We tend to lose parts of ourselves as we grow older. Adulthood and responsibility have the tendency of destroying certain instincts that most of us are inherently born with. These instincts are a result of a long evolutionary process of over generations. For example, how is it that my 4-month old son knows to smile when he sees me? And seems to recognize a smile as a sign of happiness and familiarity? Sure, part of it involves imitating his mother and father, but a smile is a recognizable facial expression that is used across the entire world, regardless of race, background or language.
The same can be said for dreaming, imagination and curiosity. These aspects are very prominent when we’re born and through childhood, but they slowly disappear as the crushing responsibility of daily life takes over. There’s a perfect example of this phenomenon, which I experienced this morning. Enter: my son Nathan.
Today is a school day for Nathan (it’s Friday, d-uh!) so I turned on his bedroom light at 7 a.m. and told him he needed to get up. Despite getting to bed almost twelve hours previously, he looked at me and frowned around two red, blood-shot eyes that spoke volumes since his vocabulary lacked the words he wanted to express in that very moment.
I went to work preparing his lunch and backpack and trying to get some caffeine into my system as I move about. Contrary to the process that’s usually necessary on school days, he emerged from his bedrooms a mere five minutes later, fully clothed. I asked what he wanted for breakfast and he declined to eat anything. I should’ve listened to him, because my second suggestion produced a response of frustration usually reserved when you can’t find a parking space when you’re ten minutes late for an appointment.
He expressed his desire to watch cartoons for a few minutes before leaving and, in the interest of my sanity, I accommodated him. He curled up in our home office under a blanket and started watching an episode of Paw Patrol for the bazilionth time! My recent illness had me dealing with a wave of nausea, so I couldn’t be bothered trying to argue with a 5-year old. Despite knowing that it’s a school day, he doesn’t choose to acknowledge that some urgency is required during the morning. That’s apparently a problem for adults.
Once the car was started, backpack and coffee mug loaded, I called out that it was time to go. A very frustrated Nathan came up the stairs and told me, in no uncertain terms, that I should come down to the office to get him as opposed to yelling out for him. My response was to get his damn outerwear and boots on.
As he’s sitting on the steps of the landing, slipping his boots on, his eyes suddenly light up and he says, “Look, Daddy! A spider…” I look down at the step and I see a small water drop sized insect on it’s back. I only see six legs, so I explain to him that it’s not a spider. He taps it and the legs move. His excitement grows exponentially as he realizes it isn’t dead. Getting his ski pants and boots on have been completely forgotten.
I try to steer him back on course, but his excitement becomes mixed with concern as he tells me we need to help the bug turn over so it doesn’t die. I look at the time and sigh audibly. The son of a Buddhist wants to help preserve a life. I can’t really fault him for that, can I?
I tell him to keep getting dressed and I’ll take care of the bug. I push the bug gently until it manages to flip over. Turns out, it was a lady bug (At least I hope it was. That’s what it looked like. What am I, an entomologist???”) It starts crawling away. Nathan has his ski pants almost to his waist and his boots on. Time is burning away on bus pickup and now he’s worried about the bug getting off the landing. “We need to put her outside…”
I calmly explain that it’s winter and that the snow will kill the lady bug. Better to let her make her way off the landing herself as she can walk on vertical surfaces. I manage to get him to finish getting his ski pants on and his coat gets around his shoulders and almost zipped up when he stops and kneels down to watch the ladybug walking around.
“Dude, you’re killing me! Get your stuff on! We gotta go!” He hustles into the rest of his coat and I use the term “hustle” sarcastically, and makes his way out to the family vehicle. I bring him to the bus stop and wait patiently as Nathan turns on his seat warmer and puts the radio on a station playing music. After a few minutes of silence, he tells me I need to check on the ladybug when I get home (it was gone, BTW).
He walked to the bus, gave me his customary goodbye hug and stepped up into the bus and started his day. As the bus pulled away, it dawned on me that Nathan spent the better part of his entire time at home this morning, observing, getting excited and showing concern for a tiny, insignificant insect that I hadn’t even noticed was there until he pointed it out. It fascinated him and made him curious about life and his surroundings. But daily life required me to stifle that instinct in the interest of getting him to school. And that’s what life does to you.
Childhood is a strange time in a person’s life. We spend the first two to three years trying to encourage kids to speak and walk, followed by the next decade telling them to shut up and stop running around the house. Then the following ten years WISHING they’d talk to us. All the while, their ability to appreciate the small things and be fascinated with life slowly dwindles out of them until they become the typical, socially acceptable adult that keeps their “eyes on the prize”.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to take a step back and just stare at the clouds. We’re all born with the ability for imagination, so why would we ever stop using it? Some of the greatest ideas in the history of humankind were the result of imagination and dreaming. Take some time to slow down and smell the roses. No matter how much kids can be frustrating, sometimes they get it right. ☯