The other day I was making a big batch of candles for one store, and I had bottles strewn about from formulating a new fragrance for a different store. Dinner was in the oven, wax was melting, candles were solidifying, music filled the apartment, and I was in a jolly mood bopping around in an attempt to keep all these plates spinning. It felt like the scene in Matilda where things are swirling all over the place, but in joyful chaos. As I was happily putzing about, I suddenly realized: this does not look like the apartment of someone moving in a week’s time. All of this needs packed up, and yet I still need access to so much of it in order to keep things running. I sat myself in my favorite chair to strategize for a moment, and I was instead buried under the awareness that came from the act of reflection. How the heck was I going to get everything done? The wind was immediately knocked out of my sails, and it didn’t feel unlike this little moment but without the humor.
It’s not often that the lessons learned from childhood are pleasant. There’s a reason that experiences of therapy often involve visiting our psychological basement where we’ve come to store those memories from our childhood that we don’t necessarily want to look at, yet nonetheless serve as the foundation of our emotional homes. With that in mind, it was a welcome surprise when a childhood memory gifted me the opportunity to learn from my 9 year-old self in a way that wasn’t dreadful and instead recognized my younger self as wise in her own right.
As a kid, I would often play outside by myself cycling through all kinds of activities: rollerblading, bouncing on a pogo stick, and dribbling around a basketball. There was one day that I wondered if I could do all three of those things at once. I strapped on my rollerblades, hoisted myself up onto the pogo stick with the basketball under my arm, and I started hopping up and down while bouncing the ball in tandem. Once I discovered it was possible to do all three simultaneously, it became a game of counting how many times I could bounce the ball without losing control. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5….66, 67, 68…113, 114, 115. It was a blast! Whatever part of your brain lights up while playing “Bop It!” is likely the same part of my brain that lit up while pogo-ing towards my personal best.
My grandmother on East York Street would observe behavior like this and comment on how nervous it made her. She always referred to me as a “whirling dervish.” We were at my grandparents’ house at least twice a week, always for dinner on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. The adults of the family aimed for the night to last until about 9 o’clock, and I think the hope was that the kids would tucker out around 7:30 so they had some quiet time to socialize with one another uninterrupted. One of the women in the family would put me on the couch and tuck me in (I would typically request to be rolled up in a blanket like a cream stick donut before being placed on the couch, ha!). They’d get me snug as a bug in a rug, and within moments I was wriggling myself out of the blanket struggling to rest. My grandma would say, “Doesn’t she ever just relax? She makes me so nervous!”
I remember learning that the majority of our personalities are shaped between the ages of 0 and 12 months, and the more I reflect on my personality development the more I believe that to be true. It’s both daunting and meaningful to realize that your kid brain remains a vital part of your adult brain. It’s daunting because we had such little control over our kid brains—so to think that it still has a significant seat at the table can feel unfair. Then again, what a humbling gift to realize that who we were as children can teach us so much about what it means to be a good adult. Sometimes those lessons take the shape of realizing the traits that need work (i.e. patterns of anger and impatience handed down through our lineage), but sometimes those lessons can present themselves in more encouraging ways.
So there I was in my apartment, with a million things going on. Melting wax. Pouring candles. Concocting formulas. Preparing dinner. Playing music. It eventually hit me like a lead balloon that I’m still the kid trying to hop on a pogo stick while wearing rollerblades and bouncing a basketball. After taking a beat to smile at the realization that I haven’t changed all that much, I wondered why this nevertheless felt different as an adult. Why was I now slumped in my chair feeling discouraged and doubtful that I could accomplish all that needed to be done?
When I was a kid, I must have believed I could do anything. There was no good reason that I should have ever looked at a shoe with a blade of wheels and thought, “Hm, I bet I can effectively hop on a pogo stick wearing those without falling.” For whatever reason, my kid brain saw that as an opportunity. What’s that about? My adult brain makes excuses all the time for why I can’t or shouldn’t do something. How was my mind as a child so much more accepting of itself and convinced of its own potential? Where do we lose ourselves along the way? Of course life happens, we become tired at best and cynical at worst, and of course our brains are meant to develop beyond the capabilities of a pre-adolescent frontal cortex lobe. There are lots of understandable reasons why we lose parts of our kid brain that were actually kind to us. But are those reasons always good? Aren’t there qualities we had as children that deserved to be embraced if only for the sole fact that they were a reflection of our individuality—a way in which we set ourselves apart? You know what the etymology of the word “holy” is? Set apart. It’s a sacred act to remain true to our distinct nature. How might we reacquaint ourselves with those sweet little parts of our child personality that brought us a sense of joy, even if it made our poor grandmothers utterly nervous? :)
In a gesture of dignifying kid Hannah, I sat up in my armchair and shifted my inner monologue. “How the heck are you going to manage all this?” became “Minks, you can absolutely take care of all this—rest assured that it’s in your nature.” While I’ll always strive to maintain balance and get rest when I need it, I want to be careful not to confuse the need for rest with self-doubt that I can accomplish all that I’d like to do. It’s an interesting tightrope to walk, but I have to try walking it. Thanks for the encouragement, Kid Self.
As a token of gratitude to those who meaningfully shape the minds of children (both the kids themselves and their caregivers), here’s a playlist. I hope it captures the wonderful childlike energy that we should encourage kids to cultivate and that we should keep close as adults. May these songs soundtrack mornings before school, evenings of homework at the kitchen table, or perhaps the ongoing learning that occurs with everyday life. Cheers!