Just look at all these days. Blanks.
There is no camp. There is no day care.
Many days of nothing but what is euphemistically called "unstructured play."
This time of year, you may well see some article in which psychologists and early childhood educators declare that boredom is good for children. Boredom, they say, forces children to draw on their resources.
Resources such as television, in our experience. Or Mom.
A broad expanse of days with children who have nothing in particular to do--a feeling that is not exactly dread but definitely is not optimism or anything you'd want to tell Penelope Leach.
What is this? A simple lack of imagination? An attitude problem? Paying attention to the wrong things?
Or too many years spent pushing children on swings, hanging around sandboxes? Having long conversations such as, "I'm going to get a little something when we go to the store. Right, Mom?" "Right." "Mommy, when we go to the store, I'm going to get a little something. Right?" "Right."
Or could it be--burnout?
Burnout does exist--if not as a psychiatric diagnosis then as a distinct state separate from just having a bad week, according to James Calhoun, a professor of psychology at the University of Georgia who is an authority on the topic.
"The term comes from the aerospace industry, from a rocket burning out of fuel," Calhoun said. "It's using up a great deal of energy in a short period of time" while ignoring the stresses that come along with it.
It's particularly common in service industries, where there is "a bottomless well of demands." (Like being a parent.)
Oftentimes the person afflicted by burnout "is overly dedicated and not conserving their energy resources." (Like mommies?)
The symptoms, he said, are exhaustion, fatigue or "physically having no energy"; feeling discouraged, depressed, negative--"as if you're not doing anything good."
"You start withdrawing. Essentially, things become negative and unpleasant," Calhoun said.
"It does happen to parents," with the driving to lessons and appointments, concern over homework and also just worrying over such things as the trouble children can get into in the wider world.
"You take that times several kids," Calhoun said, and you can indeed get burnout. "Burnout is subtle; it's seditious. It creeps up on you over time."
Burned-out parents might be irritable, resentful, hostile. They might take it out on the children, or the spouse, Calhoun said.
There's more. The burned-out person might turn to drugs or alcohol.
What would it look like to a child?
"To younger children, in particular, they would often feel this is their fault," said David Fassler, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Burlington, Vt. "The best thing to do is take a rest. Schedule down time or breaks."
Have the children spend time with other youngsters, especially giving them the chance to run around outdoors.
Find help. Hire a baby sitter. Press family members into service.
"Do whatever you need to do to schedule in time for what you want to do," Fassler said. "You'll do better for your kids."
"A very important element is exercise," Calhoun said.
Just walking for 15 minutes a day, for starters, can improve stamina and mood.
If you're dreading having to deal with your children, if you feel you're in a rat race, if you're feeling angry or resentful, you need to "step back and recognize that it's not inevitable," Calhoun said. "It becomes a matter of identifying it and taking ownership."
If you're stuck in that bad frame of mind for more than a couple of weeks, you might need medical attention--for clinical depression, Fassler said.
This mom is taking ownership--ownership of a bad attitude, at least.
I need to figure it out. I will have it figured out, I'm sure, by the time school starts.