Like millions of children living in good middle-class families, my childhood was filled with possibility and wonder. My needs back then bore a stark contrast to today’s. They consisted of food, shelter and anything to burn the endless reserves of energy. Every day was brand new; a chance to be someone different; a chance to do something different.
Weekends consisted of playing down the creek, riding my skateboard and making stuff in my dad’s shed. During summer, the beach and my pushbike were all I needed. Everything else came second.
My 10-year-old self could never have fathomed the stress and complexity my adult life had in store for me. Responsibilities, work pressures, bills and relationships would all take their toll over the decades to follow. As a kid, I’d never have chosen that life, yet that’s exactly what they were — choices.
Back then, my choices were limited – by age, means, maturity and laws – yet these limits gave me the space and the clarity to achieve something I now pay good money for. Bliss. Pure, uncorrupted, uncomplicated bliss. When I rode my bike or knocked about in dad’s shed, I had the time and the freedom to engage completely in what I was doing. I wasn’t thinking about work, or my kids’ school fees or the roof that needs fixing.
Today, the world encourages ‘the endless pursuit of more’. It’s everywhere we look – on our social media feeds, in Google search results, on TV, radio and billboards. It’s the badge on the rear of your colleagues car, the overtly conspicuous label on a ‘friend’s’ shoulder bag; it’s in the the unspoken assumption that consumerism is normal.
I remember my days down the beach, or walking the perimeter fence at the local golf course, searching for stray balls. I felt the sunshine on the back of my neck. I noticed the smell of freshly cut grass and the warble of magpies in overhead branches. I was alive and fully aware of it.
So how would my 10-year-old self describe my life today? How would he view the wrestle of projects and deadlines; barely a day marking the end of one and the beginning of another. How about my need for approval and the unquenchable hunger for more?
These days, when I get too busy or my lizard brain yanks the wheel, I get up, walk outside and take few breaths, and I wonder what pre-pubescent me would think of all this nonsense. Would he envy me? Would he laugh at me? Would he worry for me?
The older I get, the more I realise he knew what was best for me – at least fundamentally. He was wiser, simpler, and more in tune with my surroundings than I am today.
He’s still in there somewhere, trying to make himself heard. Maybe this is what growing up is all about – developing the courage and the self-compassion to acknowledge that he never left; I’d just drowned him out for a few decades.
Now that I’m all grown up, perhaps it’s time to grow back down again.
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