“So Ryan, what’d you learn on this trip?”
My 10-year-old brother crossed the country (by himself!) to visit me a month ago, and throughout his short seven days in San Francisco, I tried to jampack new things for him to learn. We spent long mornings exploring at the Exploratorium, California Academy of Sciences, Golden Gate Park; played new games, in which he’d quickly beat the master; chopped wood, built a fire, and spotted poison oak during his first camping trip; observed differences across neighborhoods, etc. But as I drove him to the airport, I teared up realizing that I’d probably learned a lot more from him, and realizing just how much I’d miss my munchkin.
So, here’s what I learned about living life like a ten-year-old. It’s fun, you should try it. This post is personal and I’m definitely choking up writing it; hopefully, it touches you in some way too.
1. Cultivate presence 🙏🏼
“Ryan you’re so quiet, what are you thinking about?” “Nothing.” “Then what are you looking at?” “I’m just looking at the trees.” “Oh. That’s good.”
… “Now what are you looking at?” “Nothing.” “Then why are you so quiet?” “I’m listening to the music.” “Oh. Right. I guess that’s a thing.”
I’m a notorious multitasker, sometimes intentionally, sometimes I’m not even aware I’m doing it. Maybe being a little simpler is a good thing. I often forget what it’s like to just… look at the trees, listen to music. It’s amazing how kids can just be so fully absorbed in whatever they’re doing at that moment — when did we lose that?
Perhaps cultivating presence doesn’t require an app or an hour-long sitting; perhaps it’s as easy as just getting back in touch with our senses, one at a time.
2. Make room for magic 🎩
Before Ryan arrived, I cut up 40+ fortune-cookie-sized pieces of paper with tons of fun activities (many thanks to my friends for the crowdsourced ideas!) and placed them in a large white bowl.
Every morning, he’d jump into my room — eyes shining with thrill and excitement — carrying his big white bowl of activities, a makeshift weekly planner, and some tape. We would draw 3–4 slips of paper from the bowl, decide ‘do now’ or ‘do later’, and pin them onto the planner. Even the activities he wasn’t overly excited about, he was eager to do “because we picked it and it’s on the calendar,” and every day was magically spontaneous, partially because of it! We got to surrender all the planning and decision-making to this magical bag of goodies. He really took the challenge seriously, and I think it’s the best present I could’ve given not just to him, but to myself as well. No matter how ridiculous or how tired we were (read: how tired I was), we really lived up to that bowl of surprises and had a blast in the process :)
3. Make room for boredom 😐
When I’d take away the remote and tell him he was done with TV for the day, he’d huff and puff and say “but I’m bored!!” And then… minutes later, I’d hear him jamming on the drum in his room, or strumming at the guitar he has no idea how to play, or picking up his book and reading (“Wait, can I finish this chapter before we go?”). We too quickly jump to fill our time with surface pleasures, when our boredom could produce so much more. How many time-fillers do we pack into our days thinking it’s ‘decompression’?
4. Talk to your inner child 🐣
I’m lucky I got to literally talk to my inner child with Ryan in town. Yes, he’s a different human, but so many of my awkward quirks, exclamations, insecurities, and, of course, that same Russian-Persian-Bukharian-Jewish face, were reflected right back at me. I saw the pains and joys of being a child. I saw shared insecurities and got to hug him and love him for them. We goofed around, laughed at one another, teased my roommates together, played with every passing puppy, and ate lots and lots of ice cream (he says Bi-Rite is the best ice cream he’s ever had, FYI).
So, I guess this learning has two parts: rediscovering what brought us each joy in our childhoods, and also better understanding pains our younger selves carried unaddressed into adulthood. What questions do you have for your inner child? What might you need to give your inner child?
Until this visit, I hadn’t spent more than a few consecutive hours with him in my entire life, and his. This was our first time attached at the hip for seven days straight. Our week together was such an amazing gift for me. I miss having him around to make me better and more present, I miss complaining that he’d lean on me too much, I miss his hugs and the huge smile on his face when I’d tell him we’re getting ice cream or the dorky awkward grin on his face when I’d catch him zoning out. I miss his energy and that no matter where we were, he could have fun with a soccer ball. And I can’t wait to do it all over again next time I see him.
But his visit also showed me a lot of blind spots and dark sides to the way he (and I and most of us) had been raised. He doesn’t share his feelings. Is that true of all 10-year-olds? He doesn’t like talking about his day. Is that him being present and fully absorbed in the moment, or is that him suppressing reflection? I realize he may not have learned to reflect and express because my family hasn’t done that for him / with him, so perhaps he’s learned that difficult emotions need to be ignored (e.g., parents going through divorce and keeping it a secret from him; meanwhile kids are more perceptive than we like to admit). I hope he grows out of it.
He’s my favorite human on this planet, and I’m so lucky I got to live a week through his eyes. I hope this little snippet of our week inspires a bit more childish play in yours :)
P.S., Fun fact, did you know you can pick up / drop off an unaccompanied minor past security and all the way to their gate even if you’re not flying!? You get a ‘real’ boarding pass and everything!
P.P.S., Parents, I get it now. Y’all are superheroes.