brother had one activity too. That’s it—just one. We had one night a week where we needed to be somewhere. The rest of the time was up to us to fill. I’m sure I would declare that I was “bored,” but it didn’t compel my parents to find something for us to do. We had to find it. I loved this time with myself, eventually. I don’t remember rushing dinner so we could make a practice. We didn’t have places to be and things to do at all times.
Filling the Calendar
My therapist asked me what I do when there is a blank space in my calendar. The only logical answer to me was to “Fill it!”. She explained that if I continue to fill my free time with ‘things,’ I will never truly be at peace with myself. She asked if I could enjoy my own company. I had no idea what that even looked like. A successful family was always doing things, was always on the go, or so I thought. Why did I think that? I didn’t grow up like that, so why was I convinced that my family and I always needed to be doing something and that I was in charge of ensuring that happened constantly? I still don’t know the answer. Wherever this idea came from, it was not the right fit for me; or my family.
I decided that when the next black space arose, I would do nothing. My husband often takes the kids for rides to give me quiet time. I usually use the time to tackle the “shoulds” on my list. Lately, I have done nothing. Sometimes that is watching “Golden Girls,” sometimes that is doing yoga or reading a book. Sometimes that is taking a nap. Where guilt would hang heavy on me in the past, I enjoy nothing now. Enjoying my own company has led me to feel more present when I am in planning mode. My mental load has lightened. Life has slowed down, although not much else has changed.
I started doing nothing, and I closed the concierge. When my children declared their boredom, my response was, “That’s nice.” They were very annoyed with me at first. Then the magic happened. They created cities from blocks and stories about those cities. They made up games using the toys they already had. They drew copies of their favorite characters from their memory and made up some of their own. They even found corners with stacks of books and read to themselves and one another. They were enjoying their own company.
I now understand why my grandmother woke up at 5 am every day. Spending that time with herself set the tone for her day, no matter what it held. Curated activities have their place in a child’s (and adult’s) life. But so does nothing.