Another fun way to unleash a sense of aliveness and possibility is to get in touch with the energy and behaviors of your child self. She’s in there waiting for an opportunity to play!
I went through a long phase of re-growing myself up. I was part of a personal growth organization and this was a key feature of some of their more advanced classes. The idea was that, as we grow up, we tailor ourselves to the external environment and often skip some developmental stages. We begin to censor certain parts of ourselves and operate from the parts that get approval. But, as an old teacher of mine once said, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” It’s never too late to feel all those parts of ourselves and wake them up, now, in our adult lives.
While most of my friends were having and raising children, I was becoming a child again. I spent a month being swaddled (at least once a week), another month babbling, another month saying “No!” And another month having temper tantrums. And on and on until I was 16, at which point, I packed up my stuffed animal, White Kitty, and went to a workshop called Sexuality and Spirituality because, damn it, I was a teenager now.
Any of these ages are fun to play with. It’s an opportunity to do it all again, to have a happy childhood right now. To express all the things you did and didn’t express at those ages.
This period of revisiting my developmental stages lasted about a year. During that time, I went whole hog. I remember listening to someone making some vaguely saucy, sexual innuendo during that time and thinking, “Ewww! Grown-ups are disgusting!”
It wasn’t that I replayed my actual childhood. I found child parts of myself I don’t remember experiencing before. For example, I have no memories of having temper tantrums in my actual childhood. Once my mother even said, “You were such a perfect daughter; it’s almost as though I dreamt you.” Well, when I did it a second time, I gave my stand-in parents a real run for their money. I wasn’t going to make it easy on them.
I once went to a baby shower in my four-year-old state. Here’s a snippet from my journal at the time:
"I was a four-year-old big time at the baby shower today. I’m worried my friend’s family may think I’m a bit of a simpleton! Hannah was there and she let me spit half eaten jellybeans in her hand. I didn’t like them! And I made a baby out of play dough and it didn’t win the contest and I was angry and I squished the winning baby a little bit. And I walked around and took plastic animals and made them growl at people and told the women they were beautiful princesses and I said a lot of very simple things like, 'I like games.’ And I told my friend, ‘Your baby is going to come out your vagina.’ And I sat on the floor when she opened presents. And I ate a lot of cake. I got a lot of attention and I liked it. And I let myself roam around and not sit with the adults and I didn’t help and I went to look at the trees. There was someone who wasn’t nice and I just said, ‘Bye Bye’ and walked away."
I don’t necessarily want to walk around squishing play dough babies all the time and eating piles of cake, but in terms of waking up my aliveness and becoming aware of parts of myself that I had suppressed, the experiment worked beautifully.
I also learned that I can speak in very simple sentences and it’s enough! I don’t need to be smart or poetic or interesting. It’s enough to say, “You’re pretty. I like you. I want that. Give me a present. Want to be friends?” (That could actually be another experiment: only speak in short, simple sentences.) I also noticed how much I wanted to touch people, especially their faces, something I would usually monitor: No touching! As an (adult) four-year-old, I let myself hug people and touch them as much as I wanted.
Inspired by that, here’s an experiment to try: get in touch with your 4 or 6 or 10-year-old self.
You might want to scan your life and see what aspects of your childhood you miss or what stages you might not have fully expressed. Did you have temper tantrums? Were you sassy? Were you no trouble at all? Look at what you loved to do. Did you enjoy dressing up and putting on shows? Did you like to play alone, lost in your imagination?
Who were you before your conditioning, before you learned there were acceptable forms of behavior? What parts of yourself are in there, waiting for an opportunity to play?
There’s something about letting yourself really feel into the part of you at the age you choose. I discovered that, as a ten-year-old, I felt super capable and pretty. I also liked boys a lot and wanted to compete with them. I wanted to be the best! That doesn’t feel like a big part of my adult self so that was surprise. Having had that experience, when I’m feeling unsure, I can tap into my capable 10-year-old self.
Whatever you did or didn’t do the first time around, notice what appeals to you now. Notice what feels alive and shiny or foreign and unfamiliar.
Find some aspect from your real or yearned for childhood and play it out. I was all in at the baby shower, but even just bringing 5% of that child-like energy to a gathering or interaction or your day alone shifts it up. Remember, it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.
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photo: me and mom, circa 1978