“The most sophisticated people I know—inside they are all children.”–Jim Henson
Greetings my Dear Ones!
I woke up nine years old today. I can tell because I looked at the cap on the toothpaste and thought “this would make a fantastic little planter for my doll house when the toothpaste runs out. A dab of glue and some moss and dried baby’s breath colored with markers and it will be a perfect little pot of flowers!” and I felt a happy, innocent kind of joy in my heart. There was a two-week-old Shetland lamb running around the bathroom too, which made me giggle, and I’m pretty sure Most real grown-ups would have frowned at that. I often think I have absolutely nothing in common with grown-ups!
Driving through the tunnel of trees lining the road on my way to work, the morning light flickering through the tree trunks makes the scene before me click like I am in one of those old-fashioned home videos that is skipping. I hope I don’t have to grow up too quickly today! I get to the shop and my friend announces “Today, we are Diesel Fitters.” “What?” I say, confused. She holds up a pair of jeans and says “Deeze ‘ll Fit ‘er!” We both laugh and I sigh with relief. Growing up can be postponed. I pick up my needle and thread and continue daydreaming about plans for my doll house.
Prudence shows up just in time to ruin everything when we see the first prom gown of the morning. I attempt to continue the balancing act of appreciating the absurd and having heart-touched contemplation as I gaze at the sight before me. I note that throughout history, women worked so hard for permission to reveal an ankle, an elbow…but taken to extremes, we now have things like Lulu Lemon yoga pants and prom gowns such as this one…It’s a cross between a swimsuit and a beach tent. The top is little more than a bra; the bottom has enough glittery fabric to hide a Shetland pony. “Did gravity pull nine yards of fabric to the bottom of this dress?” asks Prudence. “What the hell?”
“What do you think this needs?” asks the girl, pulling at her straps and trying to make the bra part even smaller.
“It needs a COAT” snaps Prudence. “A cape, a shawl, a large blanket! Anything to stop you looking like one of those half-naked dolls one shoves into a cake. You look like half a girl embedded in Glitter Mountain for pity’s sake!”
The phone starts ringing off the hook. A series of customers coming and going disrupts all momentum on our projects and I realize that I am no longer full of creativity and joy. I am now just waiting for lunch, like a pack animal.
We all brighten considerably when a little four-year-old comes in with her mother, who is to be fitted for a wedding gown. (The mother is being fitted; not the four-year-old!) The four-year-old is picking her nose, singing little songs, and talking to the pictures in her book. Her delightful prattle is like sunshine. When she sees her mother in her beautiful gown and we ask her if she looks like a princess, she smiles shyly and climbs the carpeted platform to look at her own self more closely in the mirror. She likes what she sees. Her tummy is protruding and she makes it stick out further. She sticks out her tongue and makes funny faces at herself. Her dark eyes sparkle with pleasure and her curls bob. Even with her finger up her nose to the second joint, she is just gorgeous. I am looking at what will someday be a grown woman’s inner child. She is as precious as a newborn lamb. I hope she never wants a nose job or a boob job or a dress that diminishes her in any way. I Love her just as she is. She is fantastic. The body will lengthen, swell, and age around this spirit and encase it in other flesh, other worries, other beliefs about what is “acceptable.” I shudder to think what she will really “learn” at school.
There is a lot of talk these days (and by “these days” what I really mean is since the 1960’s) about the need to find, heal, engage, and play with our Inner Child. This concerns Prudence deeply. She does not like children of any kind, except perhaps the ones who are “seen not heard.” (She likes sneaky children, I guess?) When I talk about embracing our inner child, she feels a toe-curling dread that this means I long to roam the family tent with sand in my pants and gritty feet, or go to sleep with mashed potatoes in my hair, clutching a filthy “blankie” that (to me) is a sentient being. Squadron leader Prudence, self-appointed leader of the Anti-Creativity Brigade, swiftly hides all the crayons. Creativity is messy. And Dangerous! Watch out! Children think they can do Anything. And that is True, until we teach them otherwise.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines Inner Child as “the part of your personality that still reacts and feels like a child.”
