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Inner Child

Matther Lewis telling his story at the “Opps I did it again…” StorySlam in 2023.
Photo by Art Montes.
Matther Lewis telling his story at the “Opps I did it again…” StorySlam in 2023.

Taking care of your inner child is important. Recognizing your inner child can be a path towards healing, reconciliation, and self-actualization. This episode of Real Stories MKE will focus on 5 stories centered on the inner child. This episode was hosted by Kim Shine and Joel Dresang and was edited by Sam Woods. This episode features stories from Jillian Beaster, Matthew Lewis, Greg Marshall, Gabriela Swistara and Nicole Acosta.

Episode transcript below from Ex Fabula's Real Storie MKE series.

Kim Shine: Welcome to Real Stories MKE, part of Ex Fabula’s work to connect Milwaukee through real stories. I'm Kim Shine...

Joel Dresang: And I’m Joel Dresang. Everyone has personal stories worth sharing. Ex Fabula conducts storytelling workshops where community members can explore their stories and build their storytelling skills and confidence. Also, Ex Fabula hosts StorySlams where true stories get told on stage. In this episode of Real Stories MKE, we're sharing five of those powerful stories.

Kim Shine: Wow, that's a lot of stories. Got a lot of time. Buckle up. And our theme for this episode is Inner Child. So, we connect wisdom with age, but we often rely on our childhood, and that's who we were. What we knew, how we felt as touch points for what is true to us. Sometimes childhood is our happy place, and sometimes it can hold some dark traumas.

But either way, those inner child stories can affect our moods and our actions and then our life.

Joel Dresang: So, I actually have a photo of my inner child. I just showed that to you before. It's a snapshot from when I was four years old. And you think about, you know, four years old. It's before I went to school. So yeah, I had no cares in the world. All I had to worry about was how I entertained myself between the kids in the neighborhood and when my siblings came home from the school.

Kim Shine: Yeah. And it's this picture of me standing by a snowbank with my coat open and my fist pumping, and I'm leaning toward the camera, and I've just got this face of glee. And sometimes I think about that inner me to spark some enthusiasm.

Yeah, I like that. I like that a lot. So, your inner child is four years old?

Joel Dresang: Yes.

Kim Shine: I think mine might be maybe around like 8 or 9. Okay. And I say that because when I think about childhood, I think about growing up in the South and not having my shoes on because that- that still stays with me now. I love to have my feet on the pavement when it's a sunny day outside. There's nothing better than that.

And drinking from the water fountain or- not the water fountain- drinking from the water hose that's in the backyard and just running around the grass and just having a good time. That's what I think about. The opposite of snow. Anything the opposite of snow brings out my inner child. Well Joel, our first story comes in the form of a poem, it's from Matthew Lewis, whose inner child is a ten-year-old boy who inspires Matthew in his everyday life.

Here's Matthew.

Matthew Lewis: So, you are going to be witness to my favorite person in the universe, my ten-year-old self. So, I pay homage to him whenever I can. I design a life where I hope he is proud of. So, this poem is to that. At one end of a rainbow, the sun shines on the Black boy. Skipping down uneven sidewalks overgrown with weeds and emerging flora.

The air is filled with the smell of fresh cut lawns, sweat and summer. A boy leaps over cracks. His laughter echoes between houses, paired with the sounds of little Sally Walker being played in secret, and the cat daddy cackle of brothers popping firecrackers to twin games of hustle. A boy wants no part of the hustle, just wants to Double Dutch, pick dandelions and swing on neighbor’s swing. His tongue red from Kool Aid and pocketed candy pops unapologetically.

Boy is sugar and Spice. Boy is magic. Boy is beautiful, boy is boy. Whatever boy is with the breeze comes the stairs and the whispers from all directions. “He's so different. Why do you talk like that? Get your hands off your hips like that.” A boy tries to shrink his body, tries to fade into the brightness. Reaching for something to hold on to and finding only the sweat inside his palm.

The smell of summer turned sour, and there is nowhere to hide from the swelling voices, and the weeds begin to wrap his feet and hands from unseen shadows. Replace the flowers with a football. Boy cradles football. Boy cradles boyhood. Boy in hood. Discovering boy. Whatever a boy is. And a boy must take flight to save himself A flash of light in the broken glass of empty alleyways.

