I am in search of the “dull moment” that, supposedly, there never is one of. I like the idea of “never say never,” so we’ll just say I’m questing after that dull moment like it’s the Holy Grail. Except the moment it arrives, I don’t know what to do with it.
MUST.FILL.EMPTY.SPACE! My wife will tell me to sit down, “it’s NOT normal!” I’m not a great sitter. Then there’s my mother-in-law, and next to her, I’m a slacker. She not only is on her feet always and forever but there is no empty space. Silence does not exist. There is no such thing as pause. Really.
Why it surprises me, then, that my son cannot stop, is probably no more than denial. Perhaps I was kidding myself, thinking somehow he would escape the nature/nurture double-whammy of “just keep swimming.” He is bored simply by the anticipation of boredom. He wants to know the next plan while still actively engaged in this one. He cannot tolerate quiet time, down time, a rest period, or any other synonym that describes a break. No joke, last weekend; which included travel, swimming, bowling, more swimming, going out to dinner, and yet more swimming the next day, before heading home; he wanted to know what we were doing once we got there.
Nothing. We’re doing nothing.
When my wife and I talk about it, we describe his superpower as the space-filler. He takes up space. He fills air with his words, songs, grunts. He fills space with his toys and stuff and body. He fills space. He is a space-taker-upper, a dull-moment-swiper, an idle-eater.
What we suspect is that for him it’s an undertone of anxiety that is part of his wiring. It’s not hard to imagine, I’ve been known to struggle a “bit” with it myself and it runs through both nature and nurture. While I am more calm and centered in my life now than I have ever been before, I recognize his inability to rest. When he paces, skipping about the house while he thinks through what to do next, I get it. “Just keep swimming.”
There are times when seeing me in him: in the shape of his eyes or the shape of his feet; in his dimples; in his affinity for math and science, is a source of great joy. There are also times when I see he “got” something I wish he was spared, in this case riding a bit on the anxious side. It is humbling to watch and witness him try to find ways, like keeping extra busy, perfectionism and pacing, to cope.
My hope is that we can also help him find some ways to sit with it. I was well into adulthood before I truly realized and believed that my feelings wouldn’t kill me, anxiety included. At the end of the day, it’s just a feeling. I spent a lot of years making it bigger than it was simply because I didn’t understand it and was afraid of it. Underneath it all, the capacity to endure a dull moment exists, and to even (gasp) enjoy. I hope to practice in front of him, and perhaps even with him. Perhaps we can pick a simple, idle sunset to begin.
Nature or nurture, our kids pick up some of our baggage and it becomes their own. How do you face it when you see in them what you wish they were spared?