On Acting Like a Kid

“Am I too old to be doing this?” entered my mind several times that night, but I didn’t betray my self-consciousness to my husband, as we criss-crossed across Disneyland, bouncing with childish delight from candy station to candy station, filling our bags with candy and our hearts with joy. We weren’t costumed, but at Disneyland’s Halloween party that didn’t matter. And it didn’t matter that we’re in our early 40s and weren’t accompanying a child. That night, it was okay to laugh, to let go of the boring minutia of our very adult lives, and to just act like a kid.

We had flown to San Diego on an ambitiously scheduled vacation that included visiting family, celebrating my brother-in-law’s birthday, soaking up time with our 10-month-old nephew, spending two days at Disneyland, and making a personal appearance at the California-based adoption agency handling our adoption journey. It took grown-up planning, grown-up money, and grown-up know-how, but, as I flew back to my life in Washington, D.C., squished into my airplane row with my husband and mother-in-law, I was surprised to find myself pondering how much acting like a kid had been a part of my vacation.

We arrived in San Diego to find our infant nephew as cute, precocious, and beguiling as we left him six months earlier, if not more so. Everyone thinks their family’s baby is the sweetest, cutest, most precious thing on the planet, and I feel sorry for those folks, as clearly our family enjoys the best little baby in the world. Just like last visit, I feared at times that my husband would not let anyone else handle our nephew, magnetically drawn to hugging, cradling, and playfully jostling baby Bryce as he is.

It’s fun to watch normally straight-laced family members melt to puddles of yammering and blabber when faced with the pile of cuteness that is an infant. You see sides of loved ones you never knew existed, peeks behind our adult selves that we flash to all the world, at work, at home, online. If only for just a moment, the trivial seriousness of life is left behind as we revel in those bits of pure connection without pretense or duplicitousness.  I had arrived at my baby nephew’s home on the heels of two months of intense work and, unfortunately, a tad under the weather. But none of that mattered as I watched my husband smile and laugh and practically beam as he held our nephew. Just as wonderfully, launching my nephew into the air, carrying him around the room, and blabbering on like a 10-month-old myself was a fantastic antidote to all of the “important” work I had been undertaking.

A few days later, I found myself at Disneyland, trick-or-treat bag in hand, snaking around in candy lines behind 8-year-olds dressed as Pixar’s greatest hits, and, yet again, I was acting like a kid. Hoping for my favorite candy — Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups — to fall into my bag. Proclaiming “trick-or-treat” with gusto. And running onto rides such as It’s a Small World, Thunder Mountain, and Peter Pan — the ultimate boy who refuses to grow up. Among the doubts of age-appropriateness were other thoughts: isn’t this fun? shouldn’t I feel this way more often? why is this place so darn magical?

The next day, I arrived with very sore (but happy) feet at the adoption agency. The walls were covered with pictures of babies and toddlers and children wearing smiles with various number of teeth, as proud parents held them or stood in the background. The best pictures, though,were those of parents in the mix with their kids, be it blowing bubbles, hula hooping, or wearing funny hats. In other words, acting like a kid. We met with the lead attorney and several of the social workers, and our discussion proceeded to be very adult with talk of adoption trends, rules, and practices. All very necessary, all very warm. But none of it as sweet or meaningful as the thoughts of blanket forts, cartoons, or special stuffed animals. Is it a cliche, romanticized version of childhood and parenthood, for that matter? Of course. But, then again, adults think about things like that.

It’s not profound or novel to suggest that we could all stand to be less serious, more goofy, more playful. And right-thinking folks always do well to recognize there is a time and place for everything. But it’s certainly interesting to ponder how most of us spend our lives being a kid or trying to act like a kid via our children or grandchildren. Could it be the universe’s way of reminding us that the meaning of life isn’t so serious or complicated? That, perhaps, the answer is right before our eyes…spraying a water gun, hosting a tea party on plastic cups, or snuggling up for a nap with a favored blanket? A serious adult might write a blog post on that subject. Someone acting like a kid would probably just go color in their favorite coloring book.

On our final full day of vacation, as we drove back to San Diego to rejoin our family, my husband asked, “At what point do you think we will be too old to trick-or-treat at Disneyland?” I smiled and confidently proclaimed, “We’re a long way from there.”

I hope I’m right.

On Pastry Chefs and Bag Boys

My nephew just announced a major career change. Well, a major career goal change. Yes, he has abandoned the dream of being a zoo keeper, and, now, his sights are set on being a pastry chef. At nine years old, it’s unclear if this new professional interest will hold, but, honestly, the entire family is keeping fingers crossed. Hey, we like dessert.

My nephew’s recent announcement reminded me of my first career aspiration: grocery store bag boy. Sure, it’s a sexy job, with the the high drama of paper versus plastic and the feel-good moments of helping little ol’ ladies to their cars, but I wasn’t drawn to the bag boy business because of the glitz and the glamour. No, at the time I made my first career announcement, my uncle worked at the local grocery store, and, if it was good enough for him, it was good enough for me.

I guess I quickly moved on from my bag boy dreams. There was the doctor period, and I think I threw out marine biologist a time or two just for kicks. It sounded cool. By the time high school and college rolled around, though, I knew I wanted to be an attorney. I can’t recall even considering another option during my college days. It just seemed like a foregone conclusion, really.

Everyone has their “What do you want to be when you grow up?” story. Lots are littered with fireman, policeman, teacher, and astronaut. Fewer include drug dealer, hooker, sanitation worker, and dental hygienist. The point remains, though, that we really like to ask young people who they want to become. The question invites young people to share with us their view of the world, their sense of the possible, and their interests. It’s also a challenge, asking a young child to articulate a dream, to announce what they will make of themselves.

Why aren’t we asking adults these questions?

For those of us in middle age, the questions may focus less on the professional and more on the personal. What kind of person do you want to be? What adventures do you want to have? What about you can you change for the better? Beyond gimmicky self-help videos pitched on late night television, maybe we don’t spend enough time acknowledging that the process of becoming someone should never truly end. The final answer is not the title on the office door nameplate.

I recently came across a quote from self-help guru Robin Sharma: “Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.” Now, we don’t all have the luxury to drop everything, backpack across the planet, and blog about nature, tree frogs, and the meaning of life, reaching heretofore unknown levels of zen. Still, he’s on to something, and it scares the lover of routine and predictability heavily anchored deep in my soul. Still, I know life is about growing, learning, getting uncomfortable, and having new experiences. The times I’ve stepped way out of my comfort zone, like traveling to Central and South America, or moving to Washington, DC, for a personal and professional change, have easily been the most rewarding.

It’s not easy. We all like comfort, and I’ll fight any man that denies the perfection of a quiet winter night, tucked warmly away in one’s favorite reading chair, sheltered from the slings and arrows of the world. Still, as wonderful as that is, it’s not as awesome as the bravery of the nine year old declaring his intention to be a pastry chef. And, sure, my nephew may not know much about becoming a pastry chef, but the most important part is becoming someone. We could all spend less time being someone and more time becoming someone.