Back in the old days, there was a magical place. A beautiful land full of freshly picked dandelions, easy laughter and lazy butterflies. A secret world where you could feel the sun’s warm rays, smell the sweet fragrance of fresh cut grass, and listen to the gentle rustling of the trees.
Do you remember this place?
Well, just get up off your lazy butt, take three steps and open the door.
Nope, don’t look back longingly at your computer. Keep going. Fine, take your laptop with you. OK, take another step. That’s it. It’ll be all right, trust me… just take a few more steps…a few more…c’mon you can do it….good. Now take a look around. Breathe it all in. Ah, there.
It’s called outside. Ring any bells?
Outside: the place you experience for the 12.5 seconds it takes to get from your car to a building; the place you longingly look at through a window in between watching marathons of Breaking Bad and constantly checking your email; the place that at any given time of the year, is either ‘too cold’, ‘too humid’ or ‘too rainy’ for us to dare dream of venturing out into it. And if we do, we do nothing but complain about it.
No one goes outside anymore.
My kids have been home all summer and I think they’ve been outside (willingly) maybe once. One day last week, I looked out the window and was astonished to see them both riding their bikes down the driveway. Voluntarily. My mouth hung open. I thought maybe I should go get the camera so we could cherish this moment for all eternity. But before the thought crossed my mind, I heard a door slam, followed by the slow draggy thumps of little feet going back up the stairs.
“Hey!” I gushed. “You guys were outside! It’s fun, huh?” I pulled out my best fist-pump for emphasis. “So–get back out there! Go on! Have fun! Get out! Aren’t you having fun out there? Huh? Fun? Huh??”
“Nope, we got bored,” my son said with a shrug. “There’s nothing to do out there.”
They were outside approximately three minutes.
After I shooed them back out into the big bad world with instructions on how to make a game out of a stick and some rocks (making sure to quickly slam the door shut and flip the dead-bolt before they could throw their little bodies up against it and push it back open), I thought about my own childhood.
From the age of five to 13, I think I spent every single second of the day outside–from dawn till dusk and beyond. With my mother, it was mandatory. As soon as our cereal bowls were emptied, she’d hand us a five dollar bill for lunch, then push us out the door with her broom. “Go on! Get!” We knew better than to come back home until supper.
This was back in the days before video games, internet, smartphones, texting,.. before the invention of electricity (did I go too far?) How did we know when it was time to go home for dinner? Either when it was too pitch dark outside to play hide-n-seek or when we could hear my mom hollering “DIIINNERRRRR!” two blocks away from the front porch, whichever came first.
Because of my mom’s parenting (or lack of), my brothers and I were tough, having spent our entire summers virtually on our own out in the backyard. Sometimes we’d venture off to ride our bikes around the block or skateboard to our local five and dime to buy food (okay, mostly Mello Yello and wax lips). Sure, we were unsupervised–and today the very notion gives most parents heart palpitations–but we were independent. We were creative. We were survivors of the streets. We were forced to improvise and use our imagination. And get into trouble, naturally.
Back then, grown-ups weren’t such a constant fixture in our lives, hovering over us, waiting for something to go wrong so they could swoop in and save us. When I was a kid, adults were these fuzzy shadows in the distance that occasionally barked orders at us, but for the most part, left us alone all day to fend for ourselves.
We fought our own battles: if a kid socked me in the gut, I’d sock him right back. We’d both snivel a little but would eventually suck it up and resolve things with no parental involvement. We scrounged for our own food: “I’ll trade you my Pop rocks for your Twizzlers!” ”Ooh! Look, score! I found a red hot ball on the ground!” We explored the world and were fearless, adventurous, and more than a little stupid: “Hey! Let’s climb that huge tree, then try to jump into the neighbor’s swimming pool!” or “Hey! Let’s shoot lawn darts off the garage roof!”
Things were never boring. Things were the opposite of boring–and okay, sometimes involved quick trips to the ER. But I’d like to think somewhere deep in my heart, that lawn dart sticking out of my brother’s bloody foot helped make him the man he is today. And that BB stuck in the corner of my brother’s eye helped him build character.
What happens when my kids go outside? What shenanigans do they get into? What cool games do they invent? How do they use their imagination? What schemes do they cook up?
Nothing. They’re bored. Because there are no other kids outside in a 10 mile radius. But at least they’re out there, right? Boredom is good for the soul!
And mommy’s sanity.
I plan to kick them both outside again today.
Just as soon as I can find my broom and have my husband install another extra-strength dead-bolt.
What things did you do as a kid to combat boredom? Did you drive your mom crazy during the summer? If you have kids, do they complain about going outside? If not, can your kids take my kids outside today and show them how to play? If you don’t have kids, can you come over here and babysit mine for a few hours?