On travelling, boredom, and the best knock-knock joke ever

Two and a half weeks since my last post feels like a lifetime. I’m in Union Station in Denver waiting for my train to Grand Junction, which has been delayed almost two hours. I’m on my way to the Running Wild retreat, which starts tomorrow. I’ve been travelling since Sunday night, when L drove the kids & I to Northern City to pick up Clover, who had been parked for almost 2 years in a corner of the back yard of our rented out house and miraculously needed nothing more than a new battery to get running. That van. So many memories, so much love in that little green & rust tin can with wheels.

L helped me get the van packed & ready on Monday morning for my journey south with the kids, then we both drove off in different directions — him west and back to work, me & the kids south to meet my folks. I thought I’d probably break up the trip and spend the night somewhere along the road, but the kids were champions pretty much the whole way — I let them snack (and throw popcorn everywhere) and draw on themselves and their toys with permanent markers and highlighters that I was too distracted to notice Au had packed when we grabbed stuff from our storage. We played “I spy with my little mind” which is a kind of hybrid made-up game halfway between 20 questions and I spy. We told knock-knock jokes — or rather, one knock-knock joke (the only one I know):

Me: Knock, knock. Au: Who’s there? Me: banana. Au: Banana who? Me: Knock, knock. Au: Who’s there? Me: banana. Au: Banana who? [REPEAT X TIMES, THEN] Me: Knock, knock. Au: Who’s there? Me: Orange. Au: Orange who? Me: Orange you glad I didn’t say banana? [UNCONTROLLABLE LAUGHTER, 100% of the time]

I probably told that joke ten times, and Au told it back to me a few times too, with random fruit inserted and no punchline. I wish I knew more knock-knock jokes (insert your favourites in the comments please!), but it was also kind of hilarious how hilarious Au found that joke every single time I told it (I kept drawing it out with more and more bananas every time, which in itself was completely hilarious), so I’m convinced that it is pretty much the best joke ever. It certainly cracked me up as much as it cracked her up, although for different reasons.

All told, my first long(ish) road trip with the kids in the van went really well. Atl slept a lot, and Au squirmed a lot and whined a bit, but one of the many excellent features of a 1983 Westfalia is that the back seat is a fair distance from the front seats, and plus that little workhorse of an engine is in the back, so what with the distance and the engine noise and the considerable wind noise (increased due to the fact that the heater is ALWAYS blowing hot air and can’t be shut off, so the driver’s window must be kept open unless it’s freezing out), the auditory irritation of the whining is significantly diminished by all the other noise, and if you happen also to be passing through an area with radio reception, well. It’s pretty manageable, actually. Almost painless.

In case anyone is wondering why I don’t just stick a tablet in front of the kid, I’m increasingly convinced that it’s not only unnecessary, but actually harmful to rely on screens as a babysitting crutch. That’s not to say I don’t do it — when I have no childcare, I am in the habit of letting Au watch Netflix during Atl’s afternoon naps to give me a minute to catch my breath and/or check email and maybe get a bit of work done. But I’ve noticed that when I use it too much — say I have some stuff that I absolutely need to get done, or I’m just too tired and overwhelmed and defeated and I cave to the whining — the effect on her attitude and behaviour and overall emotional state is DRASTIC. I’ve also noticed that when I limit (or even occasionally eliminate) her daily screen time, she struggles to figure out what to do with herself but eventually figures it out — and I’m convinced that the cycle of struggle/boredom and then solution (figuring out something to do) is a critical life skill that we deprive our kids of when we constantly entertain them (or provide devices to entertain them). Because life is not about being entertained. Boredom is healthy. Being left alone to figure out what to do is healthy. Learning to stare out the window and look at the scenery and think your own thoughts on a long journey — these are all healthy, necessary skills that kids won’t learn or develop unless they are given the opportunity. And as a parent, giving them the opportunity to be bored, to not be entertained, to struggle with the very real struggle of what to do — it is hard (mainly because of the whining), but I’m increasingly convinced that it’s necessary for their development and mental health. I think it builds resilience and resourcefulness. And I see the marked difference when I do the hard thing and say “no” to screen time.

So I was okay letting Au be bored and whiny for as long as she needed to on this trip. It was really hard for her for the first few hours, but she settled into the reality of it fairly quickly and the rest of the journey was relatively painless. She looked out the window and occupied herself (not only colouring her Sky stuffie and all of her fingernails and toenails with permanent marker, but also drawing a “TV” on the little wooden box she’d found in the storage shed and filled with random toys and markers). And I’m going to keep letting her be bored and figure it out on her own as much as I can handle because I think (hope) it will help her develop in a good and healthy way.

And now the train is boarding, so I’m posting this and will (hopefully) keep writing on the train ride to Grand Junction. I’m going on a train! So exciting!!

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