Don’t Lose Childlike Wonder


My three-year-old tells me stories about crocodiles. She loves them. Not as though she wants one as a pet, but she loves using them as villains.

The crocodiles chase us. They sleep in the hall and we have to jump over them. The wait beneath the bed ready to spring up and tackle us. The litter the stairs and we have to land on their heads both knocking them out and using them as stepping stones.

We don't just approach the crocodiles with a sense of imagination but we look at them with the love of childlike wonder, with the sense of imagination that allows us to the see the magic in daily life. The crocodiles don't just act as part of the story but become the spirit of the story, the very danger and tension that make the story an adventure worth taking and then sharing. 

Imagination as an Access Point

Children have no shame, no worry, and no second-guessing when it comes to dipping into their imagination. I don't remember ever hearing the rebuke "grow up" or "you're so childish" from my parents. Doing so would have become a message telling me they no longer want me to be a child.

Of course, growing up happens slowly. One day my dad bounces my siblings and I on his knees while humming "The William Tell Overture" and the next day we are too big and too mature for that type of childish behavior. But are we ever, really? Even when closer in age to those days, haven't I sat there, staring at the couch thinking of the time I became the Lone Ranger and laughed as my dad sped up his knees, sped up the song, and sped up my laughter in the process?

The cliché goes, "You don't stop playing because you get old, you get old because you stop playing." Imagination is our access point to a world of wonder, a world beyond the limits we put and stress on ourselves. As we grow up, we conflate the concepts of childlike and childish, worried that one automatically means the other, but just like a ability of a square to be a rectangle but a rectangle can never be a square, childlike can be delightfully childish but childish can never be childlike.

Exploring our Memories 

Our memories are not just an access point to our past but can help us relate to that sense of wonder we often lack as adults. We spend so much time as children or teenagers living in the future, believing once we "grow up" we will have the world figured out and can finally eat candy for dinner. But when we reach that stage, we no longer want candy for dinner, forget that was ever a dream of ours, and then long for the days we could spend digging our fingers in the mud in the creek, riding our bike around the neighborhood, and wondering what our big summer break adventure will be.

Our memories aren't just avenues for nostalgia, they remind us of the play we used to have and how we used to make connections with ease. We could draw a robot volcano and explain how smart it is because it's wearing a hat or demonstrate how the floor becomes lava simply by willing it so.

Our memories from childhood access our imagination because it reopens to the door to the imaginations we once cherished reminding us of our imaginary friends or the world we created with Legos, the trains we built or the dream lives we built in Dream Houses. 

Connecting with Nature 

Nature remains a great reintroduction to our sense of awe and wonder. Waterfalls become pillars of inspiration. Mountains relay the sense of grandeur in a larger power, be it nature or a divine entity. The ocean gives us chills and wildlife can render us speechless. Connecting with nature opens up creative blocks and can make us feel less anxious, about the world, about where we are headed, about what's for dinner.

Walking outside, among the trees, around the rose bushes, with the dog, in view of marching quails, over the log covered in ants gives us access to our senses. Smell the pine and cedar, listen to the hawk screaming or the crunch of the twigs under your feet. We bathe in the sun on our skins or feel the bite of the cold air on our cheeks. Nature is grand, an entity larger than us, no matter how large we grow, returning us to children in scale and acting as a reminder of the greater beauty around us. us 

When We Fear Creative Play

When we're children, we don't think of imagination as skill to take pride in because it's ever-present, part of our daily lives and shown in the stories we tell from the moment we wake to right before we fall asleep. We use our stories as testing grounds to understand where reality starts and our imaginations take over, but when young, there is no difference. My daughter turns all colors purple because that's her favorite color and she refuses to acknowledge others, especially when it comes to the color of her eyes.

As we grow, part of losing our imagination stems from the fear of showing it to others. We become self-conscious, not necessarily because we worry that we aren't imaginative and instead because we worry that we are imaginative, which would mean childish. We stop playing, which hinders our ability to imagine, which hinders our ability to play, which hinders our ability to see magic, which hinders our ability to enjoy, which closes us off from the beauty of the world.

Those who retain their creativity train themselves to see magic in their days because they remain curious, not skeptical. Their imagination shapes their perspective rather than their perspective shaping their imagination. 

Fearless Creativity and Imaginative Outlets

After a certain age, it can feel like being creative becomes a commitment, a demonstration of values and persistence. We remain committed to our imaginations even after we are told it will never make us money, we are being childish, we need to grow up, we have to take responsibility. But what do responsibility and growing up have to do with keeping our fun in tact? Is the expectation that adults are not allowed to have fun? If anything, we have learned over the decades, that adults who cease to find fun outlets turn to far more destructive ways to let loose: drinking, drugs, fights, complete disassociation from their actual responsibilities.

Being creative now requires fearlessness; to give ourselves the freedom to imagine and the time to create. 

Embrace the Unknown

As child, the unknown can feel like the a bathroom with the light off, as we say the name "Bloody Mary," three times. It can feel like monsters stirring under the bed. It can feel like the possibility of our loved ones not coming home. But as a child, we learn different ways to cope with our fear of the unknown, believing our friends or the adults in our lives will have the answer.

As adults, we look around terrified, realizing we are supposed to have answers were never learned. We pretend our committed jobs will protect us from the unknown. We pretend our routine will keep us safe. In sticking to these daily rituals, we promise to silence our imagination under the guise of safety.

But when we truly embrace the unknown, we free ourselves from the restrictions of mundanity. We give ourselves the freedom of expression because to promise ourselves open minds, open hearts, and the ability to wander and wonder once more. We take little risks and enjoy the creative process, return to walking, return to drawing, return to making candles or knitting, return to playing soccer or having that fucking milkshake with a friend and talking about the comic book characters you created when you were nine. You return to your sense of childlike wonder. 

Connect and Explore 

My house is overrun with crocodiles. I never thought I would love the idea of waking up and stomping on a crocodile tooth or playing a life-sized game of frogger just to make my morning cup of tea. But each day, I get to return to my childlike sense of wonder and watch the world crack open in a brand-new way.

Return to your imagination by looking at your memories, returning to nature, finding a way to participate in creative play, and enjoy a new creative outlet as you embrace the unknown. Give yourself over to your new world.

If you want help creating that new world for your stories, contact me.

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