Author and world traveler extraordinaire Cara Lopez Lee answers the question:
How does your fun little girl self show up in your life now?
MAKING UP FOR LOST CHILDHOOD
By Cara Lopez Lee
When I was a little girl, though I followed my natural inclination to laugh at almost everything, my life itself became too serious too quickly. Between multiple divorces and busy careers, my family passed me from hand to hand, and sometimes it seemed as if no one was in charge of me. I became self-sufficient, self-motivated, and self-involved. I decided that I could rely on no one to look out for me, except me, and that no one else really needed me to look out for them.
Though I often tried to play with other kids, few of them wanted to play with me. I was too precocious, too desperate to maintain control, and too determined to hold onto attention once I had it. When I was in third grade, another girl confided, “I do like you, Cara. The only reason I don’t play with you is because I don’t want the other kids to think I’m weird.”
As a girl, I repressed my more playful instincts. I was the kid who constantly waved her hand in the teacher’s face like Hermione from Harry Potter, who corrected all the other kids, who regurgitated political theories overheard from adult conversations. Being a grownup was exhausting. Maybe that’s why, almost the moment I turned 18, I made a u-turn and slowly found my way back to playfulness as a way of life.
There’s still an underlying seriousness to all I’ve done as an adult: writing stories in hopes of connecting with people in meaningful ways, traveling in search of a better understanding of myself and the world, marrying a man who brings out the best in me and doing my best to return the favor, trying to be of service to my friends and to let them be of service to me. Yet, in all I do, I look for a chance to play.
-- As a writer, I play with words. Now that I’m writing a novel I even get to make things up.
-- As a traveler, I’m constantly poking my nose into everything, like a little kid: What is that? Can we climb it? What are you doing? Can I watch? What’s next?
-- As a photographer, I draw pictures of the world as I see it.
-- As a wife, I often use these very words with my husband “Come play with me!” From conversation, to hiking, to sex… what I like about my husband is that I spend so much time doubled over with laughter.
-- As a reader and a movie lover, what I’m really saying is, “Please, tell me a story.”
-- As a dancer, well, I dance, and when I trip, I just laugh and keep dancing.
-- As a laugher, I laugh, even at things other people find serious, and I just let them stare.
In my life today, I do something that children instinctively do: if I can help it, I only play and work with people I like. I’m not talking about isolating myself from people who are different. My point is that, if I spend more time playing with those people with whom I connect, instead of struggling to be socially acceptable, I’ll experience greater joy and growth, as well as the support that leads to true accomplishment. Everyone has a tribe, if only we’re brave enough to reveal our true selves and ignore the judgments of those who don’t share our values.
When we were kids, our teachers taught us the importance of playing well with others, and of knowing when to stop playing and get back to work. These lessons are important, but now that we’ve learned them, I think it’s safe to listen to those other childhood instincts: knowing when to stop working and get back to play, and being ourselves even when it means we won’t get along with everyone who tries to play with us.
How does the little girl in me show up now? She acts as weird as she wants, and waits for the other weird kids to find her.
Cara Lopez Lee is the author of They Only Eat Their Husbands: A Memoir of Alaskan Love, World Travel, and the Power of Running Away, coming Nov. 15, 2010 from Ghost Road Press. She’s also the creator of the Girls Trek Too blog, which is dedicated to inspiring women to live life as an adventure.