A linger of cotton candy. Sweet a boy races until the voices fade into a rush of air running streets till streetlights flicker. A boy catches his breath watching fireflies on his front porch. The voices now murmurs in the night. Football left in someone else's boyhood. Someone else's boyhood. One last glance. A boy closes his eyes. Finding safety in his dreams.

Thank you.

Kim Shine: That was Matthew Lewis, who told his story about his inner child at a 2023 Ex Fabula event called After Dark: For the Culture. It's an ongoing collaboration with Hyfin, which is Radio Milwaukee's urban alternative station.

Kim, our second inner child story comes from Gabriela Swistara. Gabriela shares a tale about getting separated from family at the age of eight and how it was traumatizing but taught a couple of valuable lessons. Here's Gabriela.

Gabriela Swistara: I am kind of new to Wisconsin. I've bounced around a lot in my life, and, I spent the first 11 years of my life living in Switzerland, of all places. And, that meant going skiing a lot. And so pretty much every weekend we were in the mountains skiing. and so I was pretty used to it, you know, we would go out and ski, you know, pretty much every weekend.

And, once when I was eight years old, it was the last run of the day. And it was this run that kind of split up in the middle: one to an easy route, one to a hard route. And, on the chairlift up, it was my mom, my brother and I, and we all agreed, okay, we're going to take the easy route.

It'll be the end of the day. This will be great. And, I was like, cool, cool, whatever. I was eight, and so my older brother and my mom were behind me. I was doing my own thing, going super-fast because I was a child who enjoyed skiing. And I went down the wrong way. So, I went down the difficult slope and they went down the easy slope because they couldn't see me anymore.

And so, they went down the way that we had agreed, and I went down the wrong one. And then about halfway down that one, after we had it had forked, I realized that I was going down the wrong way. And as an eight-year-old, you know, the logical thing would probably be, you know, keep going. Meet them at the bottom where, you know, connects again.

But eight-year-old logic doesn't think that way. And so, eight-year-old me took off my skis and my boots and started crying and walking back up the very steep hill, thinking to myself, “oh my God, I'm going to be lost in the mountains forever”. And I don't know if you've been to Switzerland before, but Swiss people are not friendly, they're not warm and fuzzy.

People kept skiing past me as an eight-year-old, just hiking up with my skis on, and even if I had asked for help, they probably just would have said something aggressive and German about like, “well, why did you get lost in the first place?” So, so I was, you know, on this hill, crying, very slowly walking back up the mountain until about 20 minutes later when my mom finally came down.

And that traumatized me for years, but I finally I finally, you know, got back on my skis and kept, kept going. and now I like skiing again, but it was certainly an experience. And I learned two things from that. One is to pay attention to where you're going when you're skiing, and two, is that you can always count on your mom to come find you.

Thank you.

Joel Dresang: That was Gabriela Swistara, who told that story at a 2024 story slam with the theme lost. Hey, Kim, how about some ultra shorts?

Kim Shine: I would love to do some UltraShorts. And if you guys don't know when you go to a slam, you can write a little short, little, little story like 30 seconds or less and the host reads it on stage.

Joel Dresang: I have one right here. I relate to this very much. It’s from Molly. “12 years ago, my baby sons led me back to playgrounds. I had forgotten how much I loved to swing. To this day, when I need to feel a surge of giddy freedom, I find myself the oldest kid in the schoolyard.”

Kim Shine: Oh yeah.

Joel Dresang: Swinging.

Kim Shine: That is so nice.

Joel Dresang: That was my jam when I was that four-year-old self, right?

Kim Shine: Did you ever flip off the swing?

Joel Dresang: Oh, sure. Yes.

Kim Shine: A couple of my friends have, you know, 4 or 5 year-olds and stuff and so go to the park and I think about trying to flip off the swing at my age now and no, no, not going to do it. So, tempting though. This is from Jeannie. “When I was little, my mom used to make peanut butter cookies from scratch and taught me how to make them with her.

Now, every time I eat a peanut butter cookie, I think of the time we spent together.”

Joel Dresang: Here's an UltraShort from anonymous. “One day I had a vivid memory pop out of the blue about a little pony that I had as a little girl. It was my favorite toy, and it was lost forever. I texted my mom to ask which pony it was. She replied that she didn't remember. A few weeks later, I get a package in the mail.”

“Guess what? It was My Little Pony Moonbeam from 1983. My inner child was thrilled.”

