You Won’t Find Your Inner Child on a Milk Carton


Dedicated to Jen Lyman – May you find your Selves and gather them together in love and safety and may you wholly heal, both inside and out.

I was told recently that part of me is missing.  I wondered, what exactly does that mean?  I have all of my limbs, my digits, my hair, though I am short a few internal organs.  So hey, perhaps I am a bit disjointed.  Aren’t we all?  Apparently I misunderstood.  I was told instead to imagine that we each have a number of different selves within us determined by how long we’ve lived and depending on our life experiences.  Say, for me, I have five selves.  (God forbid I’ve left any out.)  For example, I have myself as a child, a teenager, a married self, a divorced self, and my current self.  Well, unbeknownst to me, my inner child is on the lamb.

I loved me as a kid.  Don’t get me wrong there were things I didn’t love so much.  I had a Dorothy Hamill haircut, an overbite that could house the island of Manhattan, and I wore kelly green corduroy pants and a matching velour sweater over a white turtleneck covered in frogs.  But what I mean is that, looking back, I loved my freedom, my imagination, my tenderness, my tenacity.  I loved that I could run track, play basketball, and climb the rope in the gym all the way to the ceiling.   I loved myself at bedtime when I stood between my mom and dad worrying over whom to kiss goodnight first, so as to not hurt the other one’s feelings because they were picked last.  I loved that I had so much love for my cat Charlie, and she for me, that she had her kittens next to my head while I was sleeping.  I think that’s the stuff that speaks of good character and I was a good little girl, but perhaps she has gone missing.  I certainly can’t walk up the stairs without wishing for an oxygen mask but, no, it goes deeper than that.  I’ve lost her in that I don’t feel that unadulterated joy anymore- that carefree passion for things like crawdads and Pacman, that overwhelming happiness and sense of joy that I had playing with Smurfs in a tractor’s large recycled tire.

I’m pretty sure my inner teenager is still hanging around, however, in faded jeans with the knees blown out and tie-dyed patches on the ass.  She’s great friends with my divorced self.  They hang out at the bars drinking Stoli O and cranberries trying to forget how horrible life is and lamenting that no one will ever understand the two of them or what they’re going through.  Deep down they’re good girls too, just a bit disconnected, hurt, and alienated.  Lucky for me, my teenage self has not talked my divorced self into getting stoned in the parking lot behind a ’67 Mustang convertible.

My married self shows up every time I’m in a relationship or in a nurturing friendship, so I know she’s not jumped the fence.  She’s a cheerleader, making homemade lasagna with fresh basil, rooting folks on in whatever they’re doing, being supportive, being present.  She’s never been big on laundry but she has other gifts.  Right now I imagine she has her feet up reading a book while eating tuna out of a can – a vacation of sorts, since I’m freshly single.

But here’s what I do understand about part of me taking off.  Whenever you go through something harrowing, be it emotional, physical, spiritual, those little people within can’t always handle it – remember they’re only able to cope with that which is within their life experiences.  So, for example, I recently had surgery and let’s just say all of my selves were hanging out on the observation deck watching my physical self being hacked into like a Christmas ham.  You can imagine that my little child was scared shitless.  My teenage self, after a moment of feigned interest, re-adjusted her banana clip and elbowed my divorced self – both were just itching for a cocktail.  My married self wondered about buying get well flowers and what type of tea to prepare for my recovery.  I’m not too sure about my current self, I’m a bit too close to her and have a hard time, from present moment to present moment, figuring her out.  Regardless no one was watching or comforting my tiny me and she took off.

I can only imagine there are quite a few things your inner child isn’t willing to stick around for:  physical abuse, death of a loved one, severe neglect.  Even your older selves can run like hell in some of these cases.  So how do you bring these selves back together?  I’m not sure exactly but here’s what I’m thinking:  first of all, I think you need to let them know it’s safe to come back.  You can’t fake this one either, despite their age and experience, they’re no dummies.  For instance, you can’t coax your little one back when you’re still being slammed up against a wall.  Next, perhaps you should plan a dance on the roof deck under the moonlight, or a trip to the carnival with no limits on pink cotton candy, or a barefoot walk in the new spring grass, all of these appeal to my inner child.  Maybe even a tea party, non-alcoholic – my married self will love that, I’ll let her arrange the flowers.  My teenage and divorced selves can bitch all they want in the corner.  I think I just need to create the safe space, send out the invitation, and hope that she’ll come out to play.

Or… if you, my readers, have suggestions for coaxing your inner child back into your life, I’d love to hear them.

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