One of the first things I saw as a kid, after my first cornea transplant, was a bird in the sky. I have wanted to fly ever since. When I grew up, I discovered flight school consists of a lot of mathematics, rules, regulations, charts and scientific theories. All of these technical details serve an important purpose, but just the idea of studying them instantaneously bored me with the whole concept of flying professionally. I don’t want to plot numbers and check vectors – I want to leap into the sky, arms outstretched, and feel the wind on my face as I tumble playfully through the atmosphere, skimming neighborhood rooftops trying to confuse people.
Sometimes, as we grow up, reality just kills the imagination, creativity and the romantic worldview of childhood. You can’t just strap balloons on your back and go to Africa. You can’t catch fish in a bath tub. Your dog is never going to talk to you telepathically. Life is lame. But wait – there is a secret to ridding yourself of that pesky sense of realism: your inner child.
The companionship of my own inner child has allowed me to fly through my art and writing. I have to admit, even though I was once a child myself, I really didn’t have much use for children until I discovered the one that lived inside of me.
I was one of few females I knew that didn’t gush in the presence of a newborn. I still don’t want to start a daycare, but thanks to my youngest sister, I now regularly babysit three nephews, and not only have we found some common ground, but through them I have found a well from which creativity and inspiration spring freely.
For people like me, it might be hard to accept the idea of allowing a child to take up residence in your house for five minutes, let alone letting one live in your mind on a permanent basis. For them, I explain the benefits: Having a strong imagination and play instinct can keep life from bringing us down. It can make us valuable as professionals by improving our ability to creatively solve problems. It can prevent boredom at business meetings and keep you entertained on cold, rainy days. Your inner child can stop you from becoming completely disenchanted by the less interesting realities of life.
What’s cool about a kid? I found out one day after 4 and one half hours in the car on a family trip. We stopped, having decided it was a good time to let the little squirt, my oldest nephew Cartier, out for a run off some energy in the grassy patch between a gas station and a bank. There, standing out like the ivory tower at night, was a single, red, burning bush set against an otherwise solid green patch of grass.
In order to keep him out of the landscaping, I had explained to him that bushes were actually hiding places for trolls. Not the cute little trolls with the bright colored hair, but ugly, bad-tempered trolls with sharp teeth and a tendency to snatch buttons and toenails from unsuspecting children. So, Cartier ran to the bush but stopped short of venturing into the stones surrounding it. He got down on his knees and peered carefully under the bush, inspecting things. He tilted his head and asked,
“Troll in there?”
To which I replied,
”Do you see one?”
His eyes did not leave the bush.
I asked him what color it was, to which he answered yellow. I told him that if he was close enough to see what color the troll was, he’d better get back. His eyes were wide and he got up right away. He lifted his hands and looked at them in horror. I followed his gaze to a tiny hand that was covered in something warm, brown, and as stinky as it was sticky. I realized, with disgust, that he has put his hand in a pile of unnoticed dog dookie. Before I could react, he started shaking his hand at me and shouted,
“Ew, troll poop!”
Once he was properly sanitized, I returned him to the car. He talked about this for days after it happened, reliving the story to his mother, aunt, grandmother, and anyone else who would listen to him. While the story was cute, funny, and a little gross, that wasn’t what made that day memorable to me. It was written all over is face and in every gesture that he literally saw the troll looking back at him – waiting to steal his buttons.
He saw it there because I suggested to him that it was. In this same way, he sees a monster in the closet. His mind fills in every detail for him – his imagination makes it real. It made me sad to realize how much is lost as we grow up and stop believing in that silly nonsense. Imagination is often bullied to the very back of the brain by realism and practicality.
I am not a silly person, but I have an active imagination that allows me to be a lot happier than most of the other 30 year olds I know. Finally, in the eyes of a two and a half year old, I met someone who understands the world that lives just barely inside your peripheral vision. In him, I see the reflection of my own inner child.
Together we see lots of things that nobody else does. It makes my world just a little more colorful. We can look at an old rotted log near a river and imagine the family of cranky coons that lived there before the tree fell and are struggling with the trials of relocating their children. The father is a fat old fisherman and the mother is a brazen thief. Together, they are raising three little ones and struggling to teach them balance between bravely raiding trash cans and secluding themselves in the dark ancient forest, fishing for survival as their father and his father before him had done for many generations back.
If you can’t find your own inner child, borrow a real one. If you need inspiration, go and spend the day with a kid and a refrigerator box. It is a wonderful remedy for any mental rut. If you want some real fun, ask the kid questions. Why does the sun do up there all day? How come the moon only comes out at night? Kids will amaze you with their answers and can provide you weeks worth of inspiration from just a few hours of interaction.
I spend a lot of time with my nephew now that I realize the full value of it. Whenever I need an idea for a new story or drawing, I can count on him to provide it. He, after all, was the inspiration for this article. He often brings me invisible gifts, carried to me carefully cupped in his hands. I always take the offered gift, thank him for it, and look it over while I wait for him to tell me what it is. Sometimes it’s his brother’s nose, sometimes it’s a horse, and every once in a while, he brings me troll poop.