I've been away. Nearly all my family lives in New York-- my daughter, her husband and their boys, as well as my siblings and cousins and aunts--so every summer I journey north for a visit. I love spending time with family, and I enjoy the (somewhat) cooler weather, the culture, the food. There's never enough time to see everyone and do everything, so I always leave wanting more. But I also take a particular joy with me when I depart.
Much of that joy is given to me by my grandsons, Max, almost five, and Eli, almost one; I also spend time with other children, those of relatives and friends, and I come away with a renewed appreciation for the soul-nourishing vitality of childhood. Being with children, sharing their games and stories and dreams, is like imbibing the shrinking DRINK ME potion in Alice and Wonderland (which I watched with Max): one is suddenly made small, acutely attuned to the environment.
Much (arguably too much) has been made of the "inner child" everyone carries, but what I like most about being with children is the appearance of my outer child. When I am with Max, I play child games and talk in child voices, I eat (good) child food and keep child time. I get on my hands and knees, I hide under the covers, and I splash water out of the tub. In short, I live the sort of life otherwise long past, and it is exhausting and it is energizing and it keeps us close when we're apart.
Children are masters of the moment. They are almost always completely in the now, focused with mind, body and spirit on whatever they happen to be doing or wanting or being. Such an existence is not always pleasant--often enough there are tears, laments, consequences--but it is almost always fully engaging. How often, I ask myself, am I completely and fully engaged in my adult life? Sadly, not enough.
Life is brief, childhood briefer still. But moments of childhood are timeless, energetic connections of blood and love.