156. Nothing to Do

When a child complains “I have nothing to do,” a parent’s reaction is often something less than sympathetic. Parents and other adults (but especially parents) often long for some time with nothing to do. To them, that’s what a good vacation is. In fact, “vacation” comes from the Latin word for “empty.”
Of course, many adults, when they are fortunate enough to have vacations, do all kinds of things. They travel, swim, ski, go to shows, and build wonderful memories. These adults rarely allow themselves to be stuck with nothing to do. I haven’t had “nothing to do” for a long time. I’m writing this article on a day when I’m snowed in, and can’t work with children. On days like this, though I miss the children, there are still plenty of things to do.
But I remember when it was a problem for me. My mother had me think of things I liked to do, and write them on little cards. Then she gave me a cardboard box, and told me to fill it up with the cards. Whenever I thought I had nothing to do, I was supposed to reach into the box, take out a card, and do what the card suggested. It was a clever idea. I don’t think it worked, but it was clever.
As an adult – especially as a disabled adult – I know how lucky I am to be alive at a time and in a place when and where I can stay warm without chopping wood, get food without hunting or gathering, and stay safe without fighting or fleeing. I spend many moments appreciating that bit of grace. I don’t spend much time with nothing to do. I like to write, and there
are more things I want to write than there are moments in a day. I’m writing this article on November 29, 1995, and I think you may be reading it in January of 1998. And there’s more I want to write tomorrow. When I don’t feel like writing, I can do other things. There’s plenty to do.
Nevertheless, it’s hard for a child when it seems as if there’s nothing to do. It’s important for adults to hear children’s complaints, and take them seriously. Unless we’ve really got our acts together in this place and time when we adults are often overloaded with things we have to do, children can be bored, and boredom can make life difficult.

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