Changing Time Zones

They came in the mail – translucent children’s blocks for making anything a kid might dream up. But when I opened the carton, Styrofoam figure-8s came pouring out. They flew onto my rug, where they turned into rubbish I had to clean up before my next patient came in.

Later that week I observed in a preschool class for two-year-olds, where those very pieces of packaging were materials on the children’s tables. In the two-year-olds’ hands, these Styrofoam tidbits turned into things that make a sound when you touch them, break into halves when you pull them, crumble into small white peas when you squeeze some more. Through their ears, they brought a strange new sound.

Through their eyes they were a source of wonder.

“Pop,” I mimed, as Arianna broke one in half, capturing the suddenness of their sound in a syllable. “Pop!” I opened my eyes and my mouth in a still-life version of surprise.

Arianna opened her dark eyes wide and looked back at me. She began the slightest of smiles. This was her first day in the classroom without a parent, so a smile to a new person was a bold move.

Changing time zones, that’s what I was doing. Not from America to New Zealand, but from the adult lens of keeping order to the sensory wonder of being two.

I joined Arianna in the land of long moments, where each sensation, each action, and each feeling takes its own time. She moved from her place near the table leg as I watched her, becoming more daring once she found my gaze. And I left my old view of Styrofoam as I shared the wonder of particles transformed.

Changing time zones. In a cultural moment that resembles a multiple-channel cacophony, tuning in to the time zone of early life can bring adults a welcome slow note. If you downshift into the ‘early zone,’ it changes stress into discovery.

Put your computer to sleep. Leave your mental to-do list, and watch for an invitation to play. It won’t come from your phone. It may not come with words. Watch her gaze. Follow his cues. Where do they lead? Does a squirrel look different through his eyes? Can you tell what she wants by ‘reading’ her face. Can you stop time by hearing the music in his voice?


Halloween is old. No matter how ghoulish the disguise, fake blood and fangs don’t fool you.

The real disguises are right in front of you. You may be missing the clues this very moment. They come through actions or ways of being that make no sense. What’s up with him, that man that gets so angry when someone looks at him? How could she stay with him, the guy that berates her all the time? There’s a story hidden in their actions.

What about kid who will never sit still? Or the one who doesn’t listens? We have an acronym for that. But the obvious answer might hide the real one.

Once you get in synch with the child, you may discover feelings that have taken a disguised form. Sometimes it’s frustration. Sometimes it’s grief. It can change things when you discover the feelings that have taken on a strange form. That’s an underground part of psychotherapy.