Wasting Time

I lay in bed this past weekend, sun streaming into my room through the blinds, hitting me in the face, warming my pillow. I turned over and closed my eyes again, thinking about what a luxury it was to fall back asleep in the warm sun on a soft bed. There was no place to go, nowhere I had to be, nothing that I had to do.

And then a thought entered my mind, taking the voice on my mom, “you’re going to waste this beautiful day in bed?”

I am a notorious time-waster. I’m going to blame the ADHD, but I have always had moments of intense activities followed by long moments of doing absolutely nothing. There is no middle-ground. It’s all on, or it’s off completely. I’m still like that. I just spent a week writing almost 50k words, and now, I’m done.

Except of course for this blog post, which for some, is a “waste of time.” I used to get it all the time from my academic mentors and some peers: why are you wasting your time on blogging and Twitter? You need to spend your time doing serious things like writing serious things and reading serious things, in the name of academia and your career. How could you waste all of this precious time?

Except of course, I’m not wasting time. Not one moment, in hindsight, has been wasted blogging or tweeting (ok, maybe a moment or two, but not many, at not nearly as many as some would assert). What looks like wasting time is making literal and figurative connections. Physically, I may have stopped moving (or slowed my movements) but mentally, I’m still firing at almost full force.

My kids were on Spring Break last week. They’re finally old enough that they can stay home for the day and both feed themselves and not get into too much trouble. My daughter has a phone and knows how to call 911 were anything terrible to happen, and besides, I was babysitting by the time I was 12.

Not that I’m defensive or anything.

No, I needn’t worry about the kids, as they never moved from their respective screens the entire time. My son’s old friends from before we moved were also on Spring Break, so he spent all day playing video games with them online, while my daughter was upstairs on the computer, building in Minecraft, and by the end of the week, was invited to collaborate with two fellow tweens overseas to create a video game.

Now, they had a set of chores to do each day, but other than that, they left to their own devices. When I told a colleague how they spent their break, they exclaimed, what a waste! How? My son spent the time hanging out virtually with friends, while my daughter made new friends and got really excited about building in Minecraft (as well as making her own video game). What would have been a more productive use of their week off?

(And before you get worried about my daughter, I teach digital citizenship for a living, and she is a compulsive rule-follower, so she knows the drill about strangers online, as well as a high sensitivity for things that may cross a line somewhere sometime and she’ll tattle. Plus, I talked to the boys. They’re boys – all they care about is that she cares about Minecraft and video games.)

It’s been a really hard few months for the kids, starting a new school and trying to make new friends in a new place and dealing with a new swim team and a new ballet studio and new routines. They miss their old friends. If we weren’t here for Spring Break, if we still lived there, my son would have spent every day at the same friend’s house with whom he played video games online…playing video games. My daughter would probably ended up across the street a friend’s place…doing makeup.

Is that a better use of their time?

I agree that we need to give kids more time to be bored, but at the same time, we have to be prepared to accept the ways that they alleviate that boredom. They’re good at school, they do physical activities, they read, they’re kind and empathetic and funny and weird and…they like to be online.

Far be it for me to criticize that particular impulse.

Part of me, channeling my own mother, wanted to spend the Friday (that I had as a holiday) in DC doing something – seeing museums and the sites. You know, not wasting time. But instead, I caved in to their requests to finish quests and worlds and games and spend a little more time with their friends. Who am I to tell them what’s important and what’s not to them? Well, yes, their parent, their well-educated parent, but a parent who also lives a lot of her life online, and who teaches digital studies and culture.

We stayed at home and built and connected and wrote and chilled out and laughed and cheered and wrote (well, I wrote) and wasted our time together and enjoying it. We all needed to rest, to play, to reconnect with our friends, to make new ones, to recharge, to just be.

I don’t think that’s a waste of time at all. I think it’s the best use of time there is.