The Adult Within

In a week Yardena is going to undergo the first mammography of her life. The doctor told her that women her age have to do this test, but no one is going to pull a fast one on Yardena: Her intuition tells her that it's not just something routine, that something else is going on.

In a week Yardena is going to undergo the first mammography of her life. The doctor told her that women her age have to do this test, but no one is going to pull a fast one on Yardena: Her intuition tells her that it's not just something routine, that something else is going on. To be on the safe side, she stopped smoking a week ago, and now, she says, she is having a panic attack.

Removing her Jacqueline Kennedy glasses for a moment, she reveals eyelids that are red from crying. "But it's all right," she says, recovering bravely. "I once studied acting, and most of the time I tell myself: You're an actress, aren't you, so play the part of a perfectly healthy woman. I am also channeling my fears. Expressing myself in different ways. I write myself letters in every free moment, documenting what I feel." To illustrate, she takes out of her tote bag a yellow notebook whose pages are filled with her cramped handwriting.

"Relax," I tell her. "No one has found anything in you yet, but you're already behaving as though you had been informed that you are a terminal case at the very least. Chances are you are perfectly healthy, and even if they find something it will be a very early detection, and besides, nowadays people get over cancer."

"I know what you're driving at - positive thinking," Yardena says, putting on a weary smile.

"I would never recommend positive thinking to anyone," I protest, "and I have no idea what it means. What I was actually driving at is keeping things in proportion. Remember that nothing has been found yet."

Yardena smiles wearily again. "It's really nice of you to encourage me, it's fine, but I have powers. I am always talking to the little girl inside me and reassuring her."

This isn't the first time I have heard an adult say something like that. In the past few years the little children who supposedly exist inside us have enjoyed excellent public relations. For example, almost every time I get careless and open one of the self-help books I get sent, I am asked straight off to launch into a dialogue with the minuscule tenant who is meant to be residing somewhere in the recesses of my heart. In some cases the recommendation is to raise, cultivate or love this little entity, sometimes to rediscover it, and worst of all - to flow with it. This last piece of advice ignites a minor mental crisis in the impatient adult I have become, or just makes me feel like the person in the Leah Goldberg poem: I don't know what happened, but suddenly the bad boy entered me.

I therefore hypothesize to Yardena that maybe she is just barking up the wrong tree; because, after all, it makes more sense that in situations like these, when the problem we face relates to grownups, instead of looking for the little girl we might be better off looking for the mature woman inside, who may turn out to know something useful about life.

But the experience of the adult is not the only reason to prefer him to the child within us. Another reason is that the underlying assumption of the therapeutic methods that encourage us to connect with the inner child might be mistaken. According to that assumption, beneath the layers of anxiety, cynicism, disappointments and inordinate expectations we have of ourselves, lurks an inner child who, when discovered, will immediately turn out to be gifted, sensitive, good-hearted, brave, honest, filled with joie de vivre, trusting, loving and brimming with humor. A kind of boy or girl who is Pollyanna, Pippi Longstocking, Tom Sawyer, Mozart and Harry Potter all rolled into one psyche.

But the truth is that some of us were sad children or fearful children or children who were not loved enough, children whose whole ambition in life was to stop being children and grow up instantly into adulthood.

"And on top of that," I tell Yardena, "like every journey in time there could be terrible hitches. Instead of the girls we were, we might find ourselves back in adolescence and overwhelmed by feelings of ugliness or being misfits, or by frustrating encounters with the adults around us, not to mention the pimples."

When I talk all this over with Miriam from the dog run, whose husband died on her during lunch, she says that Yardena is looking in the wrong place. "It's not inside - it's outside. That girl never leaves us, never disappears, but she is not inside us. She is here, outside, where we are, sitting on our shoulders or our head like an angel or a parrot. She also goes with us everywhere, looks at things with us, and is sometimes happy and sometimes sad. She is we - ourselves. I myself am the girl I once was, only now people think I am an older woman because I have spots on my skin and veins on my legs and I am already over 60. But I don't feel that once I was a girl and then one day I became an adult; I feel like I am the same person the whole time, only the girl is older now."

Later, at home, while I try to connect the new DVD to the TV with only partial success, I tell myself that the only reason I can think of to look for the inner girl within me is to find a sophisticated, contemporary girl there, a girl with technological skills. Maybe she could help me hook up the DVD or teach me how to download TV series from the Internet. On condition, of course, that I finally discover the inner girl I never was.