He ain’t lettin’ them grey hairs keep him from having fun!

Sometime before I turned 12, I noticed that for the most part adults were grim. They didn’t seem to have much fun, they were always frowning about something, worrying about something else, and complaining about how hard things were. Always.

These seemed like a pretty bad deal to me. They could decide to eat ice cream for dinner but would be depressed about it? Not a good trade.

They also seemed to be completely ignorant of the fact they were once kids themselves. How could the people who were now in charge of the world the same whacked kids like The Beav I saw on TV? Memory suppression? The press of events? I didn’t know, but it seemed to be universal; adults inveighing against music, games, and books…who were the same people who had been berated for their love of Elvis and dancing 15 years before. I mean, WTF?

I was validated in this opinion while reading one of my mom’s child psychology textbooks. (Imaginative title: “CHILD PSYCHOLOGY”; like that, in big block letters.) One of the authors noted that adults had “lost the ability to play”, and to correct this he and his co-researcher decided to have a worm race down the hall of their university offices. He named his worm “Ignatz”.

I decided then and there I wasn’t going to forget what it was like to be a kid. I was already a pint-sized stand-up comedian, cracking up the grownups around me with my renditions of what I’d heard on Bill Cosby, George Carlin, and Lenny Bruce records. Flip Wilson was one of my early heroes. I wasn’t going to be a grim adult yelling at my kids because they played music I didn’t like. No sir; not me.

The amazing Flip Wilson

I wrote a few months ago about my thoughts about the famous quote, “A man who has not been a socialist before 25 has no heart; if he remains one after 25 he has no head.” (Short form: Baloney.) When I hit my teens and 20s, I took it as a challenge; that wasn’t going to happen to me! (And it hasn’t.)

I’m pushing 60 now; I’ll be 59 this coming June. I’ve raised three special-needs kids. I’ve had a 35+ year career in high tech. I’m a cancer survivor; I have chronic neck pain from an injury at 35; I’ve got “common tremors” (I find the name “essential tremors” hilariously inappropriate; what could be more unessential than having your hands shake?); my autistic child still lives with me at 23; I went through (heck, am still going through) an ugly divorce from someone who, in our last few years together, grew increasingly abusive; I’m about to move for the 3rd time in the last 7 years.

But I haven’t lost my sense of fun! And dammit, I’m not about to.

Aside from supposedly becoming more conservative, there’s a lot of stuff people say you’re supposed to “outgrow” or “be too old for” when you hit late-middle age. And you know what? To heck with that.

I was reminded of this the other day while re-watching “Firefly”. Alan Tudyk’s Wash is funny, childlike in the best way, and doesn’t let his weird job, his perpetual poverty, or his sometimes-rough treatment at the hands of his crew get him down. How does he respond?

This is a man who hasn’t lost his sense of childhood

He plays with toys, that’s how! Wash is my f**king hero. (And in my head-canon, he’s still alive. Up yours, Joss Whedon!)

This attitude helped me immensely when raising my kids, especially as they were all special needs and all three sucked at cleaning their rooms. Now, it’s not that I sucked at cleaning my room; on the contrary, my room was OCD-level spotless and organized. No, it’s that I remember the pointless fights my step-mom got into with my brother. Why? Who cares? It was his room. If my kids wanted their rooms to be sties, fine; just keep it there. “No mess in the main part of the house,” was the rule, and they (for the most part) adhered to it.

It helped when they experience relationship angst; it helped me be patient when they were disappointed by the adult world intruding in on stuff they wanted (“No, we can’t go to Disneyland this summer; we just don’t have the money”); it helped when dealing with their kid-serious issues. (My daughter has made a similar vow.)

But it’s helped in more ways, especially as my body inevitably breaks down and I try hard to find fun during periods when, let’s face it, the world kinda sucks. What do I mean? Glad you asked!

Here’s an example: You’re supposed “outgrow” ska music. It’s supposedly simplistic, repetitive, and juvenile. Well, to heck with that! I enjoy ska music when I’m in the mood. I love The (English) Beat. I love The Mighty Mighty Bosstones (see them in Clueless). I even love Smashmouth, which isn’t really ska but obviously influenced by it. And for all you haters: I don’t care what you think! Rush (yes, I they’re not a ska band; quiet, I’m making a point) was denigrated and lambasted by the critical musical world for decades…and now is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, despite Jann Wenner’s hatred of metal, progressive rock, and anything recorded after (say) 1975. Like what you like!

If they’re good enough for Kim Possible, they’re good enough for me!

(Similarly, this allows me to let my kids listen to whatever it is they like, and not get all up in their collective grill. You want to listen to Pink or My Chemical Romance or Panic! At the Disco, hey, go ahead! Just use your headphones, okay? At least we both enjoy Fallout Boy.)

It’s more than just music, though; I’m talking about an attitude here. Another example is my dancing. I was an athlete; softball, disk golf, racquetball, skiing…whatever I had time for. I played soccer and fenced at the NCAA collegiate level. I wasn’t ever threatening to make the Olympic team, but I was decent. It was a big part of my life. Then I had the aforementioned neck injury, and my orthopedist said, “Sure, you can go skiing or play ultimate frisbee…if you want to risk permanent paralysis.” And that was it for high-impact-on-the-body sports.

But that spirit still lives in me. So at the suggestion of my friend Becky, I tried Lindy Hop dancing…and I love it. I also look totally ridiculous; an overweight, late-middle-aged man trying to do moves clearly designed for bodies thinner (but luckily not more flexible) than mine? How ridiculous can you get? And you know something? So what? I have fun, many of my partners seem to enjoy dancing with me. It’s my play!

Lindy Hoppers tend to look like this; I do not

But it’s not just dancing and music; it’s everything. It helps me to view the world with as much child-like wonder as I can. To notice amazing cloud-and-sun interacts; to appreciate the quite murmur of the river while sitting quietly on a rock at the park; to laugh at the absurd things people say at work (hopefully with the mute button on)—and believe me the marketing-speak stuff they sometimes come out with deserves laughter. To take a little joy in how silly my cat acts instead of constantly getting mad he likes to claw his way up my leg. To laugh with Joseph about “the Overload Restaurant” here in Austin, a restaurant that, shall we say, doesn’t skimp on lights during Christmastime. To be amused by funny noises and sounds instead of angered by them. To have a sense of play.

Mozart’s Restaurant at Christmas; did I lie?

Heck, I’d still play with LEGOs, but they only seem to make “special kits” these days, instead of just having packages of blocks of various sizes. I don’t want to build a kit; I want to build whatever my crazed imagination comes up with. (As a kid I used to take 8 2×8 bricks and see how many different ways I could permute them. A robot! A car! A plane! I don’t know what this is, but it looks cool!)

Permute! Permute! OK! (Apologies to Dr. Brommer’s)

And that’s my point here; as my body gets more creaky, and the pressures of the world push in, I often think the only thing that saves me is my sense of play. My strongly-held desire to not be totally adult about everything. Childish? Maybe. But honestly, I’d rather spend part of my time being childish, than a grim trudge to old age.

I mean, wouldn’t you?