Kim Shine: Oh, so much excitement. This is from Marissa. “There was a lot of shouting in my house as a kid that scared me. Now I'm trying my best to make sure my house is peaceful, but it's hard. Sometimes we learn things from our parents, and we try to change as adults.”

Joel Dresang: Here's an UltraShort from anonymous. “I come from a painful family. Alcohol, drugs, codependency, abuse. My legacy is breaking these generational curses and passing on love and joy and money for therapy.”

Kim Shine: Nice. Okay, our next inner child story comes from Jillian Beaster. Jillian offers the perspective of a young woman who is leaving childhood and anticipating what she will miss as she goes off to college. Here's Jillian.

Jillian Beaster: Thank you. My name is Jillian. I'm a 17-year-old senior in high school at Shorewood High School, and recently I've been through the college application process, and now I'm to the point where I'm actually being admitted, which is the definition of bittersweet. It's nice because I've lived in Shorewood my whole life, and so it'll be exciting to kind of broaden my horizons.

But I've been thinking a lot about my brother recently because we're two years apart. I'm 17, he's 15, and we shared a room until I was probably either eight through ten, I can't quite remember. And so, we grew up very close. We were practically inseparable. We still are. And saying that might be surprising because we're both teenagers and teenagers...

You know, they're kind of unpredictable and maybe not themselves unless they haven't figured that out yet. But I figured myself out. I think. I know that's probably going to change. I've been told, as I've been mentioning college, so, you know, we'll see about that. I'll come back in a few years and let you know. But my brother, a few years ago, what really stood out to me about our connection was- he was probably around the same age I was probably ten and he was eight.

Maybe a little difference in that, but it was his first time at a summer camp, and it was Camp Minikani. And it was his...maybe actually, he was a little older because it was two weeks away, which was new. And like I said, we shared a room. We were practically inseparable. And so, I was- I couldn't imagine two weeks without seeing my little brother following me everywhere, which, you know, I've come to adore.

But so it was really hard, like sending him away. It was very emotional. It didn't quite hit me until a week in when. I don't know, we just wouldn't talk. We wouldn't. Of course we wouldn't talk. There was no communication at all. and so, I was missing our little jokes. I was missing our inside jokes.

I was missing our handshakes. And then what really frustrated me too was that my mom went to pick him up halfway through because he had to do a baseball tryout, and I wasn't able to see it because I had to do something with, like, other family members. And so, I missed my opportunity to see him. And so then when the two weeks were up, I remembered the drive there.

I remember just looking out the window, just, you know, imagining what he could have been doing and worrying that he would have fun without me and wondering what friends he's made. And then so the whole drive there, I was just, you know, very antsy, very antsy. The music, like it was just dead silent. I was so in my head.

And then I remember Camp Minikani does this kind of interesting thing where they group everyone together and they do these chants and, you know, whoever chants the loudest wins whatever. They get a good pat on the back. and I remember seeing him, my family and I gathered around, and we were watching him, but it was obvious that he couldn't see us, and he was obviously looking for us.

He was scanning. I could see his eyes going up and down. And then I will never forget the look on his face when he his eyes saw us. And when we met eyes again, and he just seemed like everything- Just like a breath of fresh air. A weight was lifted off his shoulders. Because he's not one to be away either.

I'm not. And that's another college conversation. But just the moment we locked eyes, it just felt so much better. And just- I remember hugging him and just feeling like, okay, he's back. I can go back to my normal life, and he can go back to his, because all that outdoor camping and everything's not quite his style. And so, I'm glad that he wanted to spend time with me to make up for that two weeks.

And so, we're very close. Still have been. I mean, I think this is actually his sweatshirt, which might be a little- I don't know, but it's nice. So yeah. And I don't know, I love him so much. And now going off to college, I know that we'll still be in contact because for some reason, in my head, I feel like I'm just never going to see anyone again when I go off to college.

But there's Thanksgiving break. There's winter break there. Spring break. There's summer. There's so many more breaks than high school. And so, it'll be fine. And I'll. I'll be. Yeah, I'll be far enough where I can have my own life, but close enough where I can see his prom, see his graduation. Everything that he's seen for me, I can be there for him.

So, I love my brother.

