As a grown-up, I wonder what makes kids love hiding in small, hidden spaces. Are they nostalgic for the womb, where every need was met?
“HA!! FOUND YOU!!”
All of us cousins chortle as one of them finally discovers me scrunched into a corner of the upstairs bathtub, hiding behind a shower curtain.
Hide-and-go-seek is one of our favorite games. I’m pretty clever at it: I find those hiding places right under their eyes, like standing behind an open door as they frantically search a room.
Now, as a grown-up, I wonder what makes kids love hiding in small, hidden spaces. Are they nostalgic for the womb, where every need was met, and no one ever yelled at them?
Some children, especially sensitive ones, become overwhelmed by too much noise and action around them. Hiding somewhere small and quiet provides welcome relief from the madding crowd.
And to many children, the world frequently seems huge and dangerous. Grown-ups always drive the idea home by admonishing them to be careful, not to run into the street, or climb too high. A kid-sized space feels secure, protected from bullies or doggies or angry grown-ups.
When my daughter was young, she once broke a knickknack and was convinced she’d get a tongue lashing of major proportions. She fled to a bedroom and hid in a tiny space between a cabinet and the bed. We searched for an hour, but she was so well hidden we never saw her. The only one to discover her secret hideout was her younger brother, whom she swore to secrecy. Finally another kid found her. By then we were so relieved, we forgot to be upset about the knickknack.
Kids love things they instinctively know exist especially for them: toys, Uncle Moishy, drink boxes, anything scaled to their size, including tiny hiding spaces. Today the daughter who hid behind the bed comes over with her children, and they run around playing with their cousins just like I used to do.
One of their favorite things to do is congregate under my dining room table, hidden by the tablecloth. No grown-ups intrude on their improvised clubhouse, where they make their own rules (which sometimes include excluding younger siblings, who emerge tearfully).
It’s reassuring for kids to feel there’s a place in their world that’s off-limits to grown-ups. After all, when you’re five, parents have a way of knowing you better than you know yourself, and that can feel annoying. They’re always telling you what to do, and they have an exasperating habit of picking you up and carting you off when you object. As children get older, they increasingly want to figure things out for themselves without parental interference.
When I was about 10 or 11, I made myself a hiding place in my closet. I taped a poster to the wall, brought in a few “treasures” and a little mat, and would sometimes cloister myself there. I’m not sure why I felt drawn to do that, since I had my own room. I guess it felt like one more layer of privacy, a shelter within a shelter where I could pursue my preadolescent musings and fantasies undisturbed.
In those days, as the 1960s turned into the ’70s, everybody was into meditation. Maybe I caught those vibes and wanted my own private meditation space. Looking back, I wonder if it wasn’t a symptom of my neshamah reaching out, trying to commune with some undefined spiritual something.
In our house, the “G word” and any unscientific, supernatural topics had always been diligently avoided or derided, so spiritual yearnings felt shameful, off-limits, something best pursued in secrecy. In the Walden of my closet retreat, I could indulge those thoughts.
Now, over 40 years later, things haven’t changed much. Here I am going into my own little spiritual retreat again on Succos, moving out of a larger space to sit in a smaller one. Like my old closet, the succah takes me away from the larger house, with its mundane chores and responsibilities, to a more enclosed, spiritually focused space. In the succah it’s just us, a little food (okay, a lot of food), and communing with other Jews and the One Above.
I guess Hashem knew even grown-ups need a little space to retreat to, a special clubhouse all their own. In our own private getaway, a cherished escape from the big bad world, it’s just us and Him.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 513)
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