When I was younger, I was incredibly lucky enough to grow up in a loving home with not only caring parents but grandparents as well. For the first five years of my life, my parents and grandparents lived down the street from each other. I remember learning to ride a bike in our old neighborhood and pedaling full speed ahead away from my dad and towards my grandparents house. Even to this day, I still remember having that white brick house in my sight and thinking how proud my grandmother and grandfather would be when they saw me riding without training wheels. Get to their house. Get to their house without falling was all I could think, and when I made it there unscathed, my grandmother was out in front waiting for me with a big hug. It’s one of the few memories I have of that old neighborhood, but it’s undoubtedly one of so many I have with my grandparents. At some point, after realizing we were together most of the time in the same house anyways, my parents, my yiayia (grandmother in Greek), and my pappou (grandfather) decided it just made more sense to sell the two houses and live together.
Being so young, this decision rocked my world mostly because I didn’t quite understand what moving meant. Where were we going? Would we lose all of our stuff? What do you mean none of my friends could come with? Eventually, the day five-year-old Chris had dreaded for so long had arrived, and we were off to start a new life together. Before we knew it, two families had become one, and I would spend the next eighteen years living with essentially two sets of parents until I moved out at twenty-three. Huge family dinners filled with lots of laughter, amazing food cooked up by my yiayia and my mom, and of course, because we’re Greek, the occasional, heated debate at the kitchen table were the building blocks of my childhood.
Knowing all of this about me is vital for this post to make sense. See, my grandfather came here from Greece when he was sixteen, met my grandmother a few years later, and eventually, through hard work and dedication, worked his way up from a dishwasher in the back of a restaurant to owning a produce delivery company. It’s that age old story of sweat and back-breaking labor leading to success and a better life. Pappou came here with nothing, achieved the American Dream, and as a result of that dream, he now has five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. My father eventually took over the business and still has it today. Each of them spent most of their adult life waking up at 2:30 in the morning, getting on a truck, picking up produce and other restaurant supplies from the market in the city, and then delivering it to local restaurants and grocery stores until about 7:00 at night. Additionally, while my mom and yiayia stayed home, they both were in charge of the bookkeeping. Arguably, they had the harder jobs managing the financial aspect of a business all the while taking care of three small kids. Apparently, like my youngest, I was quite the handful. My mom likes to remind me that Joey is the universe getting back at me.
I mention all of this hard work I was raised with not to impress you, but to draw a picture of what life was like growing up. I’m sharing this with you so that it makes sense when I say that as a kid, there were two words you simply never said in my childhood home.
This was a bad idea, and sometimes I used to forget that these two words could send a whole lot of work your way if you used them. It was sort of like saying “Bloody Mary” three times in the bathroom with the lights off as kid- you just didn’t do it! Today, when my son uttered these words to me, I couldn’t help but think of a time when I made the same mistake he did. I recall being about ten and feeling the heavy weight of boredom crush my spirits as I was likely grounded from the SEGA Genesis or television for something stupid I did to my brother or sister. The sheer frustration of “supposedly” having nothing to do forced me to walk down to the kitchen where I moped and flopped at the table. I sighed and looked for attention, and I hoped that I would annoy some adult in my family long enough for them to finally give in and let me get my way. I did get attention, but it wasn’t the kind I wanted.
“What’s the problem?” Pappou asked from the corner of the kitchen where he was grabbing his car keys. He had his “work” clothes on, and this should have been a sign for me to run, but I didn’t. It was too late. Even though it was a weekend, he was up to something, and I can promise you it wasn’t related to fun in any way. Even when he and my dad had days off, my grandfather found ways to work. To be honest, I can’t think of a single hobby Pappou has ever had in his life- unless of course you find staining the deck a form of enjoyment.
“Umm. I don’t know. I’m bored.” Oh no! What did I just do? Those two words! I knew better. What was I thinking?
“Oh, you’re bored? Oh, okay.” He responded frankly and decidedly. He knew exactly how to remedy that problem of mine. He put his keys in his pocket, grabbed a Menards bag off the tile floor, and walked to the table. He stared at me and then smiled. “Go get your shoes.” Yep, I was in for it. Reluctantly, I went to the closet, grabbed my nice gym shoes, and started to put them on. “Nope, not those. Your old ones. We’re painting the fence at the apartment building.” My parents and grandparents used to own an apartment building, and most of everything I’ve learned about fixing crap inside a house came from working with him at that place. While I’m grateful for that knowledge today, I have to say, it was dreadful as a young kid. The car ride was long (dare I say boring), and the whole way there, I was completely annoyed with myself. Not him. It was all my fault. As kids, we knew that we should never complain about being bored. My sister used to make the same mistake too in front of my yiayia and would then find herself dusting the whole house shortly thereafter.
Never admit you’re bored.
It took us nearly the whole day to paint that fence. After two coats, my grandfather decided we were finally done, and as soon as we got in the car, he asked me something.
“You still bored?” Pappou asked as he started the engine. He put his station wagon in reverse, looked at me, and waited for a reply.