Kim Shine: That was Jillian Beaster, who told her story at an Ex Fabula-Experience back in 2023. Now, Jillian also happened to include Ex Fabula in a documentary that she made on storytelling for a high school journalism project. Go, Jillian. Okay, Joel. So, would you like to do some UltraShorts?

Joel Dresang: More UltraShorts, please?

Kim Shine: Yes. This one here is from anonymous. “My brother came home for three weeks. Growing up. We were close. We played together and after he went to college, it felt like we were separated. When he came home, felt like we were kids again. I miss him.”

Joel Dresang: Here's an UltraShort from Bella. “I was always a sad kid, but on the inside, I told myself that I had to be special, that my sadness is special. Today I remind myself that you don't have to be damaged to be good enough to be loved and to love. My depression still creeps like a dark shadow on the wall.”

“It's a wave. But I'm here and I wrote this. So, this has to mean something.” Our fourth inner child story comes from Nicole Acosta. Nicole tells about the memory of an unaffordable treat she craved as a child, and how it reminds her as a parent of the sacrifices her parents made for her. Here's Nicole.

Nicole Acosta: I wasn't planning on telling a story today, but I thought, why not? And so today my story is actually a little bit about my childhood. And then, kind of ties into being a mother now. And so, my parents are, immigrants from Mexico, and they came here, younger. But then obviously, it's very difficult to find jobs when you're an immigrant.

And so, my mom, for the most part, stayed at home, and raised me and my younger brother, but my dad would work at jobs such as, places like tanneries, things like that. And so, we actually grew up extremely poor and, you know, my parents would tell us stories about surviving a whole month off of liverwurst and bread.

And then there was a story. There's a story that stays with me, and it has stayed with me my whole entire life. And that's- I was two years old, and we were walking past a McDonald's. And at the time, a McDonald's ice cream cone cost a quarter. And I was crying to my parents that I wanted an ice cream cone, and they couldn't afford to get me an ice cream cone.

It was only a quarter. And so, that story, like they, when they can't even tell me that story without crying themselves because it was just a really, like a situation they never wanted to be in. So, that story has stuck with me throughout my life. And so, now then, I'm a mother, and I have, I have an eight-year-old and I have a 17 year old, and he's about to turn 18 himself.

But, you know, when immigrants come to the country, most of the time it's to provide better opportunities for their kids. And so, I was the type of child that was pretty rebellious. I was an artist, and my brother was straight a, he went on to become a doctor himself. And, I was not like that.

So, I was I was turning into the, the child that was opposite of what my parents wanted. And so, but, after years of figuring out who I was and taking wrong turns left and right and becoming a young mother myself, I, you know, finished college, and then went on to have a career that I love.

And, it might not have been exactly like how I planned it, but-I always kept in mind my parents sacrifices. and that's kind of how I ended up, you know? Not, you know, I guess- what I'm just trying to say is that my parents sacrifices helped me become the mother that I am now to my kids so that they never have to experience, like, what my parents experienced.

And what I did when I was young. and so hopefully, hopefully my kids, you know, will understand that as well later in life.

Joel Dresang: That was Nicole Acosta, who told her story at a virtual StorySlam in 2020 with the theme Reimagining childhood.

Kim Shine: You know, when I think about the sacrifices that my parents made, I definitely was not- I mean, I was always grateful to them, but I don't think I really understood until now. You know, in life that they're people and they brought you into this world because they wanted you to be here. Speaking of, you know, my story brought me here because they wanted me to be here.

And they definitely had to put things aside, right? For me to get what I, what I wanted and what I needed. And that's, that's love.

Joel Dresang: I yeah. And I think that's one of the, and like, myths of growing older is right. You understand that they did make sacrifices for you, and they were doing things for you that you didn't necessarily appreciate at the time.

Kim Shine: And, you know, you have children. And so, I- I'm hoping that when and if I do, then my kids go easy on me, like I'm doing the best I can.

Joel Dresang: Just wait ‘til you get older. You'll appreciate it. Yeah.

Kim Shine: Right. Well, our final inner child story comes from Greg Marshall. Greg shares how his relationship with his younger self has helped him contend with his grown-up challenges. Here's Greg.

Greg Marshall: 2016 was the beginning of a really hard time for me. I was driving to work one day, and my hands were on the steering wheel, and I noticed that one of my hands was shaking. And I was so busy that I almost tried to ignore it, but it kept happening, and I had to recognize that my body was trying to tell me something.

