I was still stuck on tidying my room, despite doing lots of work on it. It occurred to me that I needed a monster conversation, but there was no obvious voice of doom making its presence felt. So I thought maybe it was a wall (a wall! In my room!) What would this wall be protecting me from?
The mess in my room is one of the main ways I keep myself stuck. No matter how much I achieve during the day, I always come home to this sty. A huge ever-present reminder of my stuckness, shame, and despair. It’s like a big sign saying YOU WILL NEVER CHANGE. And yet it’s also curiously reassuring.
The mess says YOU’LL NEVER CHANGE, and it’s reassuring.
Oh, right. The wall is yet another thing protecting me from growing up.
Me: Oh, wall. I understand how desperately you want to protect me from growing up. I’m sorry, but you can’t protect me from that, because I’m already an adult. But I can have all the best qualities of being a child, like playfulness, curiosity, fun, wonder, a strong sense of self, safe boundaries, comfort in my body… and you can help me have those things by letting me through.
Wall: No! Not good enough. You have to actually stay a child! Not just pick and choose the best bits. I have to keep you as a literal child!
Me: I’m so sorry, I know this hurts, but you can’t keep me as a child. It’s too late. I haven’t been a child for years. I grew up long ago.
Wall: YOU PROMISED NOT TO!
Me: I couldn’t help it.
And the wall turned into a little girl screaming and bawling her eyes out. It wasn’t really a wall at all, but a sad scared self. She was about four. I picked her up and she continued to howl.
Me: Hey, what’s the matter?
Her: I DON’T WANT TO DISAPPEAR!
Me: I’ll never let you disappear! You’ll always be part of me and I’ll always love you!
Me: Just like I have a big sister who’s a future me – you’re my little sister. You’re just as important.
Me: I need you to work with me to help me tidy my room. I promise you’ll be safe.
Her: I’m scared!!
At this point I called in Big Sister, who appeared at her most radiant and Mary Poppins-ish. Little Sister stopped crying and gazed at her adoringly.
Me: See, there’s nothing to be frightened of. You’re not going to disappear. You’re just going to get more big sisters!
Big Sister held out her arms and I passed Little Sister over to her, and we walked along like that.
Me: How about if we find a different way for my room to make you feel safe? How about if, instead of mess, we just make it really childlike and playful?
Little Sister: Maybe…
Me: And restful. Make it look like a place for resting and not working all the time. A place where you don’t have to try hard…
Little Sister: Yeah!
In saying this, I reminded myself of Kyo and Asu from the anime Poor Sisters Story. These two characters are young sisters struggling to survive without parents, and each wants to be this for the other – ‘the one place where you don’t have to try hard.’
It’s occurred to me before that I’d like my relationship with my inner child to be more like Kyo’s relationship with Asu – one of loving, supportive teamwork - but now I realised there was a third dimension. This radiant spirit guiding the two of us. For Kyo and Asu it’s the spirit of their dead mother, for us it’s Big Sister, our future self. This is my new phone wallpaper:
(At this point we had a long digression about the Japanese words for big sister and little sister and how they’re used. I was surprised that Little Sister seemed to know Japanese as well as I did, and she said, ‘I have access to everything you know. I just see it differently.’)
Me: So I’m tidying my room with a child. A scared, four-year-old child. And I need to make it fun and non-scary for her. Big Sister, do you have any ideas?
Big Sister: *just shines*
Me: Okay, more God. But anything else?
Big Sister: *shine, shine*
Me: Well, yes, I guess I could ask Little Sister. What would make tidying more fun for you?
Little Sister: Ice-cream! We have to have ice-cream when we’ve finished. And when we’re half way through!
Me: Okay! Anything else?
Little Sister. Colours. I need more colours!
Me: Like how?
Little Sister: You’re the big sister, you work something out!
Me: Okay, I’ll work something out.
Little Sister: And I want the dogs to help.
Me: Right. How about each dog gets to be in charge of a category of stuff, and the dog who ends up with the most bags and boxes packed wins?
Little Sister: And the dog who wins gets ice cream!
Me: Okay, but let’s try not to get it in their fur…
Little Sister: And I want you to put your posters up NOW! Not after we move!
Me: That’s fine. I kind of want to as well.
Little Sister: Yay! And please brush your hair less.
Little Sister: I don’t like hairbrushing. I like messy hair! I don’t feel like me otherwise!
Me: Hmm… maybe we can find another way instead of being messy? Would it help if I wore pigtails?
Little Sister: …I don’t think I’d like that. You wouldn’t look like my big sister. (Pause) I’m realising that it’s my hair I don’t want brushing. Not yours. You can brush your hair. (Pause) I need to think about what this means.
How about that?!? At this point I arrived at work so we had to stop, but I’m sure she’ll inform me of what it means when she’s ready… I suspect she’s realising she doesn’t need me to behave exactly like her to feel secure in her own existence. Whew!!