Painting by Alice Pike Barney, n.d.
The Child Gets the Adults into Shape
Eleven-year-old Oliver had seen it all: the terse words exchanged by his mother and his adult stepbrother Lucas, who seemed to haplessly back himself into one fix after another.
There were the experiments with drugs, though thankfully nothing too serious at this point.
The fathering of a baby with a young woman who didn’t seem to know all she was getting into.
A series of challenges in launching into a career that held any promise.
Oliver had caught way more than the adults thought he was capable of.
He’d also watched his mother’s teenage natural son, James, the one she’d brought with her into the marriage to Oliver’s father.
James never bothered to conceal his irritation with his stepbrother’s shenanigans. James had sometimes told Oliver that, had Lucas been his mother’s full child, she would have prevented this kind of behavior from ever having had a chance to develop.
Oliver had had it better than either of his half-siblings had. At least he was living with both his parents and, though they may have issues with other members of their blended family, everyone was crazy for him.
Can I Play, Too?
When our Conductor invited the adult members of this family to participate in THE HUMAN JOURNEY®, Oliver asked whether he could participate, too. She considered the question: the THJ Experience was designed with adults and mature adolescents more in mind. Oliver was only 11.
On the other hand, he was clearly an “old soul,” observant, wise, and engaged. So she agreed, curious how an 11-year-old would take on the THJ Experience. And, she reasoned, he’d always have the freedom to duck out if he got bored or sleepy or would rather read in his room.
But Oliver didn’t duck out, he stayed. And, though she offered her help, he didn’t need any more guidance than the adults. Indeed, Oliver participated fully in THE HUMAN JOURNEY® almost to the end, when sleepiness overtook him.
But, just as you may have done when your parents were involved in something juicy, he stayed awake in his bedroom and craned his ears to listen in to the voices of his parents and half-siblings. He heard the sharing, the relieved laughter, and the descending tones that come into adults’ voices when they’re starting to wrap up an encounter.
So he knew exactly when the closing of the THJ Experience was rolling into motion, and he padded back into the middle of it to be able to wrap up with the rest of his family.
A promise that goes on the fridge
Although he was the only one in bare feet, he engaged as seriously as the rest in forming the commitments to others in his family that would take them into a clearer and closer future together. And he was elated, as the family envisioned a richer, more positive future together, when his half-brother, Lucas, who had been struggling to show up for others in the family, committed to spending regular time each week with his “little guy.”
We’ve been learning some things recently from Oliver and from some other very young people taking part in THE HUMAN JOURNEY®—and that is, first, that many of them can handle it!
And that their presence has a positive effect on the adults. Adults as well as children experience challenges paying attention; they too can start suddenly itching for a snack. The children who can stay with it inspire the adults, too.
“Children With Wrinkles”
I sometimes call adults “children with wrinkles.” The THJ Conductor saw that Oliver’s presence changed everything for the older members of his family. Children need us to be responsible, thoughtful, and open-hearted. They expect us to keep our promises. Oliver’s presence pressed Lucas into behaving as a full adult perhaps because he knew what his little half-brother needed of him.
It’s one thing to say something to another person in private, one on one. It’s quite another to make a vow to another in the presence of others. (That’s one reason that wedding ceremonies and certain legal documents have witnesses.) Lucas’s promise to Oliver is held by the entire family in THE HUMAN JOURNEY® Experience.
You don’t have to have a wise child around to have a successful THJ Experience! The THJ Conductor, though a “child with wrinkles,” performs similar function as the child in helping everyone toward their highest selves. At a moment of family stress, such as when anticipating a loss or making sense of sudden change, the Conductor holds the space that brings everyone in the party both the wisdom and the high expectations of a child.