For the Love of …. Doing Nothing

I love doing nothing. It’s right up there with eating. And watching TV. And sleeping (which, I guess, is just doing nothing with your eyes closed.) I long to do nothing.

Back in my single, pre-kid days, I excelled at doing nothing. I practiced long and hard. Put in a lot of time and effort, mastering the art and skill of doing nothing. It was lovely, indulgent, righteous. I also did a lot of stuff: partying, studying, working hard, traveling, moving to new countries, making new friends. But there was always the option of doing nothing.

These days, there is not a lot of time available for doing nothing. Kids school, kids activities, kids play dates, school vacation, domesticity, family and a career all have this horrible way of getting in between me and my favo(u)rite pass-time. Society imposes this crazy requirement for being busy, as if a full schedule is the key to fulfillment. I beg to differ. The schedule is what causes the most heartburn in my life, especially as working parent. The schedule is one of the few things my husband and I argue over. Who is picking up which kid? Who gets to stay home to cover the kids’ early release days/snow days/sick days/school vacation day? Whose meeting is more important? Whose schedule/employer is more flexible?

Because the weeks are so crazy, we try as a family to do nothing at the weekends. We try not to pack these precious two days with outings, activities, errands, parties, play dates and socializing. However it doesn’t work. There are always errands, parties, play dates and socializing. But that’s cool. As long as there are a few hours tucked away, reserved for vegging out on the couch watching a movie, hanging in the backyard, lazing in bed, taking a long bath.

There is however a really, really fine balancing act, I’ve found, between organizing stuff for the kids to do and letting them play freely. Here’s what can happen when you let them do nothing:

a. They play quietly
b. They get creative
c. They break stuff
d. They break each other
e. All or some of the above

It is currently day three of school vacation week. I’m trying to perfect a formula that mixes a variety of planned and spontaneous activities with free time for doing nothing.

So far, the kids have only broken one piece of furniture. The house looks like a tornado blew through it. Laundry is piling up.

It’s not exactly the kind of doing nothing I’d like to be doing on vacation. But it’s fun.

p.s. I’m not including a picture because I can’t be bothered to search for one.

TV or No TV (Or Just Less TV?)

(This post originally ran on the Framingham Patch.)

I love good TV and when I find a show that I love, I’m all-in. Over the decades, there have been many shows I’ve truly loved: Friends, The West Wing, Ally McBeal, ER and, more recently, 24, Law & Order, Greys Anatomy, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Homeland, Downton Abbey. And many more in between. In fact, I’ve loved many of these shows and their characters so much so that I follow and often tweet with them on Twitter, which makes me feel ridiculously happy. (Yes, I know these are not real people but, please, indulge me.)

Here's me chatting with the West Wing's  much revered CJ Cregg

Here’s me chatting with the West Wing’s much revered CJ Cregg

Back when I was a kid, I watched a lot of TV, like most kids do today. Saturdays, in particular, you’d find my brother, sister and I lounging around watching Noel Edmands’ Swap Shop in the morning and Doctor Who in the afternoon. And much more. Until the day that my Dad decided we watched too much and it was, in his opinion, harming our grey matter and ruining our chances of future brilliance.

He took away the TV for a whole year; locked it up in a cupboard. Twelve months later, we kids were social outcasts, unable to join in the conversations at school about whatever were the latest goings-on on the popular shows. It stunk, big time.

When Dad eventually returned the TV, much to our jubilation, watching it came with terms and conditions. Dad and demanded we sign a “TV Charter”, which listed the rules that were to govern our TV watching. I remember, in particular, one clause relating to when we were allowed to watch TV mid-week during the day. “Only if genuinely ill and in bed,” the charter stated.

Did Dad’s extreme measures make an iota of difference to the amount of TV I watch? Not one teeny bit! I’m still a TV fiend.

Fast-forward to present day. I read in emarketer that, according to Nielsen, 2- to 11- year olds average 23 hours 34 minutes per week watching “traditional” TV. That’s almost one whole day per week spent in front of the tube. (By comparison, the time kids spent online was just shy of 2 hours per week.)

Even before reading this, I was feeling concerned by the amount of TV my kids were watching, even though we were limiting it to 30 mins each evening mid-week and longer on weekend mornings. The problem wasn’t so much what they were watching but their stroppy behavior when asked to stop watching and the spiraling moods as bedtime closed in.

Three weeks ago, after displaying some particularly bad behavior, we banned the TV in the evenings for a week as punishment. The first night the kids complained vigorously. “We’re so bored,” they moaned. “There’s nothing to do.”

The second night, we discussed their options for evening entertainment before they had a chance to start complaining (they built forts.) By the third evening, there was no discussion, they headed straight for their books, crayons, and toys and played. And guess what? Bath time and bedtime were less highly-strung, more relaxed and everyone went to sleep calmer and happier.

We’ve so enjoyed the transformation that we’ve decided to make it half-permanent. No TV in the evenings Monday to Wednesday. Honestly, I don’t think the kids have even noticed. My son heads straight to his books, my daughter to her Transformers. It’s a beautiful thing.

And, best of all, I can catch up on emails, blogging—and tweeting with my imaginary TV friends!

%d bloggers like this: