Yesterday was my goddaughter Claire's first birthday and I spent a good portion of the day celebrating with her outdoors at at picnic venue. It was a beautiful day -- sunny and nearly 80 degrees -- and it was so wonderful to just be outside, enjoying the weather. I don't get to spend as much time with her as I'd like to so it was great to spend a lot of the day with her. In general I don't spend a lot of time with children. They make me nervous. I don't know what to say to them or how to act around them. I'm never quite sure what's appropriate and what's not. When I tell people this, they often say, "Well, you were a kid once." Yes, yes I was. I was also once a fetus but I can't say that I can relate to them all that well either.
I used to default and say, "I don't like kids," but now I realize that it's not that I don't like them. It's that I don't get them. Even was I was a kid, I struggled to understand them. Play in the dirt? Nah, I think I'll just go up to my room and read. Run around outside? Sounds nice, but I have some color-coordinating of my files to get done (yes, I had files...what was in them, I'm not so sure). I didn't really fit in (but who does?) and I would have much rather sat quietly listening to the adults chit-chat at a party than run around outside with the wild (and dirty!) kids. So, I guess this whole "not getting kids" thing isn't all that new for me. The only thing is that now I don't have to interact with them so I can easily brush it off and say, "Oh, yeah, I'm not a big fan of kids." And since only one of my friends has a kid (and another on the way, crazy lady!), this isn't really a big problem for me. I can easily skip through my days kid-free and not have to think about it much.
Until yesterday. Yesterday was all about the kid-friendly environment and, shockingly, I probably spent the most time with little Claire (other than her parents, of course). It was interesting to see the world from her one-year-old perspective. It actually gave me a great opportunity to see things in a new, fresh light and I loved it. Everything -- and I mean, everything-- is interesting to her. She loved banging on the metal picnic benches. She loved touching (ever so gently!) the pink polish on my toes. She loved chasing, to the best of her wobbly-walking ability, the lone dog at the party. She loved digging in the cooler for large pieces of ice and sucking on them, smiling at me and saying, "Mmmm!" It was quite fascinating to me. I take all of these things for granted on a daily basis. Nothing (okay, very few things) are that interesting to me. Very few things make me break out in a oh-my-god-that's-awesome grin, the way Claire did when she unwrapped her birthday gifts or played peek-a-boo.
As I was driving away from the party, I thought about little Claire's excitement and asked myself, Did I ever feel that excited about anything? Was the world really once that new and interesting to me? Of course it was; it must have been. But, like most of us, I lost that feeling, that thrill of learning and touching and tasting and trying new things. I lost it, but I want it back. How fun would it be to walk around like a little kid, taking everything in as if seeing it for the first time? How would it feel to be that interested in the world? Though I know I can't completely recreate that feeling of new excitement, I really think being more mindful will help me to capture some of that great emotion I saw in Claire's face.
Another great thing about Claire (and kids in general)? They don't hide how they feel. They don't pretend. One of Claire's parents' friends was blowing up a balloon, pre-party, and, man, Claire did not like that. She heard the noise of air filling that rubber and she started wailing. As much as I was shocked and quickly asking, "What's wrong? What happened?", I loved it. I loved the honesty in that. Same thing happened when Claire was given her first piece of cake. As soon as the sugar touched her lips, she made the most disgusted face I'd ever seen. She clearly hated it. Can you imagine being able to be that completely honest? Though some of us are that way, a lot of people would politely take a few bites and then leave the rest, claiming to be "too full" or "watching those calories." It was so refreshing to see Claire's reaction. Though I don't want to openly express my emotions at all times, I do tend to be a little closed off and even, at times, deny myself my feelings. If I could be a little bit more like Claire, a tad more open to letting the world see what I'm feeling, I think I would be a lot better off.
I recently read a quote by Elizabeth Lawrence that says, "There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place where colors are brighter, the air softer, and the morning more fragrant than ever again." I think that's true. I think childhood is a place where everything -- things, places, people, emotions -- are so new that we can't help but experience them with a fierce intensity. Thinking about that makes me oddly jealous because I know I will never again (at least not in this lifetime) experience life exactly in that way (though I'm going to make more of an effort now to see the world through the eyes of a child). Thinking about it also makes me a little bit sad because children (myself included) don't realize how awesome it is. I guess they don't really have the ability to understand it at that age, but it's so amazing to be experiencing everything for the first time and it would be so, so cool if we could all capture that feeling and remember it as adults.
Since that's not possible, the best we can do is work on being more mindful of ourselves and the world around us. There is so much beauty, so many interesting things in the world, if only we take the time to think about the world not as an adult world, but as a child might -- as an enchanted place filled with wondrous and fascinating things and feelings. I don't know if we can ever get the true childhood experience back, but we can certainly try to see the world through more enchanted eyes.