Yesterday, I went with my sister to pick up my four year old nephew from his daycare. When we walked in, the kids were sitting at their little tables eating orange wedges. One of the teachers explained they had just returned from a trip to a local park.
While my sister hustled her kid into his coat, a few of the children excitedly explained to me their adventure on the metro bus, which they took to get to the park. For some of them, it was the first time they'd ridden on a bus.
"We had to hold hands together, so we wouldn't get lost"
"I got to sit at the back!"
"I could see out the window, we were high up!"
"It was bumpy"
One little voice piped up after another, between fistfuls of pulpy orange. This was clearly the highlight of the day, the bus ride. Of course, being about 45 years older than them, I've ridden them plenty, and believe me, I don't get quite so excited about boarding public transportation, but listening to this chorus of kids made me realize how even the most mundane things in life were novel at some point in time. And even a little exciting.
To a three year old, the world is pretty big and new. I think this is why they crave a basic schedule; there's a lot of information being tossed at them to process and learn. Even their brains and bodies are new, growing, changing. I would suspect that the natural inclination for a preschooler is to be wary, confused, and anxious, but if you really watch them, most of them are curious and enthusiastic. They are really invested in the present moment; they have to be, its part of our human survival. Distraction can literally kill us.
After talking to the kids, I wondered to myself, at what point do we just take everything around us for granted? Have I gone Life Blind? Later on in the day, when I was driving home, I thought about this and really made the effort to engage myself in the drive. I did have the radio on, but I really made the effort to pay attention to the ride, how the wheel felt in my hands, how fluidly the car moved. I had to drive along the Seattle waterfront, and the scenery was enjoyable, the setting sun casting long blue shadows against golden piers poking out of the water. I noted that normally, while I was driving, my mind would be running along, thinking about my errands, what to make for dinner, how the next day was going to run. I compared the overall feeling between my normal experience and this current driving experience and came to the conclusion that I'm chronically cheating myself. In an attempt to get ahead in life, think myself through it, I'm completely missing out. Oh, and I was clearly a better driver this go around.
Playing with my nephew, I'm reminded of how regimented my brain is, despite all my years of experience and knowledge. He often changes gears, bends rules, goes with the flow; his games often make little sense beyond just being fun. He comes at everything with literally everything he's got, although he doesn't realize it. In playing with him, I noticed that overall, he's just enjoying hanging out with Auntie, regardless of the activity. It's me that attaches the concepts of "quality" to the block of time, not him.
So really, in listening to the three and four year olds, I myself realized I'm making judgements about the quality of daily activities: is it worth my attention? I somehow came to a conclusion that the crap flying around in my brain is far superior than what is going on around me, even if the crap in my brain makes me anxious. In doing "boring" things, like driving, riding a bus, whatever, I choose to distract myself, tune out, until something I deem "quality" kicks in. In the bigger picture, however, that negates huge chunks of my life where I'm tucked away in my brain, living in a fabricated, virtual world, and as my drive proved, or playing with my nephew proved, I've missed out on a lot, even if its just subtle things like noticing the quality of light from a sunset or just the feeling of being together and enjoying company.