As a little girl growing up in a family possessed by not much more than the overwhelming pressure and determination to “be the best”—to unrealistically “live up to (fill in the sibling)”—it may be easy to see that I am indeed only a portion of a product of my raising. However, through many years of schooling and countless hours of my own searching and an endeavor to find something more than living up to be “better [or] as good as [blank]” I came upon my own understanding of what really mattered—to me.
Before I could accurately recall, my parents known to be reading me nightly bedtime stories and buying my sisters and me all those silly, expensive “Learn while you play!” toys with the utmost of good intentions in the hope that we would be the “brightest little girls at Jayenne Elementary!” By the time I reached the second grade (my only year of home-schooling) there was enough evidence to prove that I was beginning to concoct my own agenda for my life. It ever so simply consisted of waking up by 7 am, saturating my already sugar sodden cereal in milk, working vigorously on school work until noon, then promptly making my way outside to play (before mom could catch me and run through forty sets of multiplication flash cards). Once I successfully made my escape, I would meet up with my (also home-schooled) neighborhood playmate, Maggie, and the two of us would make our flight to the “counting station” and spend hours on end playing hide & seek.
“Okay now, count to a minute then come and find me!”—the suspenseful yet untiringly delicious phrase Maggie and I would take turns earnestly hollering as one of us dashed behind a tree, a bush, or really, any area small enough to encompass a limber little second grader. I would count what would probably have added up to about 100 seconds per minute had I completed counting an actual minute, then I would sprint off to find my missing friend. Finding her hiding spot would never take me very long, yet I would love to draw out the experience by making my own explorations of nearby backyards, just for the fun of it. After a few minutes of innocently exploring the mysteries of a bountiful garden or a mixture of long blades of grass and yellow dandelion sprinkled lawns, I would finally go back to search for Maggie.
I believed at the time that Maggie and I could come up with the most creative of hiding locations—scrunched up within an old tire behind my father’s garage, above the caved-in roof of an old play-house, and once, I even buried deep within a pile of freshly raked leaves. We both found it to be easy and very pleasing venturing off into places of complete comfort and isolation. Perhaps this was because we both knew just where to find ourselves—and because we both knew the other really wanted to be found—we could locate each other. Truly, only to each other were we vulnerable to detection. It was really only in the naive eyes of a child that we could search and be found.
Together, as we made our way back to the “counting station” for another round of hide & seek we would both be sure to take notice of the insects scattered across a tree branch or the sound of a chickadee as it flew from one tree to another. This natural beauty that neither she nor I could or really wanted to understand at the time continued to be a constant reminder of my fascination and embodiment of an endless gratuity to whoever created the limitlessness of my copious surroundings. Nature reassured Maggie and me that we did not have to be anything special to find something amazing. It taught us that we certainly did not have to be the best in order to find what we were looking for, so long as we found each other in the end.
It was not until years later, however, that I realized just how relative hide & seek really is in my life. Back in second grade, Maggie and I were virtually careless. I resisted the pressure to drag on my days with hours of listening to others tell me what I should be or what I should be trying to live up to. When we made our retreat outdoors it was easy to find ourselves, each other, and anything else we found to be compelling.
I allowed my intuition and my logic to lead me to the numerous hiding locations Maggie and I discovered without over-complicating my journey or concentrating too much on something that was initially meant for pure enjoyment. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to realize that life is really only a game of hide & seek. If one is determined to look hard enough they can always find what they are looking for, but never neglect the opportunity to encounter unexpected beauty along the way.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.