They are still amazingly present little balls of life, but I see them getting caught up in their thought-created inner worlds more and more.
Saturday night we made chocolate chip cookies. When we were finished and each kid was happily watching BattleBots with a whole cookie (their favorite complaint to overindulgent grandparents is “our mom makes us share one cookie”. Horrible, I know), Miller asked if he could have another cookie when the one he had was gone.
I said no, and he started to cry.
He had a whole cookie minus one bite in his hand, and was crying about not getting another cookie. As I heard myself say in disbelief, “You have a whole cookie in your hand and you’re crying?!?” it hit me how, at almost 3 ½, he’s not as completely consumed in what is right in front of him as he once was.
He’s more able to use his amazing power of higher thought to leave this moment and mentally travel backward and forward. I mean, to be fair, he doesn’t travel into the past or future much. He still lives largely in the present unless we prompt him to recall a memory or we encourage him to excitedly anticipate some upcoming event.
Or, unless he has a whole cookie in his hand and wants another when that one’s gone.
Watching him stand there with a cookie in his hand, crying about not getting a second cookie, shocked me.
Not only because he is using his mind in increasingly complex ways, but I wondered: how often do I cry with a cookie in my hand? How often do you?
It was so shocking to see my baby do this which is interesting, because we adults do it all the time, don’t we? Really, all the time. Some of us live more often than not in this kind of illusory life. We all spend a good chunk of time there.
Every time you use your imagination to recreate an unhappy memory or to create a mental picture of something you fear will happen (something that is not actually happening in that moment), you’re doing it.
Every time you check out of life as it is and instead decide how life should be or how you think it will be, you’re doing it—crying with a cookie in your hand.
Each and every time you worry, you’re leaving a perfectly nice moment and crying with a cookie in your hand. Worry is your imagination running wild. (Yes, 100% of worry is you using your imagination. Sit with that one a second.)
There is some magic in understanding the way we tend to do this that really, really helps.
As human children, we will eventually retreat to our mind when life scares us. It’s our attempt to figure out and control what’s going on outside of us. That retreat into a mental life will be reinforced and will become somewhat habitual. It’s what we all face as human beings.
But seeing that helps. It helps a lot, actually. We all live in our heads often, and we might cry with cookies in our hands when we do. But we snap out of it too. We all wake up to the life that’s right under our noses at times. Waking up from thought is always possible.
Fortunately, as we see how this works, we find ourselves waking up more and more, and appreciating it more and more when we do.
And we get to fully enjoy the whole cookie we’re holding rather than cry about the one we want later.
(P.S. The picture you see there is Miller, fake crying with a fake cookie in his hand. This was not the night of the actual crying-with-a-cookie incident; just a reenactment. It gives you a nice visual though, doesn’t it?)