Rick and I had been planning a little project for some time: laying a small patio in front of each of two new sliding doors at the guest bedrooms. The project, which involves arranging a few dozen pavers on top of a shallow bed of gravel and sand, would not tax a handyman for a moment. Now, Rick and I have our skills, but laying out a simple patio was not among them.
As we were sipping our coffee one morning, contemplating the project, Rick made the following observation: “I notice I’m feeling dread at the prospect of what we’re about to take on. Although we’ve worked it all out and have clear and simple instructions, I keep having this feeling of: ‘Uh-oh—too big for me.’
“As a matter of fact,” he went on, “it’s the same feeling I get about loading the kayak. I’ve done it dozens of times, we’ve got the tools and the leverage down perfect, it’s NOTHING for me to get the kayak up on the roof of the car – and yet every time I contemplate it, it feels like a big deal.”
Eventually Rick got to his point: “There’s a four-year-old in there calling the emotional shots. That little guy wasn’t capable of levering a 40 kilo kayak on to the top of the car, and he’s certainly not up to figuring out how to build a patio. He’s just a Little Guy.
“But what’s he doing HERE?! Here I am, a fully grown man who’s carting around the spiritual residue of a four year old. Go figure.”
At that, he grimaced and said, “Well, let’s get stuck into it.”
There was no sign of the Little Guy a few hours later, when Rick was measuring out dimensions, doing complicated calculations, and shovelling wheelbarrows of gravel and sand, all the while humming happily. The patios gradually emerged, punctuated with a number of learning experiences, and now there are a couple of nice platforms where you can sit on your deck chair and have a cup of
coffee, while the tree dahlias wave above you and the pheasant coucals cavort in the trees below.
The whole episode led me to speculate about my own Little Guy. There is a feeling I notice on occasion, which I might meticulously define as Don’t wanna. I haven’t distinguished out the voice, and I mistake it for my own, or perhaps for the voice of the universe. It’s just how it is. But in reality, I can see it’s my four-year-old talking. Don’t wanna, she’s saying. And if I scratch under the surface I can see a Little Guy who’s having an adverse reaction – about things that might be logical in a four-year-old but not so much in a strong, mature, independent adult. “This is too big for me,” the voice is trying to say. Or “I could get hurt,” or, “This is scary.”
The Little Guy wasn’t smart or articulate enough to define her terms, only to notice the raw emotion she was abuzz with. The 40 kilo kayak was clearly too heavy to handle, the wave was too big to safely walk into, the German Shepard was a terrifying size – and it all rolled into Don’t wanna. It’s a mantra our Little Guys learned well. Very well. Who’d have guessed it was becoming a lifelong partner, in for the long haul?
My own Little Guy doesn’t get triggered by construction projects. My four-year-old was trained by my father, a farmer, that there’s no challenge that a few tools and bit of thinking can’t solve—and you can have some fun in the process. My own Little Guy looks at construction projects like building a patio as, “Yahoo! I’ll help!” (She hasn’t noticed the irony of exploiting Rick when the project is my own idea.)
But my Little Guy learned other Don’t wannas. I have a spontaneous reaction any time Rick suggests a drive. I promptly think, Don’t wanna, with a whiney-voiced addendum: It’s too faaaaar. It doesn’t take much to spot that the voice is actually that of a Little Guy who spent 45 minutes on the school bus every morning and every afternoon, punctuated on occasion with two-hour drives to our nearest town. Eventually a more adult voice kicks in, commenting on the cappuccino coming up, the crossword puzzle we’ll be working on, the shopping we’ll be doing—and it’s only a 20-minute drive, for pete’s sake.
But the Little Guy always takes its cut, dampening my experience with her Don’t wanna.
Emotion is a powerful thing, sometimes learned early and rarely reliable as an indicator in the present.
At any rate, it’s fun to have the patios. But I suspect the greatest contribution the project will make is in the insight it has provided. For Rick, he’s discovered that rather than resisting the ungrounded dread, or trying to talk himself into a more sensible approach, he can simply get a kick out of seeing his little alter-ego having its four-year-old reactions. He can give the Little Guy a hug and set him on the fence to watch as Big Guy throws together a patio or two, or effortlessly hoists the kayak up onto its lift bar. Everyone’s in his rightful place.