Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Child Is Father to the Jew

Quick note: Sorry, sorry, sorry for such a long dry spell, peeps. Life's been crazy and the computer died and ... oh, it's all so grown-up. Read on and you'll see what I mean. Meanwhile, Sera says thanks so much to all of you well-wishers. She hopes to post a broadside about her post-strike existence soon.

Simon here. A recent trip to the bosom of J's East Coast family involved, among other things, many, many layers of clothing and much time spent observing the nephews as they spiraled through the mood spectrum (infra-cranky to ultra-manic).

These two small maniacs stomped and sputtered, declaimed and dissembled, whined for juice, narrated improbable yarns about headless vampires and sperm-whale superhighways, erupted into ear-splitting conflagrations, petitioned for their parents' attention ("mommy ... mommy ... mommy ... mommy ... mommy ..."), announced that they are going to KILL me, recited impromptu shanties about poop and dinosaurs, offered their artwork, schoolwork and other handiwork for approval, demanded applause, melted into despairing tears at the world's unjust denial of their entreaties for chocolate milk or more TV, capered and gyrated with their underwear on their heads, provided updates on their flatulence, turned their noses up at pizza, attempted to yank out their mother's hair, apologized for aforementioned yanking and, in late-evening moments of sweet gentleness, rested their heads against a shoulder and whispered their love in a way that would incline all but the stoniest soul toward amnesty for their myriad offenses.

Somehow their parents manage not to be deranged by this daily onslaught. I doubt I could remain so steadfast, which is only one more reason I declined to board the reproduction express, though I do enjoy being an uncle.

Still, these nonstop kinder-antics (as well as my old friend Dan's chronicles of daddyhood on his brilliant blog, The Chucklehut) have been focusing my thoughts on what new-agey types might call child mind.

The contrasts between the explosive kid energy we observed during our visit and my daily ruminations are oddly revealing. I know I, too, was once a crazed tot who scrawled spaceships and played spy and imitated Groucho Marx's walk and interrupted my parents every 2.7 minutes with some rambling, homespun narrative. Now I spend most of my day writing and editing and pitching myself for more writing and editing and also accounting and going to the gym and going to the bank and filling out forms.

Indeed, if there were a single activity that could encompass what we generally regard as adulthood it most likely wouldn't be coitus or cocktails. It would be the filling out of forms.

I don't want to suggest that I'm unhappy with my life. Sure, I sweat to make ends meet. Recently my massive, customized PC collapsed like a stricken brontosaurus, leaving me to wonder if reams of vital life-data had been consigned to the vapor-heap of history. Still in all, the white-knuckle aspects of owning a business are cake next to the existential acid-burn of shlepping to some workstation cubicle and cowering every time the boss walks by.

But let's face it: Adulthood is a sham.

There. I said it.

It isn't that we graduate to maturity. It's that our child selves just play an increasingly less rewarding game of dress-up. We play the filling-out-forms game, at the expense of other forms of play. But that part of us that wants to write poems about pooping dinosaurs will never be vanquished, and will never stop yearning to be unleashed again. The child mind longs to do its thing.

Am I advising you to neglect all your grown-up responsibilities? Am I saying you should simply let all your bills go delinquent and your accounts lapse, stop answering the phone, throw all your stuff in a Spongebob commemorative tote and light out for the territories? You bet I am.

But you probably won't, and that's OK. I won't either. So here's a compromise. And what's more adult than that?

Every day, give that rambunctious inner toddler a good half hour. How you release the long-caged rugrat that is your eternal child self is utterly up to you, and I hope it doesn't involve short-circuiting the blender or throwing all of your tax forms in the pool. Maybe it's some kind of wild rumpus, or a quiet session with your crayons, or an epic throwdown between a dusty detachment of green plastic army men and seven headless Barbies.

But I guarantee you that when that half hour is up, your shamming adult self will feel more refreshed than a werewolf after a banquet of co-eds.

Tell me how you do it.