If you’re lucky, and I certainly feel I was, your childhood may have been spent running through yards, riding bikes down the street, jumping on the playground, or maybe thrilling to the latest episode of your favorite cartoon, all alongside a friend or two.
Those playground days seem so simple when we look back. You walk up, you introduce yourself, you start talking and you get to work on that wondrous and necessary job of childhood – playing.
Flash forward to our adult years and the awkward feelings of meeting fellow parents at a school function or kid’s birthday party, or the sheer number of times we tell someone (old friends and new acquaintances alike) that we need to get together, over and over again, constantly promising yourself it’ll happen, after just this one next thing you need to do.
So believe me when I say how, after years of awkwardness and social difficulties as aging adults, I was amazed on a recent beach trip with the family when I watched our youngest strike up friendships in a heartbeat.
Most of us waded into the water, adjusting from the initial shock of cold to not-quite-warmth-but comfortable (or is it just numbness?) that comes from staying a bit longer. Meanwhile, our preschooler, pail and shovel in hand, sat just a few feet away at the shore playing in the sand. It didn’t take long before another small child wandered on over and conversation instantly began about what she was doing. Within just a moment, they were already talking about what they could create in the sand together. No shovel? No problem. Without a thought, our younger grabbed an extra shovel from her batch of beach toys and handed it over. It wasn’t long before they both were digging, scooping, dumping and building with the grainy stuff. They didn’t even hesitate to make future plans.
OUR PRESCHOOLER: “We have to eat lunch soon.”
OTHER KID: “I don’t know what we’re having for lunch.”
OUR PRESCHOOLER: “You can have lunch with us.”
And, of course, don’t you know that, like the middle-aged, somewhat introvert I’ve become in recent years, I instantly clinched. “What are you doing?” I thought as I overheard it. “You can’t just invite some small kid you just met to eat with us. We don’t even know who they are. What will their parents say? They’ll think we’re weirdos!” This is the kind of mental runaway train that runs through our adult minds that would never occur to them in their pure unadulterated conversation or thoughts.
But not for them.
What is it about children that allows them to make friends so easily? To strike up conversation with a complete stranger and immediately look for common interests without a lick of self-consciousness? It’s an amazing feat and one I suppose we could all learn from as the years pass us by.
Maybe that’s a part of why we feel so much more disconnected from each other as adults, why those feelings of our childhood seem so farther away yet we become so nostalgic for. We write them off as “simpler times” but maybe the times themselves weren’t what was so simple. Perhaps it was the way we approached life, ourselves, and others – with an open, honest and welcoming outlook. Maybe, just maybe, we and the world might be a little bit happier at any age if we found a way to shirk the self-consciousness, the judgment and embraced the open-heart, open mind, and open inclusion we had when we were kids during those “simpler times”