Guest Post by Kim Walker
Last week I went surfing with my husband and his family. For three days, I followed my normal surfing routine: fight through the breaking inside waves, make it outside to safety, catch my breath, pee (come on, it’s cold) and then sit on my freezing butt for hours, too intimidated to actually take off on any waves. Then, on the fourth day, something magical happened. The sun came out, the windchill died down, the waves got a bit smaller and a pod of 20 or so dolphins surfed alongside us. There were even baby dolphins. I was beside myself with glee. Surfing was forgotten, to be replaced with high pitched joy shrieks and sad attempts at dolphin noises.
None of this was any surprise to my family. I love dolphins. Hard. This is not the first time I’ve had a complete mental breakdown in the face of dolphins. Growing up, I only had one stuffed animal, my dolphin Dexter. We went whale watching a few years ago, and no whales showed up. We prowled the bay for hours to no avail. Towards the end of the tour, a pod of dolphins briefly shadowed our boat and for me the trip was not just saved, but far better than the original plan. I babbled, “Look at the pretties! We are friends!”. I’m very in touch with my inner child, or at least my inner Lennie Small.
This past week I’ve spent more time coloring with my five year old niece than interacting with the grown ups. I keep trying to tell the grown ups that my niece and I are not that different. I’m obsessed with cute animals, I prefer to talk about the latest Disney princess, and I’ll take a piggy back ride over walking any day. Now, before you jump ahead and say that this is a good thing, that I have a healthy sense of childlike wonder and my youthful spirit will serve me well in adult life, remember the other common characteristics of a five year old. I’m not good at sharing, I pick on my little brother, and I can throw a mean tantrum.
Just today I pitched a total toddler fit. Complete with stomping feet and whiny whines. I wanted to go for a run but I couldn’t find the right sports bra. Of course, this couldn’t possibly be a weird coincidence. Everyone was out to get me, someone hid my sports bra maliciously and my husband didn’t love me because he wasn’t helping me find it. He tried in every rational way to comfort me and I bitched so loudly that he actually had to say, “Hey, is yelling in my ear very nice?”
You might say that it’s normal to get frustrated every now and then, but here’s what’s so childlike about my fits. If someone handed me the missing bra in the middle of my tantrum, I still wouldn’t have felt better. If it was all about the missing item, I could have said to myself, “It’s just a sports bra, it’s probably just fallen behind the bed, and if not, you can buy another one, insert reasonable rational logical good sense here”. But not all tantrums are created equal. Sometimes the toddler is screaming about a missing lincoln log, but what she really needs is a nap, or lunch, or any number of non-environmental factors.
I was saying I was mad about the bra, but really, I was frustrated because the time spent looking for it made me feel late and rushed, which makes me feel out of control and uncomfortable. I only felt better when I stopped thinking about the stupid bra and starting thinking about what was really bothering me. Then there was room for reason and sense to enter the picture. I could relax and accept that this wasn’t a situation I could or should control.
So the next time I’m behaving like a little kid, I’m going to treat myself like a little kid. Instead of listening to whatever it is I’m squawking about, I’m going to run a checklist. Are my basic needs met? Do I need a nap, a snack, or a diaper change? Are my emotional needs met? Am I frustrated, scared, lonely, sad, jealous, overwhelmed? Then I can snap out of five year old mode and back into grown up mode.
When I see dolphins, I fully indulge my joyful inner child. I let her run amok and it’s probably really good for me (and very high-pitched for everyone else.) When I get overwhelmed, indulging that cranky inner child can feel good, for a bit. But then it’s time to put on my grown-up hat, run the checklist, and do what it takes to snap out of it. Ideally, snapping out of it would involve a dolphin encounter, but this may not be practical in day to day life. In case of emergency when no dolphins are present (rare, I know) a deep breath or a cookie will just have to do.
Editor's note: One of my most favorite things about Kim is her shining, loving, playful inner child and one of my most favorite parts about our friendship is how she generously leaves space for me to unleash mine, too. If allowing her child-like curiosity, sense of wonder and appreciation for a side of silly to come out means occasionally she also melts down like one, I vote for letting her be exactly who she is. And maybe always keeping a cookie on hand ;) Love you, Kimmie!