Never a Dull Moment, With The Big Questions Kid

Have you ever told your children that it was good to be bored? Have you ever flailed trying to explain why, even to yourself?

Let me define boredom for my purposes: an absence of outside stimuli (e.g. XBox, Wii, FB, Instagram, television, the usual suspects), as well as an absence of creative ideas coming from within. Stasis. Quiet. Spaciousness.

I heard two super smart women sing the praises of boredom this week. Each relayed a story of a different psychological study.

At the Literary Women festival in Long Beach on Saturday, author Aimee Bender described a study in which one group of people were given an exceedingly boring task — copying phone numbers out of the phone book — and then right after were given plastic cups and told to do something creative with them. A control group of non-super-bored folks were given the same cups, same instruction. The bored-to-death folks ran away with the creative assignment, cutting out spirals and snowflakes and lord-knows-what-else with their plastic. The non-bored folks made an effort at some pyramid-thingy. The takeaway? Boredom led to pent up creativity bursting to be released.

The second study about boredom was relayed by Rabbi Amy Bernstein. People were asked to sit alone in a waiting room. There was nothing to do in the room. No one was allowed a phone, a book, a pencil and paper. Nothing but one’s body and mind. For fifteen minutes they would have to be alone with their thoughts. There was one activity in the waiting room: a button that, when pushed, gave off an electric shock. You won’t be surprised, will you, when I share that many folks preferred the pain of electric shock to being with their thoughts for fifteen minutes?

When I told my kids about this study, before I could finish, my 10-year-old son offered he gladly spin in circles for 15 minutes.

Spinning

It came as no surprise to me that this kid had no problem with the idea of fifteen minutes to himself. He lives for it. Yes, he gets addicted to screens like the rest of us. But he is a soul who needs quiet moments, too, room to hear his own thoughts. That’s when the cool stuff happens: the wide-eyed realizations and the biggest questions.

Early one morning, we ride our bikes to school. “What does it all mean?” he asks, navigating the sprinklers and bumps in the sidewalk. “I mean, we are just specks in the universe, Mom!”

We roll along, him in front, leading, and me trying to keep up.

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Unexpected Gifts

I sat at the car wash, wondering how much longer it would take, wishing I’d postponed this deviation from my tightly wrought schedule. My son had begged me to get it washed, something new for him, so there I was. It could have waited until I had finished my day’s work and chores and ambitions. But those never get finished. I may as well have a clean car to go along with unmet goals.

I readied a big tip (mindful of the myriad ways Carwasheros are shorted by employers), when a “hello how are you” acquaintance sat near me. For years, we have said hello, exchanged smiles as we pass in or out of the elementary school, but our kids are different ages, she has girls and I have boys, and we have never had occasion to go beyond pleasantries.

Except today she carried a book in her hand. A hardback book, I’m saying. Not a Kindle. A short story collection in hardback. Not an Oprah’s choice. We talked.

She said how with three little girls short stories are her only hope. That naturally led me to plug Aimee Bender, local girl made extraordinary, and eventually a sheepish admission to me being a writer and mentioning I’d published a book.

“What’s it called?”

Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood.”

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“I have that. I pick it up all the time.”

“No, you don’t. You have something else that sounds like it.” How could someone not my mother or my best friend have my book on her shelf, and turn to it all the time?

She was certain. “Did they sell it at Village Books?”

“Yes, I did a reading there.” She found my book when searching for inspiration on the shelves of an independent book store, now empty and locked, after the birth of her youngest daughter. My book lives on her shelf with Mothers Who Think, and Brain, Child, two books that inspired my own.

I give thanks for the unexpected gifts a chance decision to run an errand may bring: That every “hello how are you” acquaintance has a unique story and sometimes we are privileged to meet each other in a deeper way if we’re open to it. That my writing has a life beyond my imagination, which may sustain people I have never met. And that a book (even when held in your hand) has the power to break through the mundane to make meaningful connections.

(Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood is available in paperback and, yes, even Kindle.)

Deliver Me for Kindle