Something wasn't right. Anxiety. I dealt with it with drivenness. Just came to the end of myself. Got sick, medication reacted to my body bad. I got really sick, panic attacks started, and what settled in was a depression at times, like a very heavy, wet blanket that it just when it was on me, I couldn't take it off and I was so afraid of how what was happening inside of me would impact my wife and my four little girls at home.

That on the way home from work, I would shut off the radio and just recite to myself over and over again, “be kind, be lighthearted, be helpful.” And i’d pull in the garage. And I would walk up to the back door, and I'd stand outside the back door and “be kind, be lighthearted, be helpful” and not open the door.

And I would do everything I could to be those things. But this one night my wife noticed something wasn't right and she- she said, “are you okay”? And I just hugged her and started crying because I wasn’t. And I stepped back and I said, “I don't know what's wrong, but my mind isn’t working right. I don't trust it and I need help, but I'm afraid to tell you that because it's going to cost money to see a counselor.”

She said “of course get help!” First session with the counselor. I sat down and I was like, okay, I need to know if I'm developing a brain disorder. Here's everything happening now. Here's everything that's happened in my past, and here's everything I'm thinking about, about the future. Let's sift through this and figure some things out. Little by little, we're untangling.

He's giving me insights into my brain, into my body, into my spirit. There's this beautiful thing happening. And when, after several months, I said, “So what's my issue, like my biggest thing, what do I really need to work on?” Because I was excited. We're gaining ground. And he said, “you have no idea how to connect with yourself”. And I said, “what does that mean?”

And he said, exactly. So, later that day I'm walking through these woods and I'm thinking about this, “connect with myself. What does that mean?” And all of a sudden, I intuitively started talking to myself. But it wasn't me in the present. It was like me as a little kid. It was almost like I was walking through the woods and there was a child standing by a tree, and I realized that it was me.

And I walked up to him like it was meant to be. And I started saying things that I had no idea I had been waiting to say. And I said to me, hey, I know how you’re feeling. I know the questions you have. I know what's happened to you. And I want you to know we're okay and I'm proud of you.

It was like I was learning to tell me that I was looking out for him from now on. Well, I got excited. So, every conversation I have at a coffee shop, a lunch business, whatever it is, I sit down with somebody. Within ten minutes, I would ask them, so do you have a- “how's your relationship with your younger self”?

Half the people were really confused. Half of them were intrigued. But one woman had this amazing response. So, I ask her that question “how's your relationship with your younger self?” And she said, “oh, I have a great relationship with my younger self.” And I said, “why do you know what I'm talking about?” And she said, “well, I had a counseling session once and my therapist asked me to imagine my happy place, and I saw myself on a blanket in the mountains by a lake.”

“And I looked down and I saw that I was stroking the cheek of my younger self, comforting her”, and I was like, whoa, that's it. And she said “yes. But I turned around, and I saw my older self, doing the same thing for me.” And I walked out of that conversation, and I was wondering, “what would older Greg say to me right now?”

And I imagine it would be something like, hey, I know what you're feeling. I know what questions you have. And I know what's happened to you. And I want you to know we're going to be okay. And I'm proud of you. And I can tell you right now we're doing great. Thank you.

Kim Shine: That was Greg Marshall. He told his story at a 2024 Ex Fabula StorySlam with the theme Seeking Joy. Greg tells us he has used insights from his story to help individuals and organizations move forward by loving where they are.

Well, Joel, unfortunately, that is all the time we have for this episode of Real Stories MKE. But don't you guys worry Ex Fabula has been at this since 2009, so there are more audio and video stories available at exfabula.org.

Joel Dresang: Yes, the Ex Fabula-website lists upcoming storytelling workshops and StorySlams. Check it out. Maybe we'll see you at an event, and maybe you'll even share one of your stories. You can also connect with Ex Fabula on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok and listen to more Real Stories MKE wherever you get podcasts.

Kim Shine: So, thank you to everyone who makes this program possible, including Ex Fabula staff, the storytellers producer JJ Draper and audio engineer Sam Woods.

Joel Dresang: Thanks, Sam, for Real Stories MKE, I'm Joel Dresang.

Kim Shine: And I'm Kim Shine, remember, everyone has stories worth sharing. Join us in sharing yours.

The hosts of "Real Stories MKE" are Joel Dresang and Kim Shine.