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What's wrong with boredom?

Unstructured time is the mother of creativity.

By Sara BonGiorni / September 9, 2008

Baton RougE, LA.

Last month, my husband and I completed what some of our friends considered a fool's errand: a 32-day, 5,232-mile camping trip from Louisiana to California and back with three children in our Volkswagen van.

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It wasn't the certainty of back-seat squabbling and high gas prices that provoked our friends' skepticism. It was that we planned to make the trip without a DVD player to occupy the children as we crossed scrubby west Texas and New Mexico.

"They'll be so bored," one friend said. "It's going to be awful," said another. Even my husband had his doubts. "I'm not opposed to getting a DVD player," he confessed as we sat in traffic outside Beaumont, Texas. "Things might get a bit boring for the kids."

I asked him what I had asked myself in the run-up to our departure: What's so bad about boring?

My friend Renee, who has driven cross-country with her three kids eight times, calls boredom the mother of creativity. She's not the only one who sees virtue in idle time. In a recently published paper, researchers at East Anglia University in England concluded that the trancelike state helps recharge the mind and is "central to learning and creativity."

I wasn't trying to make my kids smarter or recharge their minds. I also do not dislike television. I know all the words to the Scooby Doo theme song, and when I visited New York last year I spent a Sunday morning at the NBC Store, where I loaded up on souvenirs with "The Office" logo on them. But I understand too well television's power to transform our kids into zombies tuned out to the world. The bottom line was, I didn't want to transport zombies across the country. I wanted our kids to be there with us, even if being there meant boredom and the protests that go with it.

They were there all right. "Texas is so boring," our 7-year-old son announced on Day 1. "This is dull," he declared on the way to Carlsbad Caverns along lonely state Highway 54. The next day, struggling against his seat belt, he wailed that he "couldn't take much more of this," before melting into cries of "Arrrghh!"