Yesterday, Little Heart played on the rocks with a girl she’d just met, chasing tiny crabs. They lay on the sand, on their tummies. Strangers, absorbed in the moment, watching a crab scuttle over their fingers, and into the sand. Two other children joined them, and the four of them scrambled up the rocky mound, looking for more crabs.
The other children left and we bought a fresh coconut from the coconut cart.
Another little girl was playing on the sand. She and my little girl chatted. They too lay on the sand together, on their tummies, as if they had been laying side by side, chatting about girl things, for years.
My daughter isn’t always ‘brave’. It’s a thing for her. “I was brave of those dogs,” she tells me proudly, as we walk past two pooches on leads. Mostly, at the play park, she hovers at the periphery, watching. If we are there long enough, she’ll pick up her courage and take it into the centre of the action. Sometimes, she’ll make a friend. It’s heartbreaking, separating her and her new little friends after such a build-up, to take her home.
Watching her with these children she’d never met, lost in a beach experience that belonged only to that afternoon, I wondered at which point you lose the innocence to lay along side a stranger in the sun. Surely, I too once made a little friend on a sunny day at the beach.
But as I grew taller, and more aware of my world; more aware of social conventions and what other people would think of me; I began to hold the periphery tight. Although seemingly a social person, who easily makes friends, the thought of talking to somebody I didn’t know was paralysing. What if they don’t like me? What will they think of me? When all that mattered were these things…do they like me? meeting people was complex, and painful.
People talk about ‘childish innocence’, and the ability to ‘be in the moment, like a child’. There is wistfulness and longing attached to the idea of childhood. Today, sitting on the rocks, watching my daughter, I got it. Childhood is precious. Sharing an activity with another person you have never met before and will likely never meet again, whose name you don’t know, is an experience that belongs only to childhood. I miss that.
How do you go talking to strangers? What do you miss about childhood?