“Hand me a pirate head?”
“Sorry. Still no pirate….do you see moveable legs?”
“Nope…hey where’s Sofia?”
“Shoot …hold on.”
We’ve done it again, out kidded our kiddo and lost her in the Lego store. We find her seconds later gleefully picking through the other side of the minifigure display fiddling with an astronaut-in-progress, She and I lock eyes and smile. “We’re good.”
A clerk next to us started scooping leftover yellow heads, painted torsos, and tiny swords back into their respective bins. “I think it’s cool you guys play with your kid, most adults fiddle with their phones while their children choke on these,” he said, holding up a skeleton torso, and walked back to the counter.
My husband and I simultaneously cringed. Not at the fact that we’d momentarily lost track of the aforementioned daughter, but at the simultaneous, shared revulsion at the word adult.
See the word adult has always made me a little uncomfortable. I feel like I’m performing adulthood; I’m not an adult, I’m adulting. As a fully functioning, bill-paying member of society, this term probably applies, but it certainly doesn’t fit my identity.
Perhaps I reject it because it doesn’t seem like something anyone would want to do in the first place. Adulthood to me has always been when you stop laughing and start grousing. When you sell your Star Wars figurines to payoff college debt, or forgo a long walk to cut grass and do laundry on a mild summer afternoon. In short, it’s when you start being normal another term I actively reject.
So, I avoid it. I ride on shopping carts, collect geeky t-shirts, and walk blissfully in the rain, putting adulthood off until another day, and assuming that someday I’ll be over all this nonsense, be contentedly normal, and finally, all grown up.
Or Maybe Not…
Perhaps adulthood doesn’t have to be the time where you put your joy in storage to someday pass down to your children. Changing the nature of adulthood only requires that we actively retain the parts of childhood that make us happy without losing the growth that maturity requires. If we are creative, aware and awestruck daily, we are doing what kids do best. Kids let themselves be enthusiastic about ridiculous things. Kids let themselves laugh so hard it hurts, and love so openly it fills them to bursting. Kids are chaotically artistic, creating castles out of cardboard boxes. Rather than keeping us immature, it seems these elements of childhood would help us grow and keep growing through the fullness of our lives.
Luckily, our culture is starting to make room for play. Whimsical stores sell beautiful paper for journaling, coloring books fill our living rooms, and friends are spending more time escaping puzzle-filled rooms and playing complicated board games. We’re also reclaiming the right to be artists, no matter the type. I know a score (or a skien) of knitters a phalanx of photographers, and a flock of writers who carve time out to practice their crafts just because it makes them happy. That ability to embrace creativity with wild abandon is the thrill of childhood, and we’re reclaiming it more each day.
So…Do I Have to Quit My Job?
No. Playful adulthood is also about finding a way to craft a life less ordinary in any way that works for you. Sadly, clickbait articles make it seem like the only avenue to #bestlife is a complete upending of your status quo. You don’t have to quit your accounting gig to start an artisanal vegan knitting company to be happy. You can be a project manager who loves splashing in puddles. You can be a programmer who paints, or a teacher who writes! There are many paths to joy, and what makes you laugh, makes you whole.
Often, when I present my playful manifesto, the response is, “what about global warming, school shootings, and poverty? The world is a dumpster fire…frown more!” However, this kind of life does not ignore the world’s problems; it conquers them. Kids are superheroes after all. Being creative and playful can fuel us to keep fighting those very adult, and very important fights for equality that deserve our passionate dedication. Even small acts of creativity can illustrate our agency and when we have agency, we can end the helpless resignation common in our daily dialogue.
So, rather than assuming that adulthood is the abandonment of joy for responsibility, let’s embrace a different definition, where it’s okay to get in the ball pit, knit a stuffed Maleficent, watch old movies, and sing in the rain as long as we also channel that energy into leaving the world better than we found it. So, be childish and embrace joy, but don’t lose your child in the Lego store, that’s just embarrassing.