Cheers to All Us Daydreamer Kids

My friend, Franklin, and I were bonding over shared memories of getting in trouble for “daydreaming” or “not paying attention” in class. He mentioned he wasn’t really daydreaming, he was processing, and that struck a chord with me. I always felt like an imposter when someone accused me of daydreaming.

The dictionary definition of daydreaming is: “a series of pleasant thoughts that distract one’s attention from the present.” No wonder that never felt right to me. In fact, I remember telling teachers many times, “I’m not daydreaming.”

What I was doing was processing. Sometimes I was thinking about what the teacher had just said, maybe trying to understand it or wondering if I agreed with her. Other times, I might have been ruminating over a quarrel with my mother that morning. Or I might have been thinking ahead to what I should wear to the party this weekend.

The word daydreaming is often associated with creativity (and creative kids, like myself). In my day, we thought daydreamers were making up stories or songs or fantasies rather than paying attention. We assumed they were living, for a few moments, in a parallel universe or seeing into the future or imagining all kinds of beautiful possibilities. And why shouldn’t we have believed that; that’s how daydreaming was, and still is, so often portrayed in most movies (and nearly all of the Saturday morning cartoons).

According to a Wikipedia article, when thoughts move to a different place while daydreaming that’s referred to as the mind wandering. Several articles suggest we all daydream quite a bit during the day, especially during mundane tasks. Most likely, I got in trouble for daydreaming when the lessons were boring to me, but it was also true, as I recall, my mind would often fixate, rather than wander, when I learned something interesting. In those cases, I needed time to process not simply what I’d just learned but why it excited me so much.

All kids daydream and all kids process, but some of us do it much more than others. A strict 6-hour school day (or 8-hour workday for that matter) doesn’t leave time for many of us to “stare into space” when sometimes that’s exactly what we need. It’s not surprising in our country, which overvalues achievement, we turn even daydreaming into an opportunity to accomplish something, like imagining something new into existence. That’s why we hang on to the illusion that most dreamy kids are destined to be artistic or innovative geniuses.

But some of us just like being in our heads. If I could figure out why my mom was so angry with me that morning, maybe I could make sure I didn’t do it again. If I put my mind to it, maybe I could come up with a new outfit using the same old clothes in my closet. If I could understand why that story in my history class made me want to cry, I could figure out how to better serve people who were suffering. And if I happened to hear a couple of lines of a new poem pop into my head, so much the better. Something to build on during that 20-minute walk home.

I learned how to function in a world that left little time for wandering minds. Even as a child, I could focus when I had to. I could accomplish many tasks in a single day. I learned to think faster, in case anyone or anything called me away from my musings.

I’m still a processor. I never did outgrow that. But there are many, many times I wish I could be a cartoon daydreamer. That looks so easy and pleasant and fun. It’s exhausting going through life with a mind that must “think it all through.”

I’m just grateful I now have people like Franklin in my life who appreciate that trait in me rather than ridicule it, who share with me their own fascinating mind wanderings, and who allow me to process many of my thoughts out loud, so I can arrive at my ah-ha moments sooner (how much more would I have learned and retained in school if I’d been allowed that space?)

In other words, I’m grateful I no longer have to “daydream” alone.

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