That was what one of the kids said to me today. These kids I work with come out with some right corkers, on average ten times a day, so fast I barely have time to write them down.
My other recent favourite was when a small nursery child got hold of some polystyrene and started shredding it all over the place. It was a very windy day and before you know it the white flakes were scattering all over the playground. I think you know where this is going. Cue sixty screaming six year olds running towards the polystyrene at speed, shrieking, ‘IT’S SNOWING! SNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW! MISS SEARLE LOOOOOOOOOOOOOK.’
I barely had the heart to tell them it was just some polystyrene, until some of them started trying to lick it.
I spend a huge proportion of my waking hours with 5 and 6 year olds and it has naturally started to mould the way I look at life. I am a big believer in young children being a lot closer to the true stuff of life than adults are. As we grow, everything gets murkier. We bog ourselves/or get bogged down with stuff that, in reality, doesn’t really matter.
One of the things I’ve been pondering this week is the question of sensitivity.
I am a sensitive person. I was a sensitive child and was often called as much at school, usually not in a positive way. Being sensitive I have learnt, doesn’t mean I cry a lot (I actually hardly ever cry in day to day life.) Nor does it mean I injure myself physically a lot. Or that I am ‘weak’ or need to ‘toughen up’. It just means I sometimes feel things, or seem to feel things, a bit more than other people.
Before you start thinking, ‘OOOOH fancy pants, she FEELS more than we do, wit woo!’ I don’t mean I am better or more creative or kinder.
The way I have understood it better recently is by observing the children in my class. They are all unique, wonderful things. Some of them can barrel around the playground at speed, fall over and jump back up laughing. Others need a bit more TLC. Others still, are on the sideline, a deep look on their faces. These are the ones who often find me and put their hand in mine, ask me if they can help me walk around the playground.
A little girl who is a real gem and goes camping and hiking and kayaking and does scary stuff like sleeping out in the woods AT NIGHT, was walking alongside me today into town for our school trip. We walked past two men sleeping rough outside a shop. It was near freezing outside. She had a little look on her face, not as though she was sad, just as though deep in thought. I spotted it straight away; none of the other kids had noticed the men.
A few minutes later I said, ‘Were you noticing those two people?’ She nodded. Rather practically, she said ‘My Mum said we can help people’. I explained that it was good she noticed them, and we can help people in different ways, maybe donating to a homeless charity or finding a night shelter in winter etc.
Another girl, who I’ll call Katie, appears to be quite a sensitive child. She loves painting, struggles a bit with the other girls in the class and is very aware of when the teacher or I are stressed. She is not ‘wimpy’ or ‘weak’.
She is quietly aware of the emotional stuff going on around her.
I spoke to her Mum one evening this week, to praise her for having such a caring, thoughtful daughter. The Mum looked pleased, but also said with a slightly pained look, ‘We are trying to build resilience. Katie is hurt easily by things. We don’t want life to be too hard for her.’ I said that life may be harder, but it equally may very well be richer in so many ways. The Mum looked pained again, and smiled. I could see this was something she had possibly struggled with in her own life.
In that moment, I felt so many different emotions. I knew this kind, gentle mother had good intentions, and I actually agree with her that resilience is important. I understand it must be instinct to want to protect your children from the difficult things of life. But I also know that life is never free of suffering, and instead it is a person’s awareness and sensitivity to joy and suffering that can often exaggerate the event itself.
I think I am realising that being sensitive means you are just aware of ‘feeling’ everything. Lots of children at our school have sensory processing difficulties, which means that for various reasons, some noises, colours, textures and smells cause them to become distressed and upset. I don’t have the same level of difficulty, so am not trying to minimise the ups and downs those children face, but in many ways I can relate, as I think we all can.
If I walk through an autumn park, I will feel so overwhelmed by the colours of the leaves I will often stop and stare at them for several minutes. If I am listening to music as well, I have to turn it off. It’s too much.
If I walk past a nursing home, I feel pain for the suffering of the elderly, perhaps lonely people inside. I imagine them at the windows, looking out, wanting to leave. If I pass an old man with a stick struggling down the road, want to weep and run away.
When I hear a child being shouted at aggressively in the street, or even crying, I want to cry. If someone slightly brushes against me on the bus, I shrink inside and feel like I can smell their skin.
If someone I work with is depressed, I feel it weighing me like a piece of lead around my neck. I want to make it better.
I often have to have naps. Especially if I have been doing a lot of socialising. We live in an extrovert focused world, and as much as I love being with friends and people I care about, I always schedule in a decent few hours complete alone time afterwards or I will burn out.
My natural instinct is to hide in massive social events. I love weddings and parties, but usually end up in the kitchen quaffing the snacks in my alone happy place and finding a cat to pet if I am not tough on myself. No-one likes small talk, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Plus, you may make a great new friend! (and not end up drinking all the punch by yourself and tripping over the cat….) I’m not shy, I just feel so overwhelmed by the noise and chat and bustle I feel like I might explode or do something crazy like get on the table and do a tap dance. TA DAH!
So often, I have desperately wanted to be ‘tougher’. Actually, what I really needed was the ability to block stuff out. I am learning how to switch off the thoughts in my head when they get too intense, or when I see an old person with a stick, instead of feeling despair I tell myself ‘they may have a lovely dinner waiting for them’. It sounds trite, but you have to learn when it’s appropriate to allow feelings in, and when you just need to barrel them over with a big broom and tell them to come back another day.
And I make sure I say NO to stuff too. As much as I love going to stuff, I am realistic. If I’ve had a very emotionally draining day, I say no. But I also push myself to say yes when it is important, such as big weddings and important birthdays. It isn’t all about me, after all.
Sensitivity has led me to have a lot of ups and downs in life, in various forms, but I still believe it has real untapped depths and treasures.
And I fully intend on celebrating the varying levels of sensitivity in the children I hang out with every day.
It would be interesting to know if anyone else has had similar thoughts/experiences.