Childish Things

When I was a wee slip of a four year old, I remember visiting a friend and following him upstairs to a room that contained a giant cardboard box. It was long, and lay on its side, and easily took up at least half of all available floorspace in the small, book-lined room. In hindsight I suppose it had originally housed a fridge. My friend walked around to the back of the box and called for me to follow him.

I remember looking at it with all the healthy skepticism a four year old can muster. It didn’t look like anything special. In fact, it looked like it might have fallen victim to some sort of cardboard-consuming moth – it was riddled with tiny holes – but other than that it looked entirely unremarkable. I picked my way warily over stacks of books to find a small door that had been choppily cut out of the back of the box, just large enough for a small child to squeeze through without too much trouble. A flap of cardboard had been clumsily taped to the top, and this makeshift door was suddenly pushed up to reveal my friend’s face emerging from the darkness within.

“Come ON!” He said, in that urgent way children sometimes have of making the unimportant seem entirely time-sensitive. He crawled out and tried to pull me down to the floor. “Go IN!”

Dubiously I crouched and lifted up the cardboard flap. I crawled into the gloom and felt soft blankets give way beneath my palms and my knees.

“Lie down on your back!” I heard my friend’s muffled order from outside the box. “You’re in space now!”

I lay down on the blanket as instructed and looked up to find…

Space.

What had looked like a perforated box from the outside was utterly transformed on the inside. The holes were small, and numerous, and they let in just enough light to look like hundreds of stars. I felt safe in there with my gaze turned upward, my chubby child fingers roaming over the invisible blankets. It was a warm, muffled cocoon of cardboard. It was a magical box that had suddenly and efficiently transported me to deep space.

I love this memory, because for me there is so much childhood wrapped up in that instant; that abrupt suspension of disbelief, that willingness to go with the game, that ability to fully enjoy the moment no matter how small, and to make stars out of holes in a cardboard box.

The imagination of a child is so powerful. It carves adventures out of nothing and crafts stories out of nowhere. Everything makes sense; nothing is too fantastical. How can it be when they are learning so much about the world? They are being asked to learn and understand any number of mad-sounding things, what’s one more? There are giraffes, and aardvarks, and elephants… why not unicorns? Why not dragons?

As we grow, we lose a lot of our imagination. We get worried and stressed and bogged down in never-ending to-do lists. Sometimes it can be really hard to just submerge yourself in a moment and enjoy it for what it is. The word ‘fun’ has so many connotations attached; it’s supposed to be spontaneous and frivolous and silly and it drags with it a sort of blue-skies-and-primary-colours aura reminiscent of beach balls and bouncing castles. What adult has time for that on a daily basis? We’re busy people! We have work to do and people to take care of and events to plan and activities to take part in and coffee to consume!

Over time, for the most part, that aimless, pointless fun gets squeezed out of our day-to-day. It gets relegated to holidays or long weekends. It gets saved for boozy nights with friends. We get too self-conscious for silliness. Once we’ve learned to anticipate outcomes, it can be very hard to relax into the simple act of making a mess without worrying about the clean-up.

I think when you’re an adult, simple fun can get paradoxically difficult.

I also think that imagination and creativity is like a muscle. If you don’t use it, it wastes away.

When we’re small we make jelly, and scones, and chocolate rice-krispie buns topped with smarties. We marble Play-Doh until the many colours come together to form a single uniform shade of murky brown. We finger paint. We make sandcastles. We twist skinny horses out of pipe-cleaners, and make butterfly paintings by lobbing paint on a page and then folding it over and pressing it down. We make daisy chains, and dance in our living rooms and it doesn’t matter that the daisy chain isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t matter that our sandcastle will be washed away by the tide, and it doesn’t matter that our dancing looks ridiculous, and it certainly doesn’t matter that the Play-Doh is brown because that just means we can make a big Play-Doh bear out of it.

I’m not saying we should put aside life and responsibility and live as adult toddlers for a week, but I think there are lessons to be learned from our past selves. Children really understand how to live in the moment in a way that we forget as we grow into adults. They understand that things don’t need to be perfect to be beautiful, and that sometimes a big mess is a small price to pay for half an hour of laughter. When we were children, we didn’t always need reasons to do the things we did. We didn’t run around the playground because it made us healthier. We didn’t make each move carefully strategising five steps ahead.  Our reasons could be as flimsy as “because I feel like it” or “because I want to.”

