I've discovered the perfect fix for that tired, rundown feeling. Yes, I know, proper diet, exercise, sufficient sleep are all necessary to maintain a healthy, energetic lifestyle. I'm talking about a quick fix, instant gratification. Forget energy drinks or vitamin shots; just share some quality time and a couple of hugs with a 1st-grader.
Not that I'm suggesting you go to the nearest elementary school in search of kids to caress. In fact, I'd strongly advise against any random hugging of minors. Hopefully you're lucky enough to have appropriate, politically correct access to a 1st-grader or two. Of course, if you do have one readily available, like a grandchild, you already know what I'm talking about.
I have three young granddaughters, but it's been several years since I've seen, let alone hugged them. They live in Michigan, so we have to make do with virtual hugs via telephone and Facebook. Fortunately, my work provides ample opportunities for real face time with other people's grandkids. The other week, through my Kaunoa Senior Services job, I enjoyed a delightful morning with over 100 keiki and an equal number of kupuna. Senior participants in Kaunoa's Congregate Dining (lunch) program and Waihee School 1st-graders filled the Velma McWayne Santos Community Center in Wailuku for a Pono Project activity. Working in pairs, the students and seniors crafted simple collages featuring their own handprints, cut and pasted onto construction paper with a drawing of Earth and a sweet message: Embrace Our World With Love. The illustration - two pairs of different colored hands, one big, one small, holding the planet between them - could also have been captioned "We've got the whole world in our hands."
Moving through the aisles, taking candid photos, I could see both sentiments embodied. For a couple of hours, aches and pains, worries and inhibitions were forgotten, and folks were off in their own little worlds, focused on their projects and their partners. Normally shy seniors became chatterboxes, curmudgeonly types beamed like proud grandpas. Before long, everyone felt as happy and high as a 1st-grader on a field trip. My mother and her new pal Kalo were typical of the morning's couples; they parted with a hug, leaving Mom with a smile on her face and a warm glow all over. In fact, the entire hall seemed to resonate with that glow, the result of countless 1st-grader energy molecules bouncing off the walls. Yet the overall effect was strangely calming, more comfortable than chaotic.
That night I dreamed my son was 6 years old again, perched on my lap and giving me Eskimo kisses, holding my face in his little hands just like the world in Mom's and Kalo's, embracing me with love. Upon awakening, I was startled to find myself alone, without Jimmy curled up against me. A hint of wistfulness and longing came over me and lingered for a few days.
Then I visited Lisa Griffith's 1st-grade class at Kahului School, and the bittersweet fog lifted immediately. Before reading them a charming story about a spoon with low self-esteem, I spent a few minutes fielding questions and talking story. The first query came from a wiry bundle of energy seated at my right knee; he wanted to know if I really was the lady he saw in The Maui News. My faith in the future of newspaper publishing was restored, but only for a moment, as I realized Ms. Griffith probably brought a copy to school, to give the students an advance look at their Friday afternoon visitor. Nevermind, the important thing is that the children received an early introduction to their hometown paper and, hopefully, will continue the relationship.
I asked the boy if he wanted to be in the newspaper, too, and he vigorously shook his head "no" while his classmates shouted in unison, "Yessss!"
Sorry, kid, majority rules.
After the story, in which Spoon comes to value his own unique attributes as highly as those of Knife and Fork and even Chopsticks, we continued to share mana'o. First-graders are so much fun to talk with; no longer babies, they are full of questions and opinions, but still young enough to eagerly accept your replies without skepticism or disdain. Those will surely come by adolescence, but for now, their world is all about wonder and warm glows.
Prior to my visit, I knew only one of the children in Ms. Griffith's class. Kaylia is the granddaughter of my friend Dana, who came up with the idea for me to read to the kids and introduce Flat Lotus to them (see previous columns). When it was time to say goodbye, Kaylia hugged me as tightly as Jimmy did in my dream and whispered, "Thank you, Auntie Kathy!" in my ear.
I'm still glowing.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is email@example.com.