Maybe you didn’t hear the message explicitly, but at some point in your life you were probably asked to stop having fun. The result, an adulthood characterized by working long hours, barely breaking for lunch, returning home at the end of the day tired and defeated, and merely moving through the motions from one day to the next. Not everyone falls into this mode of routine, but I’d say most of us do. If you find yourself stuck in stagnation and seriousness, I encourage you to break the cycle and allow time for silliness and play, your inner child will thank you.
My brother and I often joke about how there are two types of people in the world: those who have kids and those who don’t. You don’t have to be a biological mother or father to fall into the former category, just spending time with children is enough, whether that means having a niece or nephew, godson or daughter, cousin, neighbor, good friend’s children, or group you volunteer with. Being with children can bring out a side of you long since suppressed by years of responsibility and the sense that becoming an adult means being serious all the time.
When my niece was first born I cared for her in the mornings while my brother and his wife worked. There are few things more fulfilling than making a baby laugh. Even when she was non-verbal, making silly faces, dancing, waving my arms and legs, jumping up and down, and shaking the hair that then reached down to my waist, would incite her little laugh and arm and leg waving from the safety of her strap-in bouncy chair.
As she got older and more mobile, she began leading the fun. In the summer we’d roll and run through the grass in the backyard, crawling and gnashing our teeth like monsters, lying on our backs and staring up at the sky. “Run auntie, run!” she’d yell as I chased her around bushes and plastic playthings.
One summer, she asked me to imitate her on a big, green, inflated bouncy snail. She climbed on it’s back and bounced three times before rolling herself over and into the grass. I followed suit and she erupted in a squeal of laughter. I felt tears swelling up in my eyes. I’d been under so much pressure in life and the moment of forgetfulness, of letting it all go was the best catharsis I could wish for.
Late summer into fall when I began caring for her full-time once again, we started doing spontaneous “noga” sessions in my living room. She threw herself into yoga poses taught to her in preschool and invented her own. Inspired, I spontaneously signed up to do a children’s yoga training one weekend in November.
Much of the training involved participating in sample classes for children ages 2-13. We roared and stomped like dinosaurs, swam like fish, hissed and meowed like cats, played games, sang songs, and practiced poses for animals, mystical creatures, and fairy tales.
Sometimes as children we are forced to grow up too quickly. From a young age we are indoctrinated into a system of order and rules– forced to sit straight in chairs at desks for hours a day, follow instructions, keep quiet, color between the lines, and quell our inner silliness. I can remember times growing up when I’d go too long without laughing and when finally something set me off I’d convulse and giggle without stopping. I have more than one memory of being scolded by a classroom teacher to stop laughing. In fourth grade my friends and I all tried to make each other laugh when reading out loud to the class. I dreaded being called on to read because inevitably someone would do something to set the laughter choking out between words and I’d be forced to turn my desk away from the class into a corner as if there should be shame in my silliness.
Spending time with my niece and becoming a volunteer children’s yoga instructor for kids in a state-run group home who know too much of seriousness too soon has given me permission to have fun again. I’ve realized that I don’t need the excuse of a child or even companion to be silly and that life is a whole lot more tolerable when we allow ourselves to have fun.
This past Saturday I showed up for a four hour teacher certification test at a high-rise office building in Boston. It was snowing on my walk to and from the train station and when I arrived I was covered in a soft layer of white flakes. Before entering the lobby I shook my body like a wet dog and shuffled and skipped from side to side to clear the snow from my boots. Once inside I climbed the dank stairwell to the fourth floor as if I were Gru from Despicable Me, my head hunched, scowling, attempting to be menacing, but ultimately failing.
I arrived an hour early for the test. The room was locked and empty in the early morning hour. Check-ins wouldn’t begin for at least another half-hour. I weighed my options. I could take out my notes and study more, but I’d spent the train ride reviewing and needed a mental break. I could sit cross-legged on the rug by the room and meditate, but I’d be sitting for four hours to take the test and could already hear my knees begging in protest for me to spend the next hour standing. I decided to go exploring.
As a child, one of my favorite games was Spy vs. Spy. I don’t remember much about the game itself other than it inspired in me a desire to be a robber when I grew up (I’m sure that was a perfectly normal aspiration). In preparation for future heists, I practiced scurrying around my home, walking without creaking floorboards, and sneaking up on others. Still today I startle people more than intended, perhaps a product of my ninja-like motions as a child.
So on Saturday in the early morning hours before the swanky office building fully woke up, I creeped around the fourth floor exploring hallways, dead ends, and locked doors as if I were on a top secret spy mission. I caught the over-the-glasses skeptical glance from a dentist office receptionist who spied me in my mission. I passed a sign that warned I was being monitored and hoped that if someone was stuck somewhere, watching the cameras, that they were enjoying the show. An hour later, I sat down to take the test feeling much more refreshed and prepared than if I had taken the time to memorize the notes that didn’t hold the answers to the test questions anyway.
After initialing the warning that I would be disqualified from testing if I caused any sort of distraction to the others who were crammed into the tiny room and positioned behind folded cardboard partitions in front of computer screens, I amused myself during the test by making silly faces. I took occasional breaks to contort my face into grimaces, ear-to-ear beaming, pouting, and tongue-sticking-out silliness. I have no idea whether or not I passed the test, but I do know that the four hours were made much more bearable by not taking the time too seriously.
Wherever you are in life, with or without children, I encourage you to tap into your inner child and make time for more fun in your life. Decide what that means to you. Whether it’s putting on your favorite music and belting out the words or dancing along to the tune in the secrecy of your living room, making faces at your computer screen at work, skipping like a fairy or stomping like a dinosaur a couple steps down the street during your morning commute, or simply smiling or laughing for a good minute even if there is nothing funny, having fun can shift your whole perspective, refresh an otherwise serious and weary life, and awake in you an energy to get you through the most trying situations.
Have an idea for how to bring fun into your life? I’d love to hear from you. Just post a comment below.