As my son enters his junior year of high school, I am regularly reminded that he will soon be launching from our everyday lives into a more independent, autonomous incarnation. This summer has been chock full of milestones: he got his drivers license, his first part-time job, and braces within a two-week span. His height and hairiness alone are constant reminders that a man-child occupies the bedroom down the hall. My son would like me to focus on the “Man” part of his identity (I.e., provide him with unlimited driving privileges and throw my support behind 17-hour video game marathons), and I have found myself praising his use of mature logic and a burgeoning understanding of consequences of his behavior. (When a recent all-night gaming session was followed by 6 hours of herding grocery carts in 90 degree heat, my son assured me he “wouldn’t be doing that again anytime soon.”) Noting that the browser history on his iPad included “college scholarships” and “saving for a car”, I feared my son’s childish goofiness was being replaced too soon by a grown-up seriousness, a focus on planning his future.
KIDS WILL BE KIDS
And then last weekend happened. My wife, son and I met up with my best friend, Monica, and her daughter at the mall to shop for wedding attire for Monica’s upcoming nuptials. I overheard the kids kvetching about how long it would talk them to save money for a car of their own, and compared experiences with rubber bands and braces. Listening to them, I was again reminded of the swiftness of time, of how quickly our children go from holding our hands in crowded stores to rolling their eyes at our fashion suggestions. But in the midst of my melancholic musings, Riley and Courtney decided to pretend the escalator was an opportunity to show off “surfing poses.” (Mind you, we live in the Midwest–neither child has seen a SURFBOARD in real life, much less ridden a wave). They challenged each other to surreptitiously take candid photos of fellow shoppers, and they imitated the awkward contortions of store mannequins. Courtney teased Riley about his penchant for eyebrow waxing, and he blushed crimson when we busted him checking out a young lady exiting a dressing room. We laughed all afternoon at our kids’ sarcastic jokes and goofy attempts to get me to try on outfits 20 years too young for me. Their playfulness reminded me that our childlike “parts” are never fully buried. No matter how old they — or I — become, the silliness, energy and lack of self-consciousness that speak of childhood is still available to us. If we can notice and celebrate the “child” in our growing children as a gift they never need to fully leave behind, we impart the lesson that adult-ness is not the “end-game” of living. And by keeping alive the child within US, we can ensure that playful connection with our kids and our world is but a decision away. Next time I encounter an escalator, watch out, because I call “SURF’S UP!”