As adults, we have a tendency to think too much.
Add a daily barrage of sensationalist reports about our country’s financial crisis, throw in some alarmist political robocalls and suddenly you’re struck with a case of low-grade anxiety. You know, the mental virus that tends to amplify slight concerns into full-blown diarrheal alarm in the wee hours when you would really rather be sleeping.
But, lucky for you, I’ve discovered a temporary cure for such cerebral angst: Spend a few hours at a 2-year-old’s birthday party.
Elle and I celebrated our friend Charlotte’s second birthday last week and in so doing, Elle was introduced to her social baby milieu, while my paltry stresses and insecurities were happily beached by the spastic tides of the immediate and completely anti-analytical whims of a 2-year-old and all her friends.
For those readers who haven’t had the pleasure of attending a party of many small children in a while, let me paint you a picture. There is screaming, running, crying, laughing, and pounding – really, all of the emotions experienced by an adult, just simplified into their most basic forms then tightly rolled and spring-loaded into the mold of a miniature person.
At a 2-year-old’s birthday party, drama and jubilation complement each other, served up as readily as cake and ice cream. Bonked heads and stolen toys cause tears one moment, followed in the next by body-wracking shrieks of delight. It is a stage where real emotions are not shrouded by the bawdy costumes of self-consciousness, highbrow intellectualism, or masked agendas, but are instead allowed to run wild and naked. Sometimes, little players literally do run wild and naked.
Of course, we the parents are simply spectators to this cabaret. Our children’s freedom from over-consciousness is merely an amusing show to which we are an interested audience. An audience that marvels at the purity of sentiment shared by our kids, who are mad and so yell, or who are happy and so hug. They are hungry so they eat; they are not hungry so they don’t eat. They want to play with others so they play with others; they want to sit in a corner by themselves so they sit in a corner by themselves.
Meanwhile, we all still worry about whether what we just said sounded stupid, are conscious that our underwear may show if we bend over, and wonder if we should really be eating cheesecake.
But even though we can’t completely turn off the sound of our internal dialog, the baby birthday scene before us can at least turn down the volume.
I watched as a 5-year-old dragged a baby toy around the house, using it like a lure for a crawling baby fish called Elodie. Just when Elle would reach out her hand to finally touch the toy that had captured her attention eight painstaking hand-then-knee shuffles ago, the older girl would move it further away, and wait for her to get close again, before moving it further away again.
From my perspective, the game seemed little like fun and more like hazing. But Elle kept crawling after that toy, around and around the house. She didn’t get frustrated by the knowledge that she was littler and not as good at, well, everything as this older little girl; she was unabashed in her determination and unafraid of failure. Eventually, something else caught her attention, or caught the older girl’s attention, and the game ended. And they moved on, and never thought about it again.
It was a good lesson. While I’m perfectly happy to have not been the one being baited around a party by a person more clever than I, it was refreshing to watch the scene unfold before me. And even now, doing what I do as an adult by over-analyzing the interaction, I do so with the memory of feeling astonished at how these two girls played a game ripe with adult-created connotation – ie. I’m better than you – so innocently and without the echoings of subtext or social nuance.
Someday, when they’re older and more accustomed to the social inner workings of women, these two girls may play a game like this again, but by then their blossoming adult psyches will find it irresistible to attach meaning to it. Until then, I’m happy to be a spectator to such baby games, and while in the process try to remember what it feels like to not think so much.