“Nope,” I replied. “Not at all.”
“Good,” and then he drove off.
The rain is beating softly against the window right now as I type this, and for me (and I bet for a lot of parents), a day like this is actually a good excuse to slow down and enjoy doing nothing. The weekends are always packed for us, but I don’t know, there’s something about a rainy Sunday that makes you say, “Forget it. I’m just going to have a lazy day.” For once, which rarely ever happens, we had nothing planned, and it was glorious! This sort of attitude simply destroys morale for the kids though, but I must say, I really don’t care today. When as parents did we sign up for being personal, social secretaries for our kids? Why do we feel pressured to make sure their lives are jam-packed with entertaining activities or educational experiences?
Yes, it’s important that we show our kids idleness isn’t good for the mind or body, but isn’t boredom actually okay every now and then? Doesn’t it foster creativity and self-motivation? I’m sorry, but when I was a kid, my parents didn’t line up every single minute of our days with fun-filled excursions and playdates. My mom would open the back door, look at the clock, and then tell me when to be back home. That’s about as involved as she got in setting up playdates with my friends. Normally, Michelle and I feel so much pressure to keep them occupied, and to be honest, I don’t quite know why. Today, as I was watching the morning news and having my coffee in the basement, Teddy came down, stood right in front of the television and said, “Well, what are we doing today? I’m bored.” The audacity of this third grader! Those two words. There they were, and he was saying them with such disregard. Two words I feared to say in front of an adult in my childhood home because I knew what the consequences would be- hard work. That was for sure. Do you even know how many times I helped clean the rain gutters because of those two words?
However, my kids?
That had to change today.
“Excuse me, son? Do I look like your personal entertainer? Go get your brothers and find something to play. Dad and Mom are taking a minute.” I sipped my coffee, turned the volume back up, and … he was still there. He wasn’t moving. “Umm, can I help you?”
He sighed that sigh of his. “You have to play with me. I’m bored.” When Teddy whines, I don’t know, it just feels like nails scratching your insides. I love him, but the whining doesn’t suit him.
I almost gave in and started to get up. Anything to stop that whining, but then, the story of my pappou and our day painting that fence flashed in my head. It’s like I was ten all over again, and my arms were suddenly stinging from a long, hard day of work. “Oh, you’re bored, huh?” I mischievously asked. A smile crept menacingly across my face. So this is what that felt like. The power! The high ground! Muahaha! Muahahaha! I laughed demonically in my head.
“Yes, I want to do something.” Son, you’ll learn to choose your words more carefully as I once did at your age. You will learn.
“Follow me, Teddy.”
Is this how my pappou felt? Life is funny, isn’t it? The Lion King wasn’t kidding when it sang about the Circle of Life. I put my coffee down, sprung out of the chair, and ran up the stairs two at a time with quite a bounce in my step. Teddy followed quickly behind me with so much energy and excitement I thought he might burst. I’m not sure what he thought we were going to do, but man was he pumped for it. For a moment, I felt bad, but meh, I quickly got over it. Memories like this are what made me who I am today, so I figured he’d appreciate it too in the future. I think he knew things were going awry when I peeled off into the laundry room and grabbed the feather duster.
“What’s that for?” He stopped in his tracks and scrunched his eyebrows as confusion showered down on him like the rain beating on our roof.
“Oh, you’ll see.” I tried to say in an even, mysterious tone, but I clearly was enjoying the situation and found myself chuckling. Because of that, he laughed nervously not really understanding how to feel at the moment. I have to practice being stern like Pappou was. I gathered myself, cleared my throat, and evened out my tone. “Follow me.”
At the top of the stairs, we turned left towards his bedroom door, and just before I grabbed the handle, I said to him, “Buddy, when I was your age, I tried to NEVER say I was bored in front of an adult. If I did, somebody would give me a chore to do.” His face dropped. He knew what was in store. I can guarantee he was thinking the same thing I was once thought all those years ago in the station wagon. “You know how I’ve been asking you to organize and clean your room over and over again? Well, since you have the time today.” I handed him the duster and opened the door. “Have at it, buddy!”
“Dad, this isn’t fair!”
“You just got that iPad back. Do you want to lose it again?” I gave him a little pat on the back and gently guided him into his room. The door closed behind him with a resounding thump. I proudly stood up, nodded, and then sought out my unfinished coffee.
The next hour kept him good and occupied. I was glad to help him out. I don’t think there was any boredom the rest of the day and that room was spotless. Something tells me he’ll think twice about saying he’s bored again, but like I used to, I’ll bet he might slip up every now and then. Until then, I’ll have to think of new and fun ways to torment my children when they tell me they’re bored. Some days parenting is really hard, and other days, like today, it isn’t that rough. Today, I won’t lie, was a good day. I folded some laundry on the couch and watched some football. There was nothing spectacular to our day, but I can tell you I think I succeeded in teaching my son that it’s okay to be bored. If you are, you’d better find a way to occupy your time, or I’ll help you out like my grandfather did for me long ago.