I don’t think I was ever a child, even when I was one. Sure, I must have been young once. I am sure I had a toddlerhood. I have the pictures to prove it. Somewhere around the age of five, though, I lost the kiddiness.
I think I was always a pretty old soul… serious, hyper-responsible, and perceptive. Even as a kid, I was not good at living in the moment. I tended to plan and think about what I would be doing years in advance. Instead of playing joyfully and discovering the richness of the world, I sort of just waited to grow up. I can remember being aware, even as a young child, that adults laughed at things children said and did. Now, I know that when a child causes an adult to laugh, it is often sweet and endearing. As a child, all I perceived was that I was being laughed at. And being laughed at seemed to be a very bad thing, indeed. The end result was that I kept a low profile and avoided doing anything that might provoke what I saw as ridicule. It is sad, but I feel like I waited out my youth.
I started saving money to go to Europe when I was eleven. I began working when I was sixteen, even though there was no economic necessity that I do so. I married young. I started working at my “career job” within weeks of graduating from college. My friends were all older than I. I never seemed to fit in with an age-appropriate life, so I cobbled out my version of an adult grown up life long before it made sense. Once I went down that path, it seemed unlikely that I would ever veer off it.
When I got divorced, I did start to find the child that I had long ago stuffed inside the deepest recesses of myself. I remember thinking that I was finally learning to play. There was one day when I was walking on the beach when it hit me. I had a week off from work. I let the sun melt the tightness on my shoulders. I locked my inner fussbudget in a closet deep inside my brain. I heard the breeze whooshing around my ears. I saw the crystalline sunlight fracturing into prisms around me. I tasted the salt in the air. I smelled the pungent odor of sunscreen and seaweed. I felt wet sand crunching and oozing between my toes. Suddenly, I knew what it meant to live in the moment and slip my leash. The saturation of the experience did not last long, but it did at least teach me that I had a lot of work to do if I was ever going to learn to play. The experience stayed with me, but I was already Little Red Riding Hood deep in Grown Up Woods. My beach experience taught me that there was a wolf inside me trying to devour my childhood, but I was too far gone to really avoid that eventuality.
Once I left my working life behind me, I still had responsibilities. Certainly, if there is anything that convinces a person that she is a grown up, it is losing a parent. Still, I have taken time over the past five years of my retirement to get to know that kid I could have been, had I allowed myself to embrace being a child. It seems the further back in my rearview mirror my career gets, the more riotously childlike (or childish, depending on your perspective) I become.
Some of you have been following along with some of my adventures- hunting for elves on my shelves, undergoing a bippity boppity Tinker Bell makeover, making proximity to Disney World a criterion for deciding where I would move in retirement, wearing light-up Christmas crocs just about everywhere, spending rather large amounts of money to get up close and personal encounters with adorable wild animals, volunteering to play a part in a reenactment of a colonial courtroom drama when visiting Williamsburg, and plunging headlong into activities for which I have absolutely no aptitude… just for the fun of it. Part of my premature and intense adulthood manifested itself as an impressive talent for worrying. I won’t say I don’t worry anymore. That would be absurd. Certainly, though, I worry a lot less. I don’t worry so much about what I look like. I don’t worry so much about being good at anything. I don’t worry so much about doing stuff. I just do stuff. As a result, I think I look prettier, have better and more diverse skills, and enjoy life much more.
People say that we sometimes enter a “second childhood” when we age. I don’t think I am entering a second childhood. I am just catching up with the first one.
How about you? Have you become more childlike in retirement? Why do you think that is? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a childish day… just KIDding!
PS If you are wondering why this is early, it is because the child in me got impatient and pushed the “publish” button instead of the “schedule” button.