We all know that perspective accounts for a great deal of how we interpret and interact with the world, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t constantly surprising just how dynamic a force it is. The way a person’s frame of reference affects his or her experience is so powerful that it has the potential to change the shape of nearly any encounter. I think of it through metaphor, as if each circumstance or situation presents as a gift-wrapped package, and what’s inside depends on the very particular way each person has in peeling back the paper, pulling off the bow. One person’s individuated method might yield the sweetness of a delicate flower just about to bloom while another could uncover a spiky barb of a plant designed for defense instead of propagation, each growing from boxes that appear identical to the eye if not to the consciousness (or unconsciousness, as the case may be).
An obvious manifestation of this is the age-old child vs. adult paradigm shift, and a recent example made me catch my breath. A couple of weeks ago, the news broke that there was hope for a vaccine to be available for kids in the 2-11 age bracket, into which all three of my children fall, beginning in September. The day this information hit the mainstream was a Tuesday, and I mentioned it casually on the drive home from school after picking them up, not realizing that I had just uncorked a bottle of such effervescence that it would continue to erupt in a gushing geyser for the rest of the day.
Arlo: “Mommy, Mommy, I KNOW! Ms. Ashley told us! And Tripp and I are going to have a sleepover in September after we get our shots! I can’t wait to get my shot! We’re going to have the sleepover at his house, or maybe at our house, or his house first and then our house. I’m so excited about our playdate!”
It went on from there and continued for the rest of our drive. After we arrived home, every few minutes his excitement, borne on wings of hope and buoyed by the slipstream of long-term promise, welled up in his mind and he couldn’t contain it. “Mommy! I’m so excited!” was the refrain that soundtracked our entire afternoon and evening, a broken record stuck on the crescendo of a triumphant chorus line. He was positively energized to the point that even the motions of his body were kinetically charged. I know I’m imagining this, but it seemed like every atom of his being was operating on a vibrational uptick, as if all of the dials controlling his every frequency had been twisted to their highest setting. No amount of caveats or “maybes” on my part could dampen this trajectory; the animated ballistics of his energy had been deployed without a deceleration option. Up until the minute that his body finally got the better of his mind and plunged him into sleep, the boy was alight with the idea of this playdate he’d wanted to have for eighteen months (that’s one full quarter of his entire life, and more like almost half his life as his young memory can serve). His final words to me, as I lay next to him while we listened to his bedtime song, were, “Do you think Tripp has a bedtime story? I know we have a bedtime song, but if he has a bedtime story instead of a song, we should do that so he feels more comfortable.”
Of course I’m excited about the idea of my kids having access to a pediatric version of the vaccine. Of course I want that layer of protection so we can add three more warm bodies into the herd that marches us closer to immunity. Of course I want to shed the way of life sparking with worry at every turn, the belabored decisions and complicated problem-solving that has exhausted us for one entire calendar and onto the next. Of course I want to be able to do so many things we haven’t done in a year, two years, what will be three years or more for some of those experiences. Does this news also ferry in its own regatta of new concerns and anxiety-triggers? Does it bring up memories of things I have absolutely enjoyed NOT doing for these however-many years and the anticipation of not wanting to do them again? Does it make me prematurely nostalgic for the pared-down lifestyle we’ve been living, despite the implicit challenges it has entailed? Does this upheaval feel similarly momentous to the upheaval we felt when our lives foundered on the craggy cliffs of Covid’s early days, when our rudders were wrested from our control completely and almost overnight? Do those feelings of helplessness and overpowering uncertainty come screaming back into the psyche? Of course, of course, of course.
But not so for the youngest, for whom all of the unanticipated positives we’ve enjoyed these many months are unrealized. It’s not that these kids haven’t appreciated all of the benefits we’ve discovered; it’s just that their perspective can’t recognize them in the same proportions that we can. For kids like Arlo, it’s been a long haul, and his super-social soul has had to actively resist the state of atrophy a pandemic attempts to confer. In some ways, it’s like’s he’s been sitting alone on one side of a seesaw all this time, waiting for a vaccine to tip the scales. For him, this feels like a golden ticket, free from all of the baggage we adults schlep from one phase of life into another. When I considered the experience of this as it must be for him, it felt overwhelming: here was a child who sees only positives about the potential of going back to the ways we used to do things. Here was a person who sees zero downsides or concerns about returning to the old ways. Here was someone so utterly unfettered by the kind of trepidation, ambivalence, and convoluted logistical machinations juggling around in our adult minds that his feelings about this news bore a simplicity, a purity, a single note: one clear tone. It’s as if, in this case, we adults hear the world say, “Well, I have good news and bad news,” but all this little boy can hear is the clarion call of happy tidings. Ah, my child, to see through your eyes! To unwrap that gift in only the way you can, to find inside only a rosebud and none of its thorns! Here is a vase for you, and some water, to preserve this blossom for as long as we can.