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Pleasure Practices with Sami Schalk: Embrace your inner child

Periwinkle Chiffon Sparkles and other profound sources of comfort.
A collage of two photos. On the left, a photo shows the author smiling and holding a backpack that resembles a stuffed unicorn, while sitting in a kayak with water in the background. The photo on the right shows the stuffed unicorn backpack from behind, seated in the front of the kayak, with the kayak's orange prow extending over the water.
Periwinkle Chiffon Sparkles goes kayaking. Photos by Sami Schalk.

Periwinkle Chiffon Sparkles and other profound sources of comfort.

As someone who has lived my entire life on an academic year calendar (first as a student, now as a professor), there is always some resistance I feel when September comes and my schedule becomes a little less flexible and free. That “I don’t want to go back to school feeling” is definitely a product of my inner child, who has gotten a lot of attention and indulgence this summer. Lately, embracing my inner child and delighting in things associated with childhood has been a deeply healing pleasure practice. I hope it can be for you too.

Embracing my inner child has required me to really tap into what I want and like without internal judgment or shame. So often pleasures associated with childhood are deemed immature or even problematic for adults to enjoy—or, if it is OK for adults to enjoy, they can’t enjoy it too much or too often. Adult pleasures are somehow supposed to be better, more refined, more mature, but at the end of the day, whatever brings us pleasure—that deep physical and/or emotional satisfaction—is worth exploring. Doing so helps us understand ourselves better, care for ourselves better, and ultimately communicate our wants and needs better to the people in our lives. The more we understand what an enthusiastic YES feels like in our bodyminds, the easier it is to say no to the things that don’t bring that same feeling.

Personally, this summer I really let myself lean into stuffed animals. Growing up I had a ton of stuffed animals. I was particularly fond of a stuffed cow named Moo Moo (I’d like to think my naming skills have gotten better since I was 3). But at some point in my childhood I internalized the message that stuffies were for “babies” and I shouldn’t want to have or play with them. I didn’t have stuffed animals as an adult until 2019, when I bought a 54-inch stuffed unicorn for a party. I began using it as a body pillow regularly during lockdown. This year, I asked one of my long-distance partners to buy me a stuffed animal as a birthday gift so I could have it to hug when he wasn’t around. He bought me a jumbo unicorn Squishmallow I named Shibari Merlot Sparkles (aka RiRi) and yall, I was transformed. 

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Stuffed-animal technology has advanced so much since I was a kid. This thing is so big and fluffy and SOOOOOFT! I immediately used it every night as a pillow and the great stuffed animal gathering of 2022 began. I’m now up to five stuffed animals of varying sizes in my bed every night, plus the new stuffed unicorn backpack purse I bought named Periwinkle Chiffon Sparkles (aka Winky). I couldn’t believe how much pleasure these soft squishy things brought me.

Because I’m a nerd, I did a little Googling and learned that stuffed animals are excellent comfort items for children and adults because they provide consistency through transitions. Stuffed animals are also sometimes used like emotional-support animals for older adults who can’t care for pets. The act of petting or cuddling a stuffed animal has similar stress- and blood pressure lowering-effects to those of petting a real animal. This isn’t to say that you need research to justify your pleasure, but rather to show that trusting our pleasure, listening to what our bodyminds say feels good or not, is ultimately very good for us. I knew how comforting and calming I find these stuffed animals to be long before I found some research supporting what my bodymind already told me. Practicing pleasure teaches you to better recognize your enthusiastic YES so that you’re better able to discern when you should be saying no.

Recently on Twitter, I asked people to share their inner-child pleasure practices. Here’s a list of more ways to embrace your inner child:

  • Building with Legos or other blocks
  • Craft and art kits
  • Blowing bubbles
  • Playing on swings, slides, and monkey bars
  • Coloring books or sidewalk chalk
  • Children’s cartoons and movies
  • Eating certain candy or food 
  • Playing with Play-doh, clay, slime or kinetic sand

Go embrace your inner child, babes. You deserve to take in all the joy you can in this world, without shame. You can blow bubbles and be a bad ass bitch at the same time!

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