I found myself present in my last long drive. At times bored and wondering if I should speed to just finish it up. At times amazed at the wonder of silence in my brain (or almost). And suddenly realising what mindfulness could be. Even if the kids were restless in the back seat.
A few weekends ago, I took the kids for a long drive to Sevilla and Islantilla. As the only grown up in the car, my main job was to do the driving, unlike my usual mode of entertaining, feeding and keeping fights away while trying to have a conversation with Hubby B. I must admit I have given up a lot of the long-haul driving since we have been together, partly because I get tired and he doesn’t, and partly because I am a better multitasker and entertainer (I am sure he agrees). However, we have recently started having weekends away in Spain that depend on me doing the driving from Lisbon to meet him there, all while trying to keep everyone in one piece in the back seat.
I knew my multitasking would be highly limited, so I packed the back seat per their liking, involving card games, toniebox and even tables for drawing (rarely used). Blankets, pillows and favourite sleep toys came along as well, no one was denied entry. Next to me, in the absence of a person, I took a filled food bag that carried no health concerns and included anything from crisps, cookies, wraps, peanuts (unpeeled to maximise entertainment time), cheese, yoghurts, juices and, this time round, even Easter chocolate eggs. Only then we were ready to leave, playlist downloaded to 2 devices and synced with the speakers, in case radio goes bad (usually when we cross the border ahem), Julia Donaldson books and CDs at my hands reach. Game on. And no electronic devices in the back seat. Nuts.
Why do I go through all of this if I was meant to be writing about mindful driving? Well, first because that is what I like to do and how I like to write. But secondly, because in order for the drive not to be hell, all of the above (and more potentially) are required.
“Are we there yet?”Donkey
Shrek has made the expression lighter for all parents, and even laughable. But that is the one question I never wanted to hear. Or instead “how long till we get there?”. Little Girl C must know how I feel about it, because as I was putting my seat belt on to start the drive, she asks the question with a cheeky smile. After my first instinct of wanting to strangle her in the face of 6 hours of trip ahead, I saw the smile on her face and got the joke. Good thing that I am predictable.
The problem with the appearance of “are we there yet” is boredom. It starts up in that moment of silence, and once there it does not leave my mind (or theirs!). So I typically use all my magic powers (and food) to never have to hear it. However, in the driving seat, that is harder.
Last month, in our first drive to Caceres , the question did not come until the last 20 minutes of the trip, and it was only because Baby S fell asleep and Little Girl C was left without a partner. Funny enough, I felt bored first (but did not dare say it out loud). They were great at making use of all the stuff they brought along, playing cards, listening to stories and chatting away. I just drove! I could not listen to my audio book, I had no one to talk to and no e-mail to scroll. I was bored. I looked at my wrist watch multiple times, as if the GPS in front of me was not enough to tell me how long I had left. And then i saw it – BOREDOM!
What is boredom
According to WebMD, “it is an emotion or signal that lets you know that you are doing something that doesn’t give you satisfaction”.
Wikipedia goes a step further by saying that boredom, ennui, or tedium is an emotional and occasionally psycological state experienced when an individual is left without anything in particular to do, (…) It seems to be a specific mental state that people find unpleasant—a lack of stimulation that leaves them craving relief, with a host of behavioral, medical and social consequences.”
Other internet sources go as far as suggesting causes and treatments. Since when is boredom an illness? Was I right to try to avoid it at all costs?
The Importance of Boredom
A mother from school recently told me that she was happy not to book kids into clubs in the summer and just let them be bored. I was scared at the thought, I must admit. When my kids are home and bored they can get clingy and more demanding than usual. And when I work from home and they are on holidays, this is a bad combination and a known source of stress for everyone. I was not brave enough to try it for the summer when they get 2 months off (yet), but I decided to give it a go for the last couple of shorter school holidays to observe the effects of boredom (if I survived it).
And there it was. It starts invariably with a moment where they complain about i) me working, ii) not having the cousins there, iii) not having a play date, iv) having nothing to do, and v) all of the above. There is also always the moment I snap and tell them I will give away every single toy they have if it is of no use and they are “so bored”. That probably wins me some tears and no more than 20 minutes. If we make it long enough without me caving to screen time, which is usually the goal of their “boredom”, then silence comes. And magic happens. A den is being built, an old game is being redone, a story is being written, creativity shows up.
I don’t think I realised how strong it was until Brené Brown explained that, part of the process where she is analysing data or writing a new book, is to make herself bored (with a notebook nearby). And if you need a more business like source, according to HBR “Boredom, they suggest, motivates people to approach new and rewarding activities. In other words, an idle mind will seek a toy. (Anyone who has taken a long car ride with a young child has surely experienced some version of this phenomenon.)” As you can see, it is not only me using car ride analogies!
I don’t (didn’t) do bored
I am disastrous at being bored. What’s the point? What a waste! The moment my computer battery runs out on the plane, I fume at the fact I still haven’t bought a new one and quickly reach for a book, journal or phone. Bur the moments I do allow myself to just stare, it is like sparkles come out of my brain. I resist for as long as I can until eventually I pick up a pen to write. I no longer want to stop boredom, I just need to get the flow go on!
Let’s go back to the car ride. Some level of boredom is making this article really go off to different places. Amidst the Julia Donaldson book I heard dozens of times before (The snail and the whale for full credit) I figured out the shape of the first book I will eventually publish. While listening to the same words all over again, my creative brain had the space to get engaged and create something new. Through that weekend, I avoided keeping myself busy with devices or even reading. I sat on the pool staring at the kids as they played. And I wrote the full story within hours. Don’t worry, it’s a children’s book (coming soon) but still! And it all started during my (boring) drive.
As I engaged on my second drive this weekend (and still not fully aware of how boredom did the trick), I feared getting bored and I even bought an audio book for myself. But I was brave and I powered through, allowing the brain to settle. That is how I found mindfulness can be the other side of boredom. Boredom finally frees our mind to have space, not engage, and just be,
it sounds weird that you can get to a state of mindfulness with 2 loud children in the back seat. But it is possible. Especially if I worry less about them getting bored. Rather than anticipating every discussion or the dreadful “are we there yet” question, I walked away (metaphorically speaking) from it and for a while my brain stopped thinking of all the things that wanted to take airtime in my mind and I was just there driving, perhaps with some music but not really listening.
As someone permanently on or rather constantly engaged, mindfulness has always been elusive. I get distracted when I meditate or I just fall asleep (which happens to me if I am on the passenger seat as well). Whilst that is a form of rest, being awake and bored is one as well, and one that has a positive effect on creativity. As I get less scared of being bored (will my brain stop working forever?) I am trying to replicate it in smaller drives as well. I am not recommending you start a meditation practise when you drive. Driving safely and in the right direction is still the most important! But next time you dread a drive (which I often render as useless commute time as I can’t DO anything), maybe think of the opportunity of doing nothing but driving not even the radio on.
And next time my kids say “Mummy I am bored”, perhaps I will smile back and let them be. Let’s see what happens.