|Acting silly is too much fun to be only for the young.
January 7, 2013
I was walking through the parking lot on my way to the grocery store. A few paces in front of me were a preschool-aged girl accompanied by a woman who might have been her mother. The woman was doing what we grownups do, walking steadfastly toward the double entry doors with practiced, measured steps. I imagine that she, like me, had a long list of chores, and the grocery run was just one more stop to check off of an endless to-do list.
The little girl, however, was oblivious to such mundane motives or tasks. For her, the trip to the store was probably an exciting outing with a person she adored. Although she stayed close to her adult companion, the ponytailed lass pranced about with unbridled bliss. It looked more as if she was crossing a dance floor than a sidewalk. Her small body was a wiggly swirl of motion as she skipped, twirled and hopped her way into the store.
I followed behind, transfixed by the sight of such unleashed ebullience.
Little kids play. That’s what they do. Instead of moving in a straight line, they twist, whirl and weave their way through life. It’s what we expect of them and it’s good. But somewhere along the way, usually around the age of six or seven, children learn to behave. Social awareness kicks in and spontaneous expressions of unsuppressed joy diminish, if not entirely disappear. A proper sense of decorum seeps into their unconscious until they are consciously aware of what other people think.
The little girl I watched had not yet learned to restrict her motions. She was unaware of other people’s opinions. Her body retained the uncivilized exuberance of youth, free from commands to ‘stand up straight,’ ‘keep in line’ and ‘be quiet.’
I watched her and thought, “Why does it have to end? Why must we grow up to muffle our emotions and become so stiffly civilized?”
It’s an odd juxtaposition. Adults find kids at play adorable but consider such playfulness in adult behavior inappropriate. We watch children’s antics with nostalgic bemusement, wistfully recalling how we used to do that sort of thing when we were young but don’t do so anymore because now we’re grown up. Time has passed. We know better.
I wonder if we do.
When I encounter a child like the happy little girl enjoying her grocery store outing, I see what I’ve lost and realize it’s much more than youth. It’s the ability to be in the moment, to appreciate where I am and what I am doing. I’ve lost my joie de vivre, my playful enthusiasm.
That doesn’t mean I can’t find it again. I often do.
Observing children reminds me to be playful myself. I may not follow the little girl’s example and skip into the store, but when I’m leaving the market, I like to hop onto the shopping cart and ride my way back to the car. Sometimes I access my inner silly by stopping to pick up pennies (yes, I actually bend down when I see one and pick it up) or by pretending a curb is a balance beam and trying to walk its length without falling off (not as easy as you’d think). And if it’s raining when I come out of a store, I often slip off my shoes and splash in some puddles as I run back to my car.
These are just a few small ways I’ve found to reclaim the bliss of youth, to revisit the little girl inside me, my once playful self. As this New Year begins, instead of looking ahead, I’m going to look back. I’m going to continue trying to be a kid again if only for a few minutes at a time. In 2012, I hereby resolve to act silly. I resolve to have fun!