No one could blame the babysitters for ditching us.
Who wanted to spend time in a spooky old farmhouse with a couple of kids who were, as one doomed sitter put it, "full of beans"?
And you couldn't blame my dad either. Time after time, he came home after a shift at the factory a city away only to find that the latest nanny had fled.
He was a single parent who worked so hard he couldn't keep his eyes open at home.
And when he was conscious, he was looking for a new nanny.
As a result, my sister and I spent many days and nights on our own, mostly isolated from the rest of the world. Sound familiar?
Lately, it seems, we've all been returning to a point in our lives when we spent most of our time at home, often by ourselves.
Unlike childhood, these are not halcyon days — a pandemic is raging and people are dying. But the feeling of being alone and isolated may take many of us back to another time, a time when we exalted in everyday moments. That ability to find moments of awe shouldn't be left behind with childhood. As Sidney Stevens writes in MNN, "the more you're bowled over by things, the healthier you'll be physically, mentally and spiritually."
Finding awe where you are
Berkeley researchers recently set out to prove a similar hypothesis, only for people mostly confined to their homes. In other words, the quarantine crowd. Can you, for example, find awe and growth while stuck at home?
The answer was a resounding yes. It starts, as the researchers write in Greater Good magazine, with ignoring the myriad distractions that buzz around us.
"When you do, your mind quiets down," they note. "Whatever you're doing — showering, eating, driving, gardening, writing, reading emails, playing with your kids, hiking — you can choose to bring your full attention to the present moment."
When you do that, you're engaging in what they call "Microdosing Mindfulness," a means of easing stress and anxiety by essentially getting high on the present.
Of course, there's a lot more to mindfulness than just slowing things down. Researchers recommend treating your house like a museum, pondering every object. And you'll need to time your inhales and exhales just right.
But ultimately, as previous studies note, cultivating awe in our every day, even in isolation, can be a powerful tonic for both body and soul.
The thing is, children do much of that with a lot less effort.
Granted, my childhood in isolation was on a 15-acre farm. There was so much wow to be had without ever seeing another human. Like an endless cornfield for hiding out in until a dog named Sammy sniffed you out. Or the little stream leading to the pond that was the perfect plastic-and-a-paper boat launch.
But it's on days when going outside is out of the question that a child's imagination really works its magic.
You develop a kind of sensitivity to seemingly normal patterns. Like the way sunlight pours through the front window, gets carved into slender blades by the curtains and appears like a highway of light on the carpet below. That's the perfect road to cruise with the unused eraser from your back-to-school pencil case that looks like a car from the future.
You might even notice the aerodynamics of a classic pen cap make it well-suited for elastic-propelled rocketry. Especially when launched at your sister.
And when the imagination sputters, there's always a good book. In my case, it was often "The Good Book." My dad always made sure there was a bible around — though I favored "The Comic Book" a bit more.
There were dark times too. I was certain those were ghostly fingers plucking my bed springs at night. And why was the attic door at the far end of my room always heaving open on its own?
(And what kind of genius puts a kid in a bedroom that's directly connected to the attic?)
Even the tree in front of the house grew human brains.
It was a strange and surreal kind of place for kids. And I probably annoyed my sister with the same question a little too often: When's dad coming home?
She may not have always known the answer or appreciated that it came up so often, but we agreed on one thing: we had our own little world on the farm, with room for the imagination to soar.
And that's all you need.