In Summary
  • I realised that I had last binged on Agatha Christie when my children were babies.
  • I could remember hours and hours of sitting in the rocking chair, nursing a baby, and reading through these same paperbacks.

Recently, one jet-lagged night, when I gave up on sleeping and couldn’t concentrate enough to read anything else, I found a stack of battered Agatha Christie paperbacks and read my way right through “Murder at the Vicarage.” The next night, I read “Death on the Nile.”

A memory was nagging at me as I read, and I don’t mean the vague memory of the plots, which allowed me to solve each mystery almost as effectively as Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot.

I realised that I had last binged on Agatha Christie when my children were babies.

I could remember hours and hours of sitting in the rocking chair, nursing a baby, and reading through these same paperbacks.

ADDICTIVE NARRATIVES

They were the perfect addictive narratives for my tired bored brain, keeping me company through the wakeful nights and the bleary days.

Am I trying to tell you that jet lag is a good metaphor for parenting a young child?

Well, certainly your body clock is disordered and you find yourself trying to function on a professional adult level while your brain is full of cotton, or you find yourself incredibly frustrated because here you are in your bed and it’s night and you just can’t sleep.

But no, what I was thinking about was how grateful I was — and am — to Dame Agatha, and all the other authors who kept me company through those precious, long-gone, irreplaceable, stone-cold boring hours.

It’s a recurring trope that parents find that taking care of a small child can be boring, and they feel profoundly guilty about it.

LOVE CHILDREN

Babies are boringtoddlers are boringmothers are boredfathers are bored. Yes, there are those who are naturally gifted and find every moment fascinating, but though I love children and work with children and am immensely grateful for my own, I will admit now, at a safe distance, that for me, taking care of a young child is simultaneously the most fascinating thing in the world and, well, let’s face it, sometimes pretty tedious.

In a recent New York Times column arguing for the value of letting children get bored, Pamela Paul argued that boredom can spark creativity, and can help children learn strategies for coping.

And you could argue that the daily get-up-in-the-morning-and-face-another day tedium of parenthood can similarly be good for adults, though I’m not sure it necessarily pushes us in creative directions. Too much boredom, of course, can be bad for children.

But if coping with a little boredom now and then helps children grow, it probably also helps parents grow into their adult selves.

PARENTS ARE BORING

It is also often true that parents are boring. I know, I’ve been there.

Once upon a time, I thought potty training was interesting. I don’t mean as a professional responsibility; it’s still part of my job. As a pediatrician, I often have occasion to discuss the topic, sometimes with very anxious or upset parents, and as with infant sleep patterns and toddler eating habits, I try hard to listen carefully and counsel wisely, and remember that each of these issues plays out differently with every child in every family, which is why mine is such an interesting job.

No, I mean, once upon a time — or actually, thrice upon a time, once with each child — I thought that potty training itself was the most fascinating subject in the world, endlessly worth discussing at adult social occasions (yes, I’m afraid I do mean over dinner).

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