Heading into a restaurant the other afternoon, meeting up with some friends, and one friend’s young son, I mentioned to the waitress in passing, as she gathered up the kid coloring sheet and crayons to provide, that it’d be nice to be able to get that excited about simple things again. I meant this in a kind of grouchy old man way—after all, it’s been a long time since I could be satisfied with a dot-to-dot of a frog. I was a little taken aback by the reaction of the waitress, she near swooned as she got this faraway look in her eyes and gushed, “Oh my god, I’d do anything to be a kid again.”
I shouldn’t be surprised by this, I suspect that many people have this same fantasy, and I’ve been rather surprised to see so many Youtube videos and behaviors at a wide variety of events seeming to celebrate nothing more than adults desperately behaving like babies. I was informed by an adult friend, though a good number of years junior to me, that everyone wants to be a kid. So it turns out I’m in a deep minority when it comes to this simple lifetime occupation: I’ve been seeking to be an adult my whole life. Not only that, I’ve been seeking other adults to do adult things with. No wonder I’m frustrated, I live in a culture devoted to maintaining perpetual childhood.
I was reminded of this recently as I saw a kind of Norman Rockwell style illustration of a plump tot kneeling at some sort of alter with hands steepled in prayer, eyes shut, lips a bit fish-pursed. People in my range of friends on social media, perhaps two or three times separated were gushing about it. I dismissed it as a mommy’s unshakable affection for the tot, but I swoon twisted around it and realized that this isn’t a cute image of a child that all adults can relate to as offspring, inspiring love and caring in normal adults, but, that insidious desire to be that child. And moreso, to identify as that innocent, know-nothing at the feet of the presumed granddaddy of us all, God, or Jesus, or Allah, or whatever these folks prefer to think of as their great sky-lord / daddy. And I have to say I find the idea disgusting as well as potentially harmful to all of us. Granted I may be over-blowing the whole “I’d do anything to be a kid again” motif, but we don’t need a world of kids. We need a world of sober, sagacious adults. I can’t help but see the scuttling out of the light to hide under a blanket of baby-dom as a sign of futility and copping out. Not to mention that the actual children occupying the world right now need us to act like wise elders to preserve for them a chance to . . . well, hopefully not fuck things up royally, though there’s little reason to be terribly optimistic about it even if we all did pitch in as grown ups and do our part to pass on a better world.
Two things occupy my bitter brain, 1. belief in an omniscient and personal god has the potential to spoil adulthood by removing the believer from responsibility. Responsibility is a key feature of adults. As a child explores and learns, the little ones are running back to the safety and wisdom of the parents. If those parents are little more than aged babies themselves, I see nothing but a perpetuation of fear and loathing as prevalent as the flu. 2. belief in a god, or gods has the potential to create in us a worldview that our activities are not damaging to the world. Most of our climate change deniers are either in the business of polluting the Earth, or are folks who want to imagine that their god would not let such a thing happen. Both outlooks are potentially dangerous. Lastly, and I won’t travel far down this road, religion in general is a tribalism. While the best of the philosophy has been presented as uniting all people in love and understanding, most often religion in practice actually encourages ferocity and exclusion. A poll on an NPR show this morning discussed how religious folks only want same religion immigrants (as if that were possible, there’s some 4600 or so documented different denominations of just Christianity! And as far as sects below that, good luck getting a count.) While I’ve heard of liberal Christians, I’m still not so sure I’ve ever encountered them, nor seen much of their influence.
Being an adult is tough. It hurts. It means admitting errors, and taking the responsibility to fix such things. Ovid pointed out that worry is a terribly destructive occupation, and that instead of worry we should endeavor to be patient and very tough. We can’t control everything, but we can respond as best as possible. We can’t fix the past errors and horrors of our world, but we can seek to do better moving forward. Which is why when so many progressive fixes get undone by a growing mean underbelly of a culture, it becomes a menace and a concern (patience, toughness). None of us want to see racism and a winding back of the clock to a period in our history that embarrasses us and potentially harms others. The idea that a know-nothing clod is “shaking-up” the staid and lousy political system, by being an outsider, is a popular mythology. We have piles of senators and representatives who are basically children. We have huge swaths of people preferring ignorance to understanding. We have fear instead of knowledge. We have an industry of rapid and in our faces media dedicated to bringing us every last scrap of bad news possible. Even when, in reality, a single buffoon screaming at someone, or getting into a fist-fight affects almost no one. When the video is going to be a fire, or a piece of paper with legislation on it that potentially changes our society—bet on the fire being broadcast. Media knows what we want to see, and manipulates us emotionally despite the fact that it is purely without a wider meaning.
We are animals who get excited by violence, conflict, sex and babies. Even when these items are of little influence in the overall scope of how we live our daily lives you can be sure the information generated for you will be based on those items.
A woman I worked with years ago explained to me that she loved eating those little snack trays you get at Walmart (and other places) that have the fake cheese and crackers and little bit of processed sandwich meats because it brought her back to playing video games on the sofa with her grandma. Another buddy of mine hates all fruits (and likes damned few vegetables too) except he’ll sometimes force himself to eat a pear, because his grandpa suffered him to eat a pear, and it was a good memory to hang with grandpa. I enjoy adult time with my folks. I suppose I’m lucky (and sometimes unlucky) to have them as a grown man, so that I can both enjoy them in the light of adulthood, as well as enjoy the mild bickering that arises from philosophical differences. Perhaps that’s part of adulthood in that we should enjoy the differences, and that like Socrates, as presented by Plato, we should adult in smart discourse. Smart discourse is not always easy to get, however, as most folks are not trained in the art of stating a proposition and backing it with evidence and merits. Instead, they tend to state obvious opinions (mostly half-baked) and expect you to agree through a process of badgering and anger. This too is something we should appreciate, and learn to correct, and smilingly do so. Just responding with crotch kicks is unlikely to cause us any real rise in societal skill level-up.
In closing I’d just like to remark that my childhood was fine. I even had a pony for a while! And a cool .22 caliber rifle. I had miles of country, forests, and streams to wander, and bugs, salamanders, and turtles to play with. What I suffered from was a strong frustration with powerlessness. I was keenly aware that choices were not mine, and that things I wanted were forever out of reach. I felt the dominance of parents as a kind of over-lording force that I didn’t appreciate. My dad’s method of convincing you of his rightness was just to threaten you. I always despised that, and grew up with a strong sense of injustice in it. That injustice sense is alive and vibrant to this day. No authoritarian gets to make case based on position or threats.
So its time to buck up and dump the magical irresponsible world of childhood and embrace the power and wisdom of being grown people. I realize it’s hard, and that it’s tragic, and that it’s worrisome. But it is also beautiful, sexy, and full of capacity for participation if you can keep yourself awake late enough!