I know that as adults we are expected to put away our childish things. We have to be responsible, and practical. We have a lot of things cluttering up our heads and it feels like there’s barely time to do the things we have to do, much less the things we want to do.

I’m just not sure we should put away all our childish things. I think it does us good to channel our inner child sometimes.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to attend a solo dance party in my living room.

…Because I feel like it!

 

 

29 comments
  1. Well written and very true. The more we realize that the current moment is the only moment that counts, the easier it becomes to let that child come out to play again. Recently, I’ve decided to hear – where ever I am and what ever I’m doing – my younger self laugh in the back of my head. Sometimes I close my eyes and create a short movie of that happy and unspoiled kid running in a garden. When I open my eyes again, I can feel a smile and life has become a bit easier. A bit more fun. Indeed, we have to use the muscle. Often.

    1. That’s a good idea Ronald, will have to try that sometime although I’m honestly not sure I can even remember that laugh…!

  2. You found Narnia! 😉 One of the things that I love about music is that it’s a vestige from my childhood. Each time I play, I’m brought back to a simpler time.

    1. That’s such a nice focus to bring to your music. Makes it uncomplicated, in a way. I wish I could play an instrument!

  3. Lovely piece. Love the image of the carboard window to the stars.

    1. Thanks Enda! You should try it! 😉

  4. You’re such a great story teller! 🙂

    1. Oh thanks Jess! (Look at me working hard not to put in a comment about how I just got lucky today….!)

      1. Hahahah progress!

  5. A great story. William Blake wrote that a child’s toys and an old man’s reasons are but the fruits of the two seasons. Hopefully, play becomes a lifelong habit.

    1. Hopefully! Playtime is important for all ages, I think!

      1. Agreed. “Play is the answer to how anything new comes about.” Jean Piaget, developmental psychologist.

  6. I remember that episode from Friends where Rachel scolds Phoebe for running wildly through the park. Phoebe explains that she is running like a child because that was when she ran the fastest and had the most fun.
    Luckily, I live in a place with snow and can get into the odd snowball fight, can occasionally get coaxed onto a toboggan, and still get to do some of those childhood things.
    Never forget the joys of childhood. Some of them were epic.

    1. I’d love to go on a toboggan, I am very jealous of your toboggan rides! I hope you enjoy them for as long as possible!

  7. I love this. Reading this, on top of seeing Christopher Robin last week, has me craving childhood.

    1. I haven’t seen it yet but just the trailer made me feel a pang of nostalgia…. Time to break out the finger paints!

  8. This is so perfectly written and beautiful, my Saturday morning Parkrun takes me past a place where my sisters and I had a den in the woods, everytime I pass it, it takes me back…I mean if I wasn’t being timed I’d obviously Take a detour for the tree swing!!! This is exactly why I love being an Auntie, yesterday I had a living room dance party, finger painted a beach scene And climbed the stairs 14 times for no apparent reason…all without the actual responsibility of parenting, I’m just in it for the fun!!

    1. I think you should take a run by JUST for the tree swing! It’s been far too long since I got to go on a tree swing but I can’t imagine it’s any less fun now than it ever was!

      1. Seems I have lost that childhood fearlessness… I stopped on my run and had a look, it seems so high, I might break a leg or knowing my luck, my neck!

        1. Hahaha, probably seemed EVEN HIGHER when you were shorter!

          1. Haha eeek…I used to be so brave!!

  9. Beautiful story Quinn. For the biggest part of my life, I have calculated everything I do, avoiding to make a mess of things, but then I have missed the important part of all of them. Learning to be the child and not overthink things. Especially not to let my environments shape who I become

    1. It’s hard to work against that part of ourselves that wants to avoid the mess! I think just thinking about it is a good first step though!

  10. Yes. We forget to have fun, be free, be ourselves.
    Inner children rule!

  11. Very observant. Thank you.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about staying childlike, approaching things in a playful attitude, and setting my primary or sole goal to have fun. Your post has been helpful.

  12. I always love your posts. This one really hit home to me big time though. I think I have been denying my inner child too much for too long. And life has become boring and hard without it. Too focused on the future and doing life right to live in the now. Your writing captured my feelings just right. Thank you Quinn as always.

  13. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to attend a solo dance party in my living room.” YES! I think I need to do this as well 🙂

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