This post is a bit of navel-gazing about my childhood, but also about what's going on in my life right now, which as you all know is a bit on the difficult side. I thought I'd share an insight I had that my readers might find interesting. Your mileage as always may vary.
"Don't eat that," she said, gently nudging the little girl's hand away from the box of Krispy Kreme.
A small button nose wrinkled, lips pursed, round face flashing a very adult and very irrational anger. "But I want it."
"They're not good for you. And they have eggs in them. Remember why we don't eat eggs?"
Rolling her eyes, the little girl crossed her arms and recited, "Because animals on farms are treated really badly, and eggs are full of chol...collie..."
"Yeah. That. And because they're whatchacallit, um, chicken periods. And that's gross. Right?"
A world-weary sigh. "But donuts taste good. And they're so soft. And they're warm! You know how much we love the warm ones! I'll just have one, I promise!"
Blue eyes met blue, one pair stormy, the other determined. "You have to trust me. There are things you do that make you feel bad, and things that make you feel better, and sometimes it's hard to know which is which. But if you trust me, I'll help you do the things that feel better later on instead of just right now."
"Who cares about later on? I want one now!"
"I. Said. No."
In Buddhism the conscious, active part of the mind is called Monkey Mind; it bounces around screeching and flinging poo when we are trying to meditate. There's also a part of the mind I call the Evil Auctioneer--he repeats the same lines over and over, too fast for the deeper mind to unravel, almost always going for the hurt. He blabbers ninety miles an hour about how ugly/fat/stupid/unworthy/whatever we are. When you stop him long enough to really think about his words you know they're completely ridiculous, but still, on he runs, just as the Monkey jumps and swings from thought to thought, sabotaging your efforts to still your mind. Usually the advice is to ignore the Monkey Mind, or give him a banana (like a mantra, or yoga) to keep him occupied. My advice with the Auctioneer involves a funnel and a hand grenade.
Generally when people talk about the Inner Child they do so with a New Age sort of reverence, forgetting that not every child is a sweet little ball of sunshine. Perhaps it's because I really don't like children all that much to begin with, but I've always thought the whole Inner Child thing was an indulgent and rather silly crunchy-granola hi-my-name-is-Dolphin-Britches-can-I-show-you-my-dreamcatchers kind of concept. A person, particularly a woman, who doesn't like or crave children is looked at like a unicorn or sideshow freak by most of society. If I hear "it's different when it's yours" one more time I might just dig out my own ovaries with a spork and feed them to whoever dragged out that tired old cliché. Yeah, it's different when it's yours. So's a tumor or a shark bite, but you don't expect me to go out and get one of those, do you?
Needless to say I've never given much thought to my own Inner Child. I'd rather have an Inner Adult, thanks. Inner Children can't buy liquor and they usually don't take out the garbage.
Recently, however, I have realized that I do indeed have an Inner Child, and she's a spoiled little brat.
She's Veruca Salt on speed. She wants what she wants when she wants it, right now, lots of it, one for each hand, one of every flavor. She throws things and breaks her toys then expects them to be magically replaced. She pulls hair and pinches and boy, is she a biter. She kicked my Monkey Mind in the head one time. This did not shut him up, but it made her giggle.
Children do not spoil themselves, of course; not even archetypal children can manage that. I think this is how it went: once upon a time, my Inner Child was hurt. Badly. People who should have taken care of her abandoned her, left her all alone. It broke her heart, even though she was too small to understand. As time went on she learned to smile again, but then she was hurt again. This time, though, there was no one to tell; she was afraid to speak up. So she cried, late at night, every night, until I--Sylvan, the eventual grownup--gave her a cookie to stop her crying. And another. And another.
She learned how to keep quiet and keep secrets. And in return, her reward was food. Sweets for the sweet, sweets for the silent. I gave in to her every whim to keep her from screaming, because her cries were the cries of an abandoned and bleeding child, and who can stand such a sound? So I spoiled her, and never made her learn how to take care of herself. If I had known what I was doing to myself I might have tried other ways of coping, but really, I was too young to make better choices. Who knows how to self-parent before, say, 40? I'm 30 and still have no idea. Hell, when I moved out of my parents' house I didn't even know how to do my own laundry.
