Wise cracks: Ah, to be bored again

It’s summer holidays, or it would be if I were still a kid.

I was a decent student and didn’t mind school, so I never felt that sense of dread as September approached, but the chance to clean out my desk for a couple of months each June and cue Alice Cooper was an annual highlight.

I was lucky we had a wonderful summer place. Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of other kids my own age, though I would usually invite friends during the summer. It was a great place to relax, play, go for a swim – or just be bored.

This was a long time ago, and the thought of two months off now seems like an abstract concept.

Maybe the Rolling Stones put it best: “What a drag it is getting old.”

In retrospect, giving me all that time off was only setting me up for disappointment. I’ve wondered why they still do it.

For the longest time, I held the common belief the school year was set up to allow children to work in the fields during the summer months, although I think this has since been discredited. Some have suggested the contemporary school calendar only came into being in the 19th century when more work on farms was starting to be mechanized.

More recently, some have suggested the long period takes into account stress on young brains, which need time to absorb their lessons.

To continue the farming analogy, children’s brains need some time to lie fallow. I’m no expert on this, though I did some communications work for a research group working on early child development and I do know young brains undergo enormous growth throughout childhood.

However, it’s the earliest, pre-school years when things are really exploding, so I’m not sure if this was the reason why children get such long summer vacations.

Earlier, I was speaking of childhood boredom. I hated it when I was a kid, yet as an adult I don’t recall the last time I was actually bored – not counting getting stuck in lineups, traffic jams or ferry waits. Now, I’m too busy, even in my “free” time.

Again, from my work with the research group, I started coming across studies about the importance of boredom for children, which seems to have gone out of fashion in this age of play dates and regimented activities.

An article in The Atlantic from 2017 outlined some of this work. While boredom can be linked to behaviour problems associated with bad driving, binge-eating or drinking and other vices later in life, for kids it can be important to their brain development because it can help spur creativity or problem-solving. A long summer break for kids can lay the groundwork for this. Still, so much time off almost seems unfair. You will never have so much time off as an adult, unless you are unable to work or cannot find a job, neither of which is exactly a holiday.

I wonder why we don’t figure out how to schedule more time off. In many workplaces, people bank time, yet never seem to take it. Maybe they can’t afford to, or maybe they can’t unwind. Many workplaces even have a tough time adapting to the fact that people get sick and should be staying at home, so it’s no surprise they “function” with employees that don’t seem to know how to go home, let alone go on vacation. Why is that? Catholic guilt? The Protestant work ethic?

I find myself having to rationalize time off, or even a sick day. A vacation though shouldn’t be a reward but a rest. After all, even metal will suffer from fatigue at some point. A break is a way to recalibrate your brain for when you go back to your job. It should give you a chance to get busy being bored.

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