There is an elderly man in my neighborhood who my kids and I frequently run into. I find him hilarious. Always freshly shaved and dapperly — if quirkily — dressed, he makes sure to wear some token symbol of his apparent Irish ancestry: a kelly-green shamrock-spotted ascot, for example. Or a shamrock plastic pin on his captain’s hat. Sometimes he wears pajama bottoms with his navy blazer. Yesterday he sported a pressed white shirt tied around his midrift, showing off flat if wrinkly abs.
“I loouuuve you!” he says to anyone who passes by, his Irish brogue trilling out into the Queens morning. “You are beeeaUtiful!” And to the Hispanic woman busking Italian ices: “Te amo mamacita!” Clearly he suffers from dementia, and the home nurse that often accompanies him will roll her eyes, trailing behind him as he walks, slowly but erect, calling out amorous greetings to everyone who passes. Once, I jogged past him sitting on the steps of the local Catholic church. “Look at your booooody!” he called. “That is a body for making babies!” He is always happy. He does not have teeth.
I find this guy to be a harmless source of pure comedy. But Helena, 5, finds him horrifying. When we see him on the street, my normally friendly and confident daughter hides her face in my legs and pulls me to the other side of the sidewalk.
I am proud that her intuition picks up that this gentleman is off, and I always honor her requests to bolt.
Growing up I was not taught to listen to my intuition. That was not part of my family culture, or, I think part of the culture at large. Like most people, I was encouraged to make decisions on logic and information. Choose a stable job where you can earn a steady paycheck, my mother said. Choose a man who is tall and rich and has good teeth — not for love. (Teeth? WTF, mom?!)
But as I’ve grown into myself I have recognized the power of my own intuition, and I work to hone it into a powerful force in my life. The more I allow myself to follow what simply feels good — and not what necessarily makes intellectual sense — the better off I fare in this world. For example, the more I sign on to business relationships with people I simply like to hang out with, the better off I fare professionally. In romance, I like to say that in the past few years since my divorce, I’ve never had a bad date (and I’ve been on dozens of dates) — that is largely because I follow my gut when it comes to who I agree to meet from OKCupid.
I’ve been thinking about how to consciously teach my children to listen to and nurture their own intuition. My own intuition journey was a willy-nilly one: Over years and decades I simply came to know that there is a little voice that tells me things, and when I follow it good things happen. How can I impart that insight on my kids?
Here is what I do:
1. Encourage their real emotions. As kids grow, they try on different ways to express their feelings, and how these expressions provoke those around them. The more authentic they can be with expressing how they feel, the more authentic they can be in acting on those feelings.
Last night at bedtime, Helena said her teachers don’t let her cry. “Well,” I said, “There’s crying and there’s crying. There is being genuinely sad or really hurt, and then there is phoney-blonely crying to get your way.” She cracked up laughing because she knew — intuitively — just what I meant.
I see a lot of myself in my daughter: When she gets really tired, she gets silly and will get the unstoppable giggles — just like me when I was a kid. But this behavior was always discouraged in me. Maybe because my mom wasn’t a big laughter; I remember her really cutting loose with the giggles but a handful of times. But I always enjoy seeing Helena let it rip. She really gets going and I usually cut up right alongside her.
2. Acknowledge all the good around you — all the time. Then, it is easy to sense the bad. I tend to be a trusting and optimistic person in general. I’ve been told I’m quite friendly, and my kids see me being open and conversational with a broad slice of the diverse population who live in our neighborhood: the fancy Italian ex-pats, clad in Armani and D&G shades, the Hispanic porter in our building, the mommies with their headscarves and limited English at the playground. I trust most people without question because I believe that most people — without question — are trustworthy. If you go through life viewing the world as a prairie full of flowers, it is easy to spot a pile of horseshit.
4. Encourage quick decisions. At the drugstore, the kids were allowed to take $10 of birthday money and pick out a toy. Lucas was waffling between a bouncy ball that lit up and some Spiderman thingy. I laid down the basics: The toy is less money, but we already have lots of balls. The Spiderman costs more, but you don’t have a toy like that. Then I pushed him to hurry up and decide (and not just because I wanted to get out of there already). Quick decisions from the gut are usually the right decisions. Lucas is asleep and cuddling with Spidey as I type.4. Honor your kids’ intuition — even if it conflicts with your own. I believe we are all born into this world with astute intuition, but sadly, most of us are discouraged from listening and acting on it. My kids and I read My Body Belongs to Me which is designed to teach kids about sexual predators. The lesson, though, is about setting boandries about who you do and do not want to touch. If you don’t want the friendly lady at the grocery store to pat your head, ask her to stop. If you don’t feel good about a hug from your uncle, you can say “no.” Trust that your children may pick up on vibes from people that you cannot.