Grid-locked in traffic hell this week, I became distracted by children spilling out of a school’s gates. My stationery confinement coincides with the end of the school day and I am impressed with the bubble of energy that the pupils are displaying after a day in the classroom. I’m drawn to a young girl (perhaps by her neon hair bobbles and light up trainers) bouncing along besides her mother, school bag swinging energetically as she chatters excitedly about her school day. Fortunately for the little girl, she appears blissfully ignorant that her mother isn’t listening to a word; mum is glued to her mobile phone, scrolling through social media as she weaves through passing pedestrians, spare hand limply holding her daughter’s.
Bouncing is not what I do best. I wonder if I can learn.
Firstly, there’s that infectious skipping. Young children don’t walk, they don’t drag themselves along, they hop, bounce – dance even – as if whatever they are being led to is going to be a huge adventure. Their body language shows genuine excitement and engagement in the moment. It’s as if their bodies crave activity and instinctively know that bouncing will do the trick. They don’t need to wait for a gym class or to lug on some lycra; If they’re on their feet, they’re Tigger and we all know Tigger’s a wonderful thing. I’m wondering if this is the way to approach Christmas shopping – skip around the mall, slide through the legs of obstructive shoppers and just power nap on a bench if energy levels start to lag.
Leave a young child for a minute besides an adult and they’ll start talking to them because they’re naturally curious and uninhibited. ‘Do you like sitting on your own?’, ‘How much pocket money do you get?’ or, ‘where are your friends?’. Such curiosity and lack of self consciousness could be the antidote to loneliness. If I was brave enough to strike ups random conversations in public places, I wouldn’t feel compelled to be engrossed with my phone when snatching a solo cheeky coffee or travelling on the train. I need to ask more questions. Nosey is the way to go.
If I was more tigger-like, I’d also be less governed my my daily rituals. I’d be more easily distracted – and I think this could be a good thing. I watched a different child the other day, spontaneously squat down on his haunches to watch a caterpillar. He was blissfully oblivious that his sudden emergency stop had nearly caused the gentleman behind him to Triple Salchow into a bush. Firstly, I was impressed that the child’s hips were so loose that he could stay squatting comfortably for so long (that would have taken weeks of hot yoga for me to achieve) and secondly the smile and absorption on his face were compelling arguments to just look around more. The only pile up adults have caused me lately is their zombie-like smart phone tendency to stop – without warning – mid pavement to check an ‘important’ message.
Which leads me onto self-confidence and friendliness. Most children naturally assume that whoever they will be talking to will be interested in what they are saying. At what age do we lose that ability? When do we start reading the room and deciding that someone won’t be interested, that someone won’t want to play our game, that our lives aren’t inherently fascinating? When do we start retreating into ourselves? Perhaps it’s when we’re sitting in a restaurant as a child with adults and explaining what and why we’ve named the individual peas on our plate (Peasy, Percy and Pop, because they all begin with P, in case you are wondering) and we look up and realise that no-one is listening; they’ve all got their phones out again. No Tigger enjoys being phubbed.
There’s so much good stuff going on and I think we could be missing it. I’ve been blown away this week by the superb manners and little acts of kindness that some of my own students have shown. So much bad press for teenagers, yet it’s they that I see gesturing a little thank you to drivers who stop to let them pass on a zebra crossing; helping up a younger student who comes skidding off his scooter in the race to get out of the school gates first or sharing their sandwiches with a friend whose parent has forgotten to top up their lunch card. My inner Eyore needs to spit out some thistles and recognise that there’s still plenty of bounce in a teenager.
There’s still time to get some bounce back in this midlife, so I’m off to unleash some spring. It’s a Santa Scramble today which should allow ample opportunity to practise infectious activity, curiosity, friendliness and nonsense. 5k in a Santa suit across muddy fields. I’ll try not to be distracted by low hanging fruit, because I’m not sure what the collective noun is for a pile-up of running Santas and I’m not convinced that the red felt suits will survive any bending down. I will talk to some strangers though – it should be easy as surely only strange people dress up as St Nick and run? The best bit will be watching the children’s 1k which sets off first – a field of miniature Santas and pets in Christmas jumpers all intent on overtaking a brussel sprout and a parsnip to win a satsuma. Tiggers don’t need a medal. They just need to bounce. It should be a wonderful thing.