Relishing the peace and quiet

Kids are back in school and the house is quiet once again, which is a welcome relief. There were terrible noises in my house this last summer. No, I’m not talking about the incessant plane noise over South Minneapolis that invaded my quiet on a daily basis.  And it wasn’t that ear splitting "caw caw" of the crows at 5 a.m. that made my otherwise pacifist husband roll over, kiss me good morning, and shout, "I’m going to kill those birds."

No, the noise that grated my last nerve were two little words my kids, ages 12 and 13, uttered approximately 1,500 times since school let out last June: "I’m bored."

In a valiant effort to combat over-zealous scheduling, our kids had nothing on the calendar for four of our 10-week summer break. It seemed like a great idea last April.

Now, sipping my second cup of coffee in the quiet of back-to-school peace, I reflect on our Great Carefree Summer. In the beginning, I imagined they’d engage in tree-climbing, exploring, or aimless daydreaming, with me simply calling them in for dinner, their cheeks ruddy after a day in the fresh air. How "Leave it to Beaver" was that?

Instead, I spent the majority of my time shooing them off screens on beautiful sunny days. They were like dust bunnies you can’t quite capture on your mop — brushed away from the computer only to reappear by the TV, and finally collecting in a hunched heap by an open refrigerator door, searching for some nonexistent snack.

The worst was the morning I found my kids still in their PJs at 11 a.m., sprawled in front of Reba re-runs, which I clicked off to a chorus of groans and self-righteous protest. Making my voice louder than theirs, I began my usual litany of all the possible fun summer vacation activities they could engage in:

Ride your bike. Reason can’t: It’s too hot to wear a helmet.

Walk the dog. Reason can’t: He pulls too hard.

Call friends. Reason can’t: They’re all in camp.

Watch the moving van unload the new neighbors. Reason can’t: They don’t have kids.

Kick/throw/bat/bounce a ball. Reason can’t: Balls rolled away in last storm.

Draw with sidewalk chalk. Reason can’t: Sidewalk chalk melted in last storm.

Read a book. Reason can’t: Reading isn’t fun during the day.

Go the park: Reason can’t: We’re not little kids anymore.

Finish the model boat you started last summer. Reason can’t: Parts are missing.

Do a jigsaw puzzle: Reason can’t: No clear tabletop available.

Clear a table: Reason can’t: No place to put stuff.

Clean your room. Reason can’t: Are you kidding?

So, as usual, the discussion ended with me saying, "think of something" as I walked out of the room. Later that same day, I noticed no one had approached me with those two dreaded words. And in fact, it had been menacingly quiet in the house. I peeked in on my two kids, who had apparently secreted themselves in the basement, which is packed to the gills with toys they find too boring to play with, but too valuable to give away. They had emptied everything out to make a huge obstacle course for our pet gerbil to run through. I noticed the gerbil leaving a rather unsanitary trail behind her as she nervously darted and weaved through Lego bridges and Pokemon card structures, and I was about to protest, but then thought better of it. Reason can’t: No one, for that moment, was bored.

Nora Leven is a freelance writer. Camp brochures for next summer are already arriving in her Fulton neighborhood mailbox.