Kids, Cats and Survival5 April 2018
I am curled up in a ball like a frightened armadillo. The position is called the child’s pose, the yoga instructor explains, because children do it when they’re upset. It calms the body down, and as I let myself sink into the floor I recall doing it as a kid, face buried in rough carpet, heart-rate slowing. Then I remember the schedule I abandoned to be here and my breath picks up. When did I forget how to just take a minute?
It probably isn’t a coincidence that I’ve suppressed the instinct, given the energy I’ve exerted squeezing myself into an adult-shaped mould over the last few years. I’ve endured bank forms, driving tests, lease agreements and Centrelink calls to emerge from the bureaucratic battlefield an almost functional citizen. I only unexpectedly run out of toilet paper every few months, and each time it happens I am angry. At whom? God? Coles?
Moving out is gratifying. You can get plastered at 2am with people you just met. You can eat whatever you want, even things you have been reliably informed are carcinogenic. And when your roommates ask if you want to go out, you can say ‘yes’ every time. You can go to a burlesque show the night before an exam. Afterwards, you can lie in the park until it gets dark, waiting for somebody to worry about where you are.
I did all these things with fervour, until one night my gung-ho attitude faltered. It was 11:30pm and I had passed out on the table of an Italian restaurant. A black tie waiter was debating whether to put my puttanesca down next to my head whilst I attempted to determine the thread count of the table cloth. On the way home I nursed hot takeaway containers and a vague feeling of dread. Crossing the road in heels, I suddenly felt less like Beyoncé and more like Bambi escaping a woodland fire. For the first time since moving interstate I craved my Dad’s stir-fry, my old bedroom window, the excruciating reliability of suburbia and an 11pm curfew. A sense of self-preservation—that feeling that wraps your arms around your body in the wind—resurfaced from wherever I had buried it at 14.
In response, I chased quick fixes. I went on impulsive shopping expeditions. I ate chocolate. I bought exercise gear to run off the chocolate (a farce). I called everyone I loved, one after the other, in a marathon of external affirmation. My best mates started sending me hopeful reminder texts to take vitamin C, remove my mascara and breathe in and out. At some point I even joined a meditation course full of people who wore white linen trousers. I didn’t comment on the transparency of white linen, but the distraction was enough to block my path to enlightenment.
I did everything I could to better myself, with the exception of eating, sleeping or setting boundaries in my life. I felt like a wind-up toy that had fallen off a table. Besides, any inner peace I could have achieved was corrupted by the feeling that a Japanese reality show was livestreaming my existential crisis. I needed a more legitimate coping mechanism.
So here I am. I’m transitioning from child’s pose to a cat’s pose, which is a back stretch I see my cat do whenever she feels like demonstrating her superior lifestyle. I think this is what my body tells me to do every morning when I wake up, only to be quashed by my desire for coffee.
Kids and cats know what they really need and they aren’t afraid to do it. They haven’t developed a sense of fear about how busy and invincible and accomplished they need to be in order to be worthy. And they definitely don’t ignore every physical demand their bodies have in a vain attempt to keep up with a 24-hour world.
I’m not saying we should all be throwing tantrums or adopting the fight-or-flight response of small armoured mammals. I’m just saying that it’s okay to prioritise your most unglamorous needs. The world won’t leave you behind. Being childish might be the most grown-up thing I do this year.