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In retrograde

October 11th, 2012

Remember the days when you didn’t have to worry about what was going on in world news, or for whom we had to vote? We didn’t have to worry about the two tests that we had to take next week or what lab report that was due tomorrow. There are days when I wish I could have perpetually been a child.

That’s why, every once in a while, I like to revert back to my childhood. There is nothing wrong with acting a little child-like every so often. Those were simpler days when we didn’t have as many cares and concerns; and, every once in a while, don’t we all deserve to leave our cares and concerns behind, if only for a little while?

Sometimes, we have experiences that place us completely in touch with our inner-child. I watched an episode of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” on Saturday afternoon, and I’m not at all afraid to admit it. The thing that struck me was that, even at the ripe old age of 20, my inner-child was still enthralled. I knew that I had to get to the library to get some reading done, but I sat there, staring at my computer screen for 28 minutes, in total rapture.

Mr. Rogers taught me so many things when I was a little girl; but when I hit the age when I didn’t want to be a child anymore (I think I was about 11 or 12), I must have forgotten them all. Or, rather, I tucked them away, locked them up tight somewhere, ashamed that I had ever been such a child.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald so poignantly points out in his short story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (yes, it was a short story first), we are going to  age, and, no matter what direction we age in, our tastes and interests are going to change; that’s just the natural way of things. However, that doesn’t mean that we have to completely lose touch with the child that we once were.

Our childhood selves have lessons to teach us; and, like any good teacher, we should listen to what they have to say.

Children have such an insatiable sense of curiosity. They will question just about everything; they’re like little masters of the Socratic method. One of the children I nanny for once asked me, in all seriousness, if a human could fit in a whale’s blowhole. When I told him that I didn’t think a person could fit in the average whale’s blowhole, he was persistent, asking, “A baby could though, right?” Maybe, I didn’t really know the answer to that one, and I wasn’t about to lie to him.

I urge you to never lose that sense of childlike curiosity. Children ask because they want to learn about the world around them. Don’t assume that you know everything there is to know. Ask questions if you have them. If it’s a good question, there’s no shame in asking it.

Children are extremely intuitive. They can pick up on emotional signals faster than most of us can. As we get older, our analytical processes become more developed; and while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, it can sometimes dumb down our intuition, and it may become harder for us to pick up emotional signals from our fellow human beings.

A child once asked me  if I was as old as her mommy and daddy. I told her that I was a bit younger than mommy and daddy – I was 20. Her response? “You don’t look 20 to me. You look more like 14.” It never feels really great to be told that you look like a 14-year-old, but at least she was honest.

Honesty is another quality that we should borrow from the younger versions of ourselves. I don’t mean that you should tell someone the truth if it is going to hurt them in some way, but when you’re given the opportunity to give your honest opinion about something, give it.

The absolute best thing about children is their vibrant imaginations. If they decide that the floor is lava, the floor is lava. If they are convinced that there is a monster under their bed with green eyes and yellow claws, you had better check under that bed, because, in their mind, that monster is there.

As we grow, we lose our sense of imagination. I guess we don’t really lose it, we just tend to stifle it. We realize how to recognize reality and sort out all of the imaginary stuff. Now, I’m not saying you have to walk around, convinced the floor is lava. But imagination lends itself to creativity and innovation, which are skills that we need, even as adults. “Make believe” on “Mr. Roger’s” was actually helping us more than we knew.

As we grow older, we tend to shy away from our childhood selves, for fear that we might be acting too childish, which is always a risk you run. But if you’re willing to take the risk and take the time to spend a day hanging out with your five year-old-self, you might learn something.