There’s something about “growing up” that seems to suck the joy and the wonder out of life… and I don’t like it. I don’t like the idea that in order to be adults, that we need to be dull, watered-down versions of our young selves.
So… I’ve been thinking about kids and their many qualities… and I came up with a few qualities that I think most of us have lost as we’ve grown older. And… I sorta think we need to work at re-claiming them.
Kids are honest. They’ll tell you straight. The younger the child – the more honest he’ll be. The older we humans get, the less honest we become.
Most grown-up conversations involve large amounts of brain-power as we carefully sift through the honest thoughts inside our heads in order to ensure that they don’t actually come out of our mouths. We’ve come to understand this as diplomacy… or being “diplomatic”.
Politicians make an art form out of diplomacy. They tell such beautifully worded lies. Come to think of it – most adults have the mastered the art of bullshittery. Whether it’s the lies we tell to keep ourselves out of trouble… or the lies we tell in order to avoid falling out of favour with someone else… or even the lies we tell ourselves.
As per the Billy Joel song: “Honesty is such a lonely word”…
Unless you’re a kid, of course.
Because kids are still wonderfully honest. They’ll tell you straight.
“Mommy! I made such a big poo, it made me cry!”, they’ll say… or… “Why’s that lady’s boobs so big?” (loudly asked in supermarket queue)… or “My penis was so angry this morning!” or “I’m upsetted. You’ve made me upsetted. Now I’m not going to speak to you”… or “You’re a fat mommy. But I don’t mind that you’re a fat mommy. People come in all shapes, hey?”
Ask an adult for an opinion on something and you’ll get a carefully measured, politically correct, diplomatic response.
Ask a kid for their opinion – and you will know exactly where they stand.
Kids play. It’s what kids do. Somehow, as adults, we seem to have lost the ability to play.
Which – I think – is such a pity.
I remember this dawning on me a couple of years ago. Morgan was wearing a pair of new, white shorts that her grandparents had given her and we were at a park in Johannesburg. The park had steep, grassy embankments – and Morgan had found a piece of cardboard and had decided that she wanted to slide down the embankments on her bum.
She had a wonderful time, sliding on the cardboard… sliding off the cardboard and rolling down the hill on her own… and, of course, ending up precariously close to a small mud pool nearby.
As she slid (for about the second or third time) – I found myself calling out to her: “Okay, enough now, Morgan!”
She stopped, turned and looked at me quizzically and asked: “But why, Mommy?”
“Because you’re getting your new shorts very dirty!” I auto-barked…
“But, why can’t I get the shorts dirty?” she asked.
There was something about the way she asked the question that stumped me. She wasn’t being precocious – she genuinely wanted to know what was wrong with getting the shorts dirty.
And, you know what – I couldn’t answer her question.
Dirty shorts? Big deal! That’s why we have a washing machine at home! Is a bit of dirt and mud really the end of the world?
I immediately realised that I was responding automatically… and creating the same, meaningless, stupid rules – as an adult – that I had heard as a kid. It was all so… robot like. As though this is what adults do: adults tell kids to shut up and not make a mess. As a kid, I had been told to shut up and not to make a mess… and now, as the grown-up, it was my turn to do the same.
Immediately, I thought: “What am I doing??” – and then I said to Morgan: “You are right. There is nothing wrong with getting your shorts dirty. They can always be washed. Don’t worry… you can carry on sliding”.
And she did.
A few months ago, while we were staying with our Kelsey friends… we decided to push the trampoline right next to the swimming pool so that kids could bounce themselves directly in to the pool. They were having so much fun… squealing, laughing… and eventually, it became too much for me. I had to do it too!
And so I climbed on the trampoline (fully clothed)… bounced myself as high as I could, and dove into the pool.
And I thought to myself: “Why don’t I do this more regularly?”
Usually – the parents watch from a polite distance while the kids play… but, I think we’re missing out. I think we need to join in occasionally… whether it’s jump on the jumping castle… slide down the bubble-slide… climb some trees… fly some kites… or build some sandcastles.
I think we should play more. 🙂
3. GET DIRTY!
And speaking of play… and getting dirty whilst playing…
I don’t know what it is about us (grown-ups) that we’ve become so ridiculously stupid about dirt and getting dirty. Somewhere, we learned that it was very, very important to be clean. Clean and scrubbed at all times. Clothes should not get dirty… WE should not get dirty.
And I think that a lot of this anti-dirt mentality causes us to miss out on a lot of fun.
When it’s soooo important to look a certain way – we miss out on adventures! Like women who don’t want to get their hair wet… or break a nail… or, god-forbid, to leave the house without make-up…
My cousin, Clare, is the one adult I know… who simply ignores these rules.
Clare owns a restaurant… and she lives in a wildlife reserve. She scoops up ice-cream-and-snot-covered kids for big hugs… she rescues dogs… she feeds people lots of delicious food…. at the end of the day, you’ll always find her with smears of SOMETHING on her clothing. Dog slobber… child vomit… pasta sauce… but – gasp! – guess what she does? She goes for a shower and chucks the dirty clothes in the laundry.
I mean, really – is it that hard?
