Good for Nothing

I had high hopes for today. 

We keep really busy in the summer. I usually plan our schedule the week before so we can have days with less activity, some days with more, but something, vaguely, every day, even if it’s just a trip to the grocery store or other errands. 

But today I had big plans. 

The Museum of Contemporary Art here in Chicago has an exhibit on right now that I’m excited to see and that I think my kids will enjoy, too. And as luck would have it, Tuesdays are free to Illinois residents and so boom, a field trip idea was born. Getting to the museum is a bit of a big deal since we are bound to travel via CTA but usually that’s cool, too, and we make it work. 

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Fine literature selections and a nutritious snack.

And I’m a morning person so I woke up all excited, took a shower, got dressed in actual grown-up looking clothes and was greeted by my younger son, as is his usual routine. My big guy soon followed and we all dressed and headed downstairs for breakfast. That’s where things started to go off the rails. 

Nobody wanted breakfast, at least not what I wanted to feed them. Negotiations continued until we settled on pancakes for one, toast with peanut butter and honey for the other. Milk and juice, respectively. I packed up snacks and drinks, calculating how long it would take us to get to the train, make our transfer, walk over to the MCA. And then the radio announced that the Red, Brown and Purple line trains were stopped. Huge delays. 

That was my first sign that things were not going to happen exactly the way I’d planned. Perhaps we could leave a little later. Recalculating. 

My older son had a recent birthday and so he had a pile of new toys that he wanted to explore. He begged me to play Trouble. To help him with his new Lego set. To read from his new book. I brought my coffee over to the table and we played, doing our best to keep his little brother engaged. 

After I threw a couple of games to my not-so-gracious winner boy, I asked the little men if they were ready to go downtown? “No - we want to do Legos!” From the kitchen, the NPR traffic reporter announced that there’s no end in sight for the delays, which now included bus lines, Uber and Lyft and Lake Shore Drive traffic jams. Recalculating. 

We started working on Legos. I’m not the engineer of the family, so the process was tougher than I’d hoped.I mean, the box says it’s for ages 8-14 so I should be able to handle it, right? An hour later, we finished. He was delighted and carried it off to start the latest Nexo adventure of some sort with the new vehicle. The other boy wanted a snack. It’s nearly lunch time. 


“Are you guys ready to go downtown after lunch?” I asked, gathering lunch ingredients and plates.

“NO!” they said in unison. “We just want to play here today.”

I stood at the sliding door and gazed up. The sun was shining and the sky was a gorgeous blue. I couldn’t believe we were wasting this day! A whole day. 

Back in the living room, the boys were conducting a knight battle that somehow also included The Avengers, Lego Batman and a large, stuffed snake named Slithery. Board games were scattered across the room. Breakfast dishes teetered precariously on the arm of the couch and juice dripped from a toppled sippy cup onto the floor. 

As I sliced an apple, I saw my plans of strolling (OK, dragging them) through the gallery downtown slipping away. All my attempt at a little art and culture were thwarted by public transit issues and an attack by the Lego Stone Army on the Batcave perched on my coffee table. 

I thought about The Atlantic article I’d read this spring, about how ‘being busy’ is the new status symbol for working people. Prestige, the article says, quoting a recently published paper in The Journal of Consumer Research, is based on your level of busyness. It used to be that status came from flaunting things, but things are easy to get and to show off. Time is the ultimate commodity and if you have less, you must be doing more and thus are more successful. 

I know I’m guilty of feeling that a day unfilled is a day wasted. Summer in Chicago is so very fleeting. Time with my little boys as little boys is screaming by. My Facebook feed is full of our super fun summer adventures, and I’m grinning right along with my accomplices. But there are only so many Tuesdays left before school is back in session and I’ll be balancing two different school schedules. Bittersweet hours to fill, all by myself. How can we waste even one precious, precious day? Doing nothing?

A crash from the other room brought me back to the reality of today, and I checked the clock. Hardly worth going downtown now. I peeked in at the battle, which was now a sort of wrestling match on the couch that was sure to end badly. But for now they were making each other laugh with scatological ‘humor’ and fart jokes galore.

Lunch is served, and I join them. We read a few chapters of a book together and they allow me to join in their Lego/Superhero mash-up battle for total domination of something. The rules keep changing but at least I get to be the Hillary Clinton Lego I created. She wears a cape, of course. 

Later, they humored me with a short visit to the library, where they stacked huge blocks and I got to read for few minutes. When we got home, we had a some cookies and milk on the back porch and reviewed the pile of new books that we’d lugged home. 

Lucas turned to me with a face covered in crumbs. “Mom,” he said. “This was the best day!” 

Not what I had in mind, but exactly what they needed. Maybe what we all needed.