Recently, one of my friends mentioned to me that being a grown-up is no fun.
She’s right. Adulthood can be a mean cocktail of responsibility, mortality and self-doubt. Still, her comment makes my inner five-year-old cringe.
Why? Because that five year-old didn’t grow up to be disappointed by adult life. That five year-old grew up so that she could have whatever she wanted for dinner for the rest of her life.
When I was a kid, I felt that being able to choose your own dinner was one of the two big perks of adulthood. The other was being tall enough to reach things, like bowls and ice cream and gas pedals. These two benefits were extremely valuable to my young self, but they didn’t quite make up for the two big drawbacks of growing up, as I perceived them: A loss of imagination and the inability to enjoy Christmas.
I’m not sure why I thought grown-ups had no imagination, but I do remember overhearing, when I was about 10, an aunt telling an uncle that Christmas is more fun when there are small children around. He agreed and called Christmas a holiday for children. My most recent cousin at the time was three, and was just understanding the concept of Santa Claus. I had recently stopped believing, so this piece of dialogue was horrifying to me.
I thought Christmas was a holiday for everyone, regardless of age. Wasn’t there a Christmas carol about kids from one to 92? Was that song a lie? And if Christmas carols are lies, who can you trust? And also – do adults only have kids so that they can vicariously enjoy Christmas and other holidays?
I resolved there and then to keep my imagination and love Christmas while enjoying the benefits of being tall and choosing my own dinner.
And then I grew up and became a wretched, miserable adult, because my child-self had not foreseen things like debt, long workdays, traffic jams and that I would continue to care about what other people thought of me.
I did 10 years like that, pretending to have fun when I wasn’t having fun, and putting off things I wanted to do until my never-ending list of things I had to do was complete. I’ve always eaten what I want for dinner, I’ve never been without imagination and I liked Christmas, but adult life still bored me.
Then a few years ago, I decided to start having more real fun. Adults don’t play enough. So I decided to give myself a little time each day for some free play. That sounds a little creepy, maybe, but I’m not talking about dolls or trucks or blocks. (Although I’m not gonna lie – I could rock some Legos. I think people should have Legos and beer parties, actually.) Playtime could be rough-housing with the dog, or a free writing period, sketching or reading a fashion magazine while shopping in my own closet. Strangely enough, play is almost always creative. I’m finding that most of the things I consider to be play end up being productive in some way rather than a waste of time.
There’s still a lot of stress. There are still bills and there’s still self-doubt. Some days, I drink deep from the miserable well of responsibility and mortality. But it’s not so bad, because I know that at some point, I get recess.
I also try to work at least one thing that I might have gotten yelled at as a child into each day. Because my five-year-old self also didn’t grow up to be good 24/7.