Kids are dreamers and they aren’t afraid or embarrassed to dream BIG. They have a positive outlook on life and are ready and willing to tackle whatever comes their way.
Morgan has already told me (in fine detail) about her plans for the big hotel she wants to own (and all the kid-friendly activities she’ll have on offer).
Joah has decided that he wants to make films with Nick. And build a spaceship.
Kids aren’t afraid of big dreams. They’ll talk about being astronauts or space travellers… or how they’ll feed all the hungry children… or rescue all the abandoned animals. They talk about how they’re going to FIX the world… how they’re going to make sure that everything changes… that everything gets better.
Then, of course, they grow up…. and become “realists”… and leave their big, beautiful dreams behind. 🙁
Nick and I have travelled to some pretty dismal areas in some poverty-stricken parts of the world. We’ve been to places where the living conditions are so shocking that it’s difficult to comprehend how anyone manages to survive at all. And still… playing amongst the filth… the open sewers… the pigs… the shacks… are children. And they’re laughing… teasing… joking… playing… with their friends.
Children have a way of finding the silver lining to every cloud.
I really think that we, as adults, have much to learn in that regard. We seem to have become so cynical… so jaded… so negative. And I think that’s such a pity.
When I was a kid, I used to laugh so hard that I’d pee in my pants. I’d do this regularly – and especially when Cousin Clare was around. There was so much about the world that was fun and funny.
I don’t laugh anywhere near as much any more… and I haven’t pee’d my pants for many years either. Maybe it’s time to visit Clare again.
6. CURIOSITY and an OPENNESS to LEARN NEW THINGS
- “Why are the Chinese people’s eyes so squinty? Can they see properly?”
- “Why is the sea salty?”
- “How did the trees grow when the dinosaurs lived?”
- “Why is poo brown?”
I love how kids aren’t scared of asking questions. They’re not embarrassed – they have a natural desire to learn and understand. And they’re open. They don’t have to be right about something. They’re open to learn… to understand… to change their minds.
Many adults, however, feel as though they have life figured out. They have the answers… they know the truth. I know many grown-ups who hold very stubborn, closed-minded views on everything.
You don’t find that kind of closed-minded stubbornness amongst children… and it’s one of the things I enjoy most about the company of kids.
7. TAKING RISKS
As I write this blog, Joah is climbing on top of some monkey bars. The monkey bars are designed for children to swing underneath them… but no, Joah wants to crawl on the top. He wants to see if he can make it from one end of the track to the other… without any help.
The monkey bars are high off the ground, and if he falls – he could hurt himself. But – it’s a risk he’s prepared to take.
Kids aren’t afraid yet. They aren’t full of fears… and gloomy predictions… and what-if’s.
While I think that caution has it’s place – I can’t help but wonder how much we shoot ourselves in the foot when it comes to living the kind of life we really WANT to live… because we’re scared of “The Risks”.
The greatest rewards… and the great endeavours… and the great journeys – all REQUIRE a level of risk.
Kids understand this.
Adults?…. not so much.
8. NOT CARING about what OTHER PEOPLE say about them… or what OTHER PEOPLE think about them…
Sadly… this is mostly true for young children. As soon as kids start attending school and start being exposed to bullying and cliques and the cool crowd and the in crowd… they start to the learn the Art of Judgement – and the social implications for not “fitting in”.
Slowly, it becomes important to fit in and to be like everyone else. Slowly, it becomes important to look a certain way… dress a certain way… wear your hair in a certain style…and… slowly but surely, those who are different… those who don’t fit in… those who look different… find themselves ousted from the in-crowd.
BUT… on the bright side, I love how free children are (before they start attending school). I love how they are completely uninhibited by their bodies… they’ll run around completely starkers (given half the chance)… they don’t care about what anyone thinks about them.
They’ll dance made-up dances… and dress up in crazy outfits… and blow snot bubbles out their nose… and offer their loud opinions… and sing enthusiastically… and just BE themselves… without it ever occurring to them that they should worry about what other people might say or think about them.
What a pity that so many of us have lost the art of just being ourselves… that we hide our uniqueness and our quirks and our oddities and our flaws… because we worry (for whatever reason) about what other people might say about us… or what other people might think about us.
If I think about it too much, it makes me rather sad. 🙁
9. THEY DON’T SEE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN US
Kids… (and especially the younger ones) are remarkably accepting of others. They don’t care what you look like… they’re not worried about your age / race / gender / religion / culture / background… whatever! If you’re friendly to them – they’re friendly back. They see people as equal. Everyone is the same. Nobody gets special treatment.
It’s only as they grow older, that they slowly learn how to judge others. We (the adults) teach them who is “acceptable”… and who is not acceptable. Our racism rubs off on them. Our judgemental ways rub off on them. We teach them to value others based on what they look like… or what they have… instead of just valuing for who they are (a person – just like everyone else).
A kid couldn’t care less if the Queen of England… or the world’s most famous… or wealthiest person was in the room. They’d grin… or cry… or play regardless. They don’t see the differences between us. People are just… people in their eyes.
So there you have it. 9 sounds like an awkward number though. Can you think of any more lessons that we – as grown-ups – could learn from the kidlets? 🙂