Boredom and the Buddha Board

Sometimes kids get bored. Often you can see it coming, like when you are stuck in line for the Harry Potter exhibit at the Ontario Science Centre, or waiting for the bus, or for a doctor’s appointment. Other times it sneaks up on you unawares, and in the oddest of locations, like at the park on a sunny day ten seconds after your friends leave, or in the kitchen three minutes before dinner is ready. Whatever the cause, the reaction is almost always the same: “Mom, I’m bo-ored!”

It’s good to have a backup plan along for such moments. A snack can do wonders, as can a book tucked in a bag alongside the sand toys or a few hot wheels cars or marbles, or even just pen and paper to draw with. Such backup plans can rescue a frazzled parent from the dreaded doldrums of childhood, but every once in a while a boredom comes along such as you’ve never seen in a million years. It’s not just any old boredom, it’s a full-fledged eye-rolling, arm-crossing, huff-huffing Boredom with a capital B, and it requires the big guns.

When the kids were tiny, playing with a set of keys or a chunky necklace hastily undraped from my neck often worked, but as they age, their tastes get so much more sophisticated. So, when the big-B Boredom struck and struck hard last week, I pulled out a really big gun that we hadn’t played with in probably over a year: the Buddha Board.

We have the original Buddha Board and it is a highly addictive and entertaining thing to play with. As you paint or write on the board with water, dark, thick lines slowly intensify, only to fade off to lightness and finally disappear, leaving room for an entirely new creation. On a hot day, you can barely keep up with what you are drawing, the lines drying out almost as soon as they are made. On a cool, rainy day the lines last much longer and we find ourselves embellishing and adding and adjusting line widths and curves and angles. Any way you do it, losing yourself in a moment of pure creative fun is anything but boring.

The board itself is small enough that you can quickly fill it up, but it also dries just as quickly, leaving you free to create something else. Sometimes we take turns in a sort of collaborative drawing, each person adding to what the person before did or replacing a now-dried section with something totally different. Other times we take turns, one at a time, creating whatever strikes our fancy in that particular moment and knowing that as the water dries, we need to hand over the brush to the next person.

It may sound like a silly thing, painting with water in shades of grey and watching the water evaporate, but there really is a magic to it. It forces you to act in the moment. To stay in the moment. To give yourself over to the experience and the process rather than strive for an end result. It is liberating, if you let it be. It is also a good way to express a fleeting emotion like frustration or anger and really get it out of your system.

Sometimes, after someone’s been at it a while and their being has become still and hushed and focussed oh so very intently on what is happening at the end of their brush, the power of that stillness becomes contagious. One by one, the family crowds around the artist, watching in perfect silence as the brush moves noiselessly over the board. The sense of wonder is bright and strong and we feel connected in the most tranquil way imaginable. Stroke after stroke, we stand there entranced, watching and silently cheering the artist on. Other times the creation becomes a team effort, hotly discussed, and occasionally marred by finger painting when the brush wielder doesn’t paint fast enough.

The most striking thing about those moments? Boredom… vanishes. Gone in a blink, as fleeting as the drops of water that grace the board. The fidgety restlessness of boredom takes flight, lost in a squiggle or curve or straight line, and peace and joy descend.

And giggles. Lots and lots of giggles.

“Look! I made Dad!”

“Put more hair on him! Give him a hairdo!”

“A mohawk!”

“Yeah! A mohawk!”

“Wait — wait! He needs ears. BIG ears! With earrings!”

I can’t help but smile when I catch them in those moments when boredom vanishes and silliness reigns supreme.

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