“Look Mom, it’s a bird,” I used to say. “I can make a dog, too, but I can’t make a cat.”
My Mother would sigh, adding: “Stop making those silly finger shadows. I want you to sit silently in the corner. You are being punished.”
As a kid that corner was an all-too familiar place. It seemed like I was always being told to sit still, be quiet and grow up. The kitchen light would cast my shadow on the wall. My shadow didn’t make any noise, never whined, and wouldn’t complain. He just did as he was told and when the timeout was over, he’d follow me quietly to my room.
A lot of my childhood was spent in the shadows of older siblings and parents who kept reminding me about how difficult life was. No matter how much my troubles haunted me, they were nothing compared to grown-up problems. In the dark of night, I would sometimes hear my parents arguing about bills, big brothers grumbling about high school, and older sisters complaining about work.
Eventually my younger self put aside childhood games. I spent more time in my room shielded from the world behind closed curtains. At school, I was content to be in the back of the classroom. I stopped trying because I believed it didn’t matter. Life was tough and it was only going to get worse.
As I spent time in the principal’s office, nodding at his incoherent ramblings, I saw more shadows, including how those cast by his vertical blinds draped over me like prison bars. I thought I was trapped in a life that promised me nothing but more burden as I grew up.
But occasionally, my father’s older brother, Uncle Buddy, would come by to visit. He was carefree. He would tell me stories about how he traveled the world and met the most amazing people. Most of it was exaggerated, but his tales were always incredible. It felt like the sun was a little brighter when he was around. Uncle Buddy taught me about card houses, magic, origami, telling jokes, and much more. He even encouraged me to keep doing finger shadows. His spirit was contagious, leaving me grinning for days after he left.
My mother didn’t like him. She said he was childish. He was a troublemaker and never took life seriously, but I loved him all the same.
If I had the opportunity to write to my younger self now, what would I say?
“Problems are relative. Losing a ball as a boy can be as traumatic as losing a promotion as an adult. Parents complaining about taxes are like babies screaming for their bottles. Life changes as you get older; and I promise that it gets better. The problems that adults face are different. They are not bigger or tougher; they are just different. The secret you’ll learn as you grow older is that you’ll have the skills to cope better.
“Please try to understand this. Enjoy life. Play games, laugh, learn, and share. I know that you will eventually emerge into the light. And when you do, I hope that you keep making finger shadows.”
Marty Jalove is an International Personal and Professional Life and Business Coach. A euphoric optimist, he persistently pursues his passion of helping others harness happiness. Learn more at MasterHappiness.com.