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?