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What I Learned From a 5-Year-Old

Last year, as the summer turned into fall, I spent time in the ocean with my goddaughter Hattie, who is 5 and hasn’t yet gotten too old to see the mermaids that live in the water. As we played, she and I talked about all kinds of things, from her wish list for her 6th birthday to how cool the elevator is in the Barbie DreamHouse. I told her that someone built a real Barbie DreamHouse and her eyes got as big as saucers. (You might think it’s pretty cool too… check it out here.)

When we got back to the beach, Hattie wanted to make a sandcastle. We couldn’t quite get the consistency of the sand right, so I suggested we make drip castles and I smoothed out the sand to make us a flat circle. Relaxing as I was hunched over in a far-from-flattering position, I marveled over how much this little interaction with Hattie was bringing me such joy.

As we began to drip the sand handful by handful, she noticed that our castles looked more like the trees in Whoville and then eventually the mountain where the Grinch lived. As we kept dripping, I asked Hattie what she was going to dress up as for Halloween. Her answer? Eliza from Hamilton. I didn’t see that one coming and it’s another reason why I truly love this child.

How refreshing to experience her imagination, her lack of self-censorship.

Hattie had just seen a mermaid at Wrightsville Beach and didn’t need me (or anyone else) to validate it. Oh, how we could learn from that! She let her mind take her from the beach to Whoville to the snow being sand. She didn’t ask for permission or wait to see if there were any rules about this sandcastle-building session. She just let her mind bounce around happily.

She also fearlessly caught her first wave on a surfboard to the cheers of her big brother and yours truly. When she got off the board, she was so proud of herself — no false humility; just a genuine “wow, I did it!” kind of reaction. The ride was the reward. She wasn’t trying to set up the perfect Instagram shot and she wasn’t worried about her messy hair, her chalky skin from the sunscreen, or how she looked. She just enjoyed riding the waves. Oh, there really is just so much we can learn from that.

Hattie also taught me a magic trick I didn’t know about: After a wave comes in, if you do a full spin with one arm in the air, another wave will come right after! That magic works every time. Try it the next time you’re in the ocean.

No matter where you find yourself over the next few months, why not channel your inner 5-year-old who is filled with wonder instead of worry?

Hattie is so busy being fully present in the ocean, on the beach, and in her life that she can see all the magic and joy and possibility around her.

Wonder, not worry, is the way we’ll find our highest joy.

Wonder, not worry, is the key to unlocking the door to creativity.

This year, let’s cultivate wonder. I hope you’ll take off your adult lenses for a few minutes and indulge in fairy dust and mermaid sightings just long enough to make your heart smile.

In the meantime, I’ll be here to remind Hattie to never trade her whimsy for worry and to always keep her eyes peeled for mermaids, because there is so much beauty and magic in the world — we just need eyes (and childlike faith and joy) to see them.

After all, C.S. Lewis said it best: “Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

Time to go into the world and sprinkle some fairy dust. Don’t forget you yourself also have the power to wave a magic wand — you don’t need an official title of (fairy) godmother or otherwise to love people well. Who in your life needs some love, some whimsy, some fun this week? Don’t sit around waiting for permission; consider this your invitation to bippity boppity boo some supercalifragilisticexpialidocious JOY into the life of someone who needs it most.


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