On Being

We are a family of many interests, and we truly believe that we should all explore different areas – sports, music, arts, spirituality, science, etc.  Our kids have after-school activities (not every day!) and play with friends once or twice a week.  And when they have free time they are often asking us to play with them, or they play with each other (which we absolutely love to do).

And then comes the inevitable statement:  Mom, I’m bored.

I look around our house – board games, endless materials for crafts, shelves of books, a backyard and garden.  How could one ever be bored here?!

And again: Mom, I’m bored!  What should I do?

I could think of a million things that one could be doing, but I don’t think that my job should be trying to tend to my child’s every whim and fancy and lack of imagination.

A few weeks ago, friends invited us to join a family-oriented bird-watching tour.  We got up early and met in a nature area.  You have to wait awhile to see the birds.  Then you need to find them in the binoculars.  Then you need to try to discern the tiny little features that distinguish each bird one from the other – a stripe on his feather, the shape of his wing, etc.  An activity that requires a lot of patience and a trained eye.

About halfway through, it comes: Mom, I’m bored.

I will admit that I did not discover a love of bird-watching on this trip, but I certainly treasured the time in nature and I appreciated the opportunity to notice so many things that I don’t see every day (And I will admit now – ever since that trip, I am much more aware of the birds in my surroundings, even though I still can’t tell half of them apart)  I asked myself, What am I doing wrong when my children feel so often that they are bored?

I began to recall some aspects of my Life Before Kids.

I remember a trip to Peru with my not-yet-husband Tamir.  One day, after having been to many of the more famous sites, we decided to get on a very local bus and go to a small local town which had no tourist value whatsoever.  We wandered the streets and eventually came to an area of terrace farming.  We separated, each walking in his/her own direction.  I sat down by myself for perhaps half an hour, just being, and also writing in my journal.

I have had many moments like that in my life.  As a child, I always had trouble falling asleep (Not a surprise for those who know me).  I especially remember the delicious summer nights, I would get out of my bed and sit at the window in my room, which was open.  I would look out into the night which was always lit up by the moon or by the reflection of clouds.  I would hear the breeze rustling in the trees.  Perhaps a raccoon or skunk scurrying by.  Those were moments of sacredness when I felt a connection with the universe beyond humanity.

As a parent who is trying to give the best to my children, I am doing them a disservice by training them to think that someone needs to be occupying them all the time.  Aside from learning how to occupy yourself, I believe that they need to learn a very important skill: Being.

This past Shabbat, we hopped over to the Jerusalem Forest – nature right next to the city.  We came to a beautiful area overlooking valleys and mountains and I told my two oldest children, aged 9 1/2 and 7, to each pick their own spot.  They had to sit down or lie down.  They couldn’t be playing with anything or digging or anything like that.  They had to be there for ten minutes.  No talking.

They did it.

Then, I gave each one a notebook and a pen, and I told them that they had to write for ten minutes.  My oldest asked if he could draw a picture.  I said, No, you need to write.

And they did it.

Here is what they wrote: (They wrote in Hebrew.  Here is the translation)

The seven-year-old:

“I saw many trees and mountains and houses.  I heard music and also the wind blowing.  I smelled all kinds of plants and also the wind.  I felt that suddenly it was raining on what I am writing, and then the wind stopped.  But I was still cold.  Then I went to sit next to my mom.  I felt that my mom gives me ideas, like that I went to sit next to her.”

The nine-and-a-half-year-old:

“On the mountain across the way, there is a paved dirt road on the slope.  Past it, there are other mountains.  Beyond a low “wall” of stones, around fifteen meters at an incline of forty degrees.

“Raindrops begin to fall.  It is around 12:15 p.m.  I hear the voices of prayer of someone who is speaking loudly with a big loudspeaker.  Now it is really starting to rain.  I cover the page….

“On another mountain, I see a sort of tower.  A bird, it seems to me to be a Hoopoe, passes.  Clouds cover the sky.  There is the smell of a field-hole and dust in the air.  I hear the wind whistling.  I yawn, the wind whistles even stronger, and then it weakens.  The plants wave in the wind.  On the other mountains, it all looks silent, but it is not.”

With a little guidance, my children just were.  And, I also just was.  I forgot a pen for myself, so I had more time looking out.  I looked out at the distances, the layers of the clouds, the small black bug which was relaxing on my knee rubbing its antennae together.   The tree branches swaying in the breeze.  The drops of rain on my pants – each drop “plop!” and spreading a darker splotch on the cloth.  I too heard the prayer of the muazzin coming from the village across the valley.

We embraced.  I asked them and they answered as I felt – we all felt more relaxed, more at peace, more connected.

We owe it to ourselves to put aside time for being.  We can give our children a powerful tool for life if we teach them the practice of Being.

I say this knowing that my tradition is full of words – a foundation book, endless number of prayers, study and debate – but sometimes we need to put the words of others aside in order to connect with our true selves and with the universe.

Be.

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2 Responses to “On Being”

  1. Shula shulamit Says:

    When a child says: “I am bored” I simply respond briefly: “well, make it interesting” or in Henrew: תעשה שיהיה מעניין..

  2. Scott nolish Says:

    I like this one a lot. Sounds like good advice!

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