The other day I had an outer body experience. I don’t mean the ‘seeing the light at the end of the tunnel’ kind of experience. Oh no. Although all I could see was light at the end of a very large pink and orange snout…(clue there)
Here’s the body I was experiencing.
Why? Well, have you ever volunteered for something quite easy and not too undignified (in this case shaking a tin for your favourite local charity, Home Start) and ended up doing something far sillier than you’d ever set out to do? That was me on Friday.
The person who’d been valiantly wearing it up until the time
muggins here, sorry, I turned up, had to go home. And there was no one else to don the huge hulk of a Hippo outfit except…..me. I’m all for having a go at crazy things, so thought, heck, if it means we collect more money, then it’s got to be done.
And I did think, if anyone comes along who knows me, they won’t have a clue it’s me. So true. So true.
In fact, this experience of donning an alter ego was really quite fascinating, and gave me a glimpse of what it must be like to be a very young child.
My vision was suddenly restricted to what I could see through a smile-shaped opening: a wide selection of adult boots and shoes, and beaming inquisitive toddlers that approached me. The disarming thing was how I couldn’t predict who might come up to me – I couldn’t see to my left or right or beyond a few feet, unless I lifted my head.
So I suddenly would find a toddler inquisitively coming up to me, sometimes smiling, sometimes curious, sometimes very unsure, and I would have to respond immediately. It must be like that for many pre-schoolers. No wonder many shy away or don’t react immediately when talked to – they simply get taken by surprise.
What struck me most was how the confident ones had complete trust in me. Someone who was a total stranger. But someone who, to them, looked friendly and adorable. Kids came to me like bees to honey. Their faces lit up. Total trust and enjoyment. Some had fear and cried, but most were just curious.
Not so the adults. Most of them would walk straight past, grim, fixed faces, not a second glance. The contrast with the children’s response was striking. Their response was never indifferent – excited, happy, curious or fearful. But the adults were rarely either. The worries and deadlines of the world seems to have stunted our curiosity and sapped our enjoyment of the simple things…
The other change that took me by surprise, and that left me feeling like I was having an outer body experience, was the way donning that suit changed my behaviour. In order to gain children’s trust, I would wave at them and ‘smile’ with my hands/body to encourage them to come closer. I would look out for them, not adults (whenever I could lift my head). My focus was on them, not the adults, as they were who Hope the Hippo was there to entertain/attract.
I’d say I’m a friendly person to kids normally (having kids of your own has really changed that for me) but I don’t go around waving at them innanely and I certainly don’t look out for them in a crowd.
And on top of it all, I was boiling hot from wearing something far too warm that somebody else had chosen for me to wear – sound familiar any toddlers out there?!!
In short, I felt like I’d become a child for an hour. Their faces were the ones I looked out for. I even started behaving like a child. It was really quite liberating. Everything was suddenly very simple, full of curiosity, and, yes, a little bit frightening.
And in that one short hour, I became a being that only children seemed to see.
It’s amazing what volunteering can do for your day….
Home Start is always looking for volunteers to befriend and support a family with children under five who are need an extra pair of hands. If you have a couple of hours a week to spare and are interested, contact your local Home Start.