Re-discovering Neverland

I felt compelled to write about something I observed yesterday, as it moved me, and I wanted to share. It made me smile, and remember a simpler time. Maybe you’ve had similar observations.

As a teacher of teenage students, I’ve never really observed a large group of young children (3-6ish) playing up close. It was a new experience in that way, and I found myself very curious as I watched. I watched with the same excitement of a child at a zoo, seeing a new animal act and react in their environment.

Let me set the scene: We were walking in the mall with our 4 year old daughter. We passed one of those indoor play areas…you know the kind. The ones that are dated, antiquated, and have probably been there since the mall was opened in 1981. There is nothing exciting or engaging about it, and it looks very similar to this:

As an adult, I wouldn’t look twice at this. But our daughter’s eyes lit up, and she eagerly sprinted into the area to whip off her shoes and begin her adventure.

Inside the play area, there was a bench that surrounded the whole playground where the parents can sit, watch and wait. It was funny to me to see all the parents quietly and patiently sitting while their kids ran, screamed and went wild. The kids ran the show, if only inside their small world.

What was remarkable to me though was the way our daughter instantly and seamlessly molded with the other kids, and she didn’t lose a step. She walked right up to other groups of playing kids and just started to play right along. She followed their lead, and their storyline….and she started to create her own. There seemed to be no awkwardness at being the “new kid,” and they played as if they had been playing for hours, or days.

And it occurred to me: These kids get it. They understand life and happiness more than most of us do as adults. Somewhere along the way, most of us lose something. We lose the ability to entertain ourselves in simple ways with nothing more than the environment around us and our imagination. We lose the ability to walk up to total strangers with a playful, innocent heart and make them part of our narrative. We start to become guarded and withdrawn from anyone outside our direct circle. We become reclusive.

But not these kids. There was happiness, and elation, and pure joy just at the chance to play with other children and get lost on their world. There was no judgement or status, and no one had an agenda. All they required was a playful heart. It was so beautiful just watching these kids be genuinely happy to be in each other’s company. That’s all they required to be happy.

And then I looked around the perimeter at all the parents (myself included) and I couldn’t help feel a bit sad. We are all a bit lost, I felt. We have let go of that innocence, that unbridled enthusiasm for life, and fun and excitement. It occurred to me that all the kids playing there were the fortunate and lucky ones. As the rest of us sat there buried in our devices, or worried about our responsibilities and reluctantly accepting the presence of the other adults on the group, these kids were living life! I wanted to tell them all to hold on to those moments, and don’t let go. Don’t leave Neverland, at least, not in your hearts.

We can learn a lot from children. If only we close our mouth and open our eyes.

Maybe they can re-teach us how to fly.

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