“Nonsense!” tuts Prudence, “You only had two children inside of you and you managed to expel them both about twenty years ago…”
A damaged inner child, one who suffered wounds of abuse or neglect, causes a person to be impulsive, narcissistic, dependent, needy, afraid of being abandoned. They cannot regulate their emotions or act from logic or reason. I remember attending a “Find your Life’s Purpose” workshop at the Kripalu center in Western Mass a few years ago. The presenter asked us what we did the most when we were nine to twelve years old. What did we play with? What activities did we most enjoy when we could use our time as we chose, when parents, teachers, coaches and clergy were not involved? Who were we before the world meddled with us and told us we needed to be someone else? This unfortunate woman looked directly at me and asked me to share my answer with the group. With unusually bold candor, I informed these concerned strangers that I had spent my time reading things like “Little House on the Prairie” and “Anne of Green Gables,” practicing my penmanship, and fashioning nun’s habits out of toilet paper for the collection of Barbie dolls I shared with my sisters, so we could play “The Sound of Music.” I also had a Doll house, built for me by my grandfather, that I spent time decorating and dreaming about when I was supposed to be doing my homework. I was obsessed with animals in general—horses, bees, and dolphins in particular. “Hmmm…” she mused thoughtfully, after the laughter had died away, “tell me about the Barbies again. I’m getting an idea that your life’s purpose is going to involve some sort of blend of spirituality and fashion in some way….”
“Will there be cookies?” I want to know. “And what about the monsters?”
When I was a child, I was convinced that the monsters were under the bed. They are not. They are inside of us. And so is that sweet, sacred, innocent child. I am convinced that they need to learn to play nicely together. Including and assimilating the darker parts of ourselves is what gives us Character. These are powerful, potentially destructive energies we can use to be able to negotiate on our own behalf. These are the sides of us we need to control but they help us to know who we are, what we want, and to be able to communicate it clearly. Otherwise, we will have fascinating, absurd or tragic stories. (Which is ok with me! I LOVE stories!)
Knowing who we are is vital. So is remembering to tell others who we are. We had a situation this week where someone texted the personal cell phone of one of my colleagues with the message “Hi. I have an appointment to have my hair and make-up done on Thursday afternoon. Ok to pop by after and try on my gown to get the whole look?” With seven wedding gowns and over 40 prom gowns in the shop, my friend had no clue who this could be. She did not recognize the phone number. “Who is this?” she texted back. There was no reply. The next day, a woman rang the shop phone and said her daughter had been in a total panic, wondering if we had lost her gown and that we don’t know who she is. It turns out that she is one of the brides who assumed she was our only customer.
There are many different ways to work with your inner child. To my way of thinking, one cannot underestimate the importance of Benevolent Neglect. Children need a lot of space to do “nothing.” Here’s how A.A. Milne’s Christopher Robin explains the art of doing Nothing.
"How do you do Nothing," asked Pooh after he had wondered for a long time.
"Well, it's when people call out at you just as you're going off to do it, 'What are you going to do, Christopher Robin?' and you say, 'Oh, Nothing,' and then you go and do it.
It means just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering."
"Oh!" said Pooh.”
“Nothing,” especially when it is done Outside in Nature, is a tremendously rich playground for a child who is otherwise happy and well-fed. They are like little prophets in the desert. I never heard of a prophet who was surrounded by social media and screen technology and had people seeking to exhaust him or her with constant novelty. It’s the trips to the desert of Solitude and Nothing when the prophets gain their creativity, connection, insight, and vision. They seek the refuge of their own inner beings in the Wilderness. It is there they find a God who speaks to them. It’s there that they grow a capacity to see things as other things and Other Things as All One Thing. It is there they find Themselves and realize that Cheerios painted with nail polish make the perfect scale donuts for a doll’s house.
Most of the “adults” I meet on a daily basis are just chronologically old. Anyone with a bit of luck can manage that! Yes, having a rampaging two-year-old in a forty-five-year-old frame—especially when it has access to a credit card—is no joke. To be truly Adult is to be integrated. Too many of us feel we need to quarantine our childlike capacity for innocence, wonder, awe and joy along with the monster tantrums. We feel too silly being Silly. Being a psychological adult, not just a chronological one can be ridiculously fun…It means you love your play time AND consider the needs of others. You are responsible and Goofy. Take a look at Pinterest and Etsy (AFTER you take a walk outside, of course!!)—there is a mind-blowing array of creativity and whimsy out there. Inner children everywhere are thriving and pouring Beauty into our world. Make sure you get to play with yours today! Maybe soon, we can get our dolls together for a tea party in the garden, or wiggle our toes together in the sand box, or turn all our single socks into puppets… the possibilities are endless!
Wishing you much joyful creativity, Good Work, and Good Play today!