Kids are smarter than you.
When kids aren’t crapping their pants, exposing themselves in public or throwing temper tantrums because they’re not allowed to have candy five minutes before dinner, they’re smarter than you.
Not about everything.
I can run circles around my five-year-old son in academic contests.
“Hey dad! Do you know what 71+14 is!?!?”
He’s always so impressed when I give him the answer even though I could have answered “93,” and he wouldn’t know the difference.
“Hey dad! Do you know how to spell ‘antelope’?”
And even if I spelled “rhinoceros,” I’d probably get away with it.
He’s a sharp little dude. But he’s got a ways to go.
But I watch him.
Smarter than me.
What’s great about this is even if you’re not a parent, you can remember doing this, too. Or you see it in restaurants and parks and shopping malls.
The kids play.
Smarter than us.
They run. They scream. They squeal. They dance. They laugh.
That’s what delight looks like.
That’s what fun looks like.
That’s what happy looks like.
And that’s precisely what all of us want.
I Didn’t Want to Grow Up
At least, not once I got to college.
I still played.
It didn’t look quite like it did when I played with Star Wars, He-Man, and G.I. Joe action figures, turning my house into a different universe.
It didn’t look quite like it did when I spent hours mesmerized by The Legend of Zelda or Tecmo Bowl or Super Mario Bros. 3.
But I was playing. Always playing.
After dragging my feet in college, taking five years to graduate due to some career indecision and a whole bunch of partying, I was hired as a newspaper reporter at age 23 in a beach community near Tampa, Fla.
I’d been on a few trips to other places in my life, including Florida, but I was so saturated by the Midwest culture in which I grew up that I truly didn’t know it was different in other places.
When I moved to Florida, I thought it would be EXACTLY like what I had always experienced in Ohio, only it would be 85 degrees and sunny every day, while I drank beer and umbrella drinks on the beach jamming to live reggae music.
It wasn’t like that at all.
It was scary how different everything was. How far away I was from everything I knew and loved. It was time for me to grow up.
But I don’t want to grow up!
I wanted to play.
My girlfriend didn’t like that about me. It hurt her feelings, she said. And it made her question my maturity.
“We all have to grow up sometime,” she’d say.
You can’t get married and grow in maturity and have a happy and successful life if you’re partying with friends all the time!, the thinking seemed to be.
There’s no time for childishness. Not in the real world.
We need to be serious!
And go to work every day!
And pay our bills!
And do chores!
And take care of the lawn!
And keep the house clean!
Ehh. Maybe she’s right, I thought.
So, I stopped doing all those fun things.
I stopped playing.
And we got married.
I replaced the old games with new ones.
With poker. With movies. With music.
But the best times were still those long nights laughing with friends and having buzzed late-night sex.
I wonder if she thinks so, too.
Kids Know How to Play
But maybe you forgot.
Because I was in such a hurry to grow up. Because I was hell-bent on trying to make the woman I loved happy without ever stopping to wonder whether maybe she had it wrong.
Because how is all this growing up and being responsible working out for you?
Listen, I want you to pay your bills. I want you to go to work. And take care of yourself. And keep your house looking nice.
I’m not talking about neglecting responsibilities.
But, dammit, I AM talking about PLAYING.
Because this is bullshit. This rat-race game we’re all trying to play.
When did we all get brainwashed into believing this shit?
Who made the rule that in order to be an “adult,” you have to go work 40 hours a week in an office and tuck in your shirt and read biographies and not laugh at dick-and-fart jokes?
Because that rule is BULLSHIT.
I don’t want anything in this life but HAPPINESS for myself, my son, everyone we love, and all of the other people out there who crave happiness as well.
And I don’t think I always have to play by all these rules in order to achieve that. I’ve been playing by these rules for the better part of the past 15 years.
And what do I have to show for it?
A stack of bills, a stamped dissolution of marriage document, a part-time son and doing a bunch of things alone that I used to do with my wife.
It’s Time to Start Playing Again
We’ve gotta play.
I think this is one of the ways we’re gonna save ourselves.
Don’t you remember all the fun you used to have? And now you’re not having fun anymore. Sitting around doing “adult” things all time.
You know what? Fuck. That.
These rules are bullshit, and a bunch of us got brainwashed somewhere along the way. As if this was the only way to capture the “American Dream” or the spouse and 1.8 kids and the house in the suburbs.
I let other people make me feel guilty about the things that made me feel happy.
And now I feel shitty all the time UNLESS I’m doing all the things l love to do surrounded by people I love and who love me in return.
I’m so tired of feeling shitty.
And you must be, too. You must be. It’s so exhausting wearing that mask. Trying to play the role of mature adult and doing what you think everyone expects you to do rather than what you actually want to do.
I know what you want to do.
You want to feel happy.
Just like when we were kids. Running outside. Free. Innocent.
We had fun.
We were happy.
Those kids are pretty smart. Yours. Mine. The ones we see lighting up the darkness.
I think I’m ready to start playing again.
Wanna play too?
A special thanks to T at “This Is Not My World” for inspiring this post.