I feel I should point out, here, that my parents were wonderful, and are still wonderful people. I am adopted; they acquired me when I was about 2, and I have never had the slightest interest in my biological parents. Those people are the abandoners of the story. They broke the oldest bond in humanity, that of mother/father and child--I can completely understand the reasons someone would do so, don't get me wrong. There are many, and I support adoption rather than crazy ass shit like fertility treatments that leave people with septuplets they can't afford. Ideally, in my mind, no child would be conceived who wasn't wanted--I'm firmly in the "birth control prevents abortion" camp. But I am thankful, endlessly, that my parents took me; that's not the point. The point is that whatever the reasons, the action of giving up a child causes a wound, and such a fundamental wound doesn't magically cure itself. It takes processing. I never let myself process it until recently, and it has unleashed a whole host of childhood pain that I never expressed.
More than one person in my family has said that I was a "sad little girl," and that I rarely smiled for the first few months I after I came to live with them. Tell me that's not a wound.
At any rate, my Inner Child learned that all she had to do to be stuffed full of tasty food--and equally empty treats like bad TV, junk sex, and emotional numbness--was threaten to climb out of her crib and run amok. Her sheer neediness frightens me. She needs love, she needs affection, she needs to be taught how to grow and care for herself. She needs to be nourished. I don't want to need anything, or need anybody, because to admit you have needs is to admit vulnerability, and to admit vulnerability is to be open to attack. Right now she is sick; I have been medicating with food again lately, and it makes her belly hurt and her heart beat erratically. She's hyperactive from too much sugar.
When I look at pictures of myself as a child, I feel...regret, and grief, and a fragile sort of tenderness. I want better for her than what I've given her. I want to cuddle and reassure her, and invite other people I trust to do the same even though she doesn't like to be touched, quite rightly. But I know that what she really needs--what I really need--is a firm but gentle hand guiding her away from the donuts. At this stage of my life, I need discipline, but without blame or guilt. I need to treat myself like a five-year-old, day by day, meal by meal, choice by choice, and softly repeat the reasons why I do this or don't do that, a litany of sanity delivered by a rather insane-looking means (talking to oneself as a kid, I mean). My child needs mindfulness, she needs grace--in fact, if I had to name her I would name her Grace, for being kind to her is like a second chance for me, a chance to embody the Mother, to tend the growing ground of my being as only the Great Mother could. If I can be the Goddess to myself, as my Earthly Mother would have if I'd let her instead of shutting down and shutting her out all those years, perhaps my Inner Child, little Grace, can grow up into Sylvan, and the door-slamming screaming matches can turn to peace, harmony.
Maybe it's New Age nonsense. But when you've reached the point of depression where cooking a meal and remembering to take a shower is beyond your capability, it's time to try something new, even something New Age. When you have become so cruel toward yourself that every time you look in the mirror all you can think is "fatass," or "why are you even still breathing?" it may be time to try a more oddball, yet compassionate, approach. To take yourself carefully by the hand and say, "Nobody is allowed to talk like that in this house, young lady."
Beginner's mind, child mind--a mindspace where anything is possible and everything is new. It is a state we should all learn to cultivate, that endless wonder at the opening of a flower, an awed gasp at a shooting star. I don't think I've ever been innocent, but perhaps I can return to a place where I still knew wonder, still new the wide-open hope of a barefoot girl with skinned knees and pigtails climbing a tree, pretending she is a dryad (Yeah, I was a weird kid) or constructing Fraggle Rock out of blankets and chairs. A little girl who filled Big Chief tablets with stories about birds and foxes in her slanty, small left-handed print. A girl who filled her pockets with pretty rocks and who talked to the puddle of sunlight on her bedroom floor. A little girl who wanted to be Rainbow Brite when she grew up; the storyteller of her group; the mastermind of a dozen epic adventures.
That little girl, Grace, who also goes by my legal first name, is much on my mind these days. I think this weekend I'll take her to the park, and we can swing, and gather rocks, and I can explain to her that things need to be different from now on...and tell her I'm sorry I took this long...and also, she's going to have to get over the pony, but maybe we can discuss the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine.