Just the other day I was on the subway, thinking about what I needed to do that day and making mental lists. He was halfway down the car from me, a young man in his mid-twenties I would say, fixated on whatever electronic device was in his hand. He seemed to be playing some kind of game as he rotated the device and pushed at the screen in various ways. Normal behavior really, but my eyes stopped when I saw his backpack. This young man was sporting a Sponge Bob Squarepants backpack.
Now, I only know about Sponge Bob through friends who have children. I have not seen the show. However, I have seen children wearing backpacks such as this, or holding school folders with the character on them. The show seems to have a deep following among young children, so why was this young man wearing a character backpack? It could be that he just could not afford a new one (it looked a bit worn around the edges), but I think this: I think he wanted to show the world he still loved that character.
We all have our inner child somewhere. And that child comes out in various ways. Attachment to a childhood icon. Love of the comfort foods we craved as children. But when we allow that inner child to rule our adult public choices, we have a problem.
Childhood is fleeting, some say. It whooshes by too fast for us to appreciate what’s there. And as we have to assume more and more adult responsibility it weighs upon us. So we retreat from adulthood. And we act more and more childlike.
What is it about adulthood that frightens us? Responsibility certainly. Oh we craved having responsibility as children, just to show our parents we could be trusted to do something. Good boy Timmy! You took out the garbage like you were supposed to, all week! Here’s an extra dollar on your allowance! And we beamed. If we took on adult things, we could get praise. We might even get some cash to spend on more candy and comic books. We loved being told we were so grown up. But as we really did grow up, we realized something: being an adult is a lot of work.
In today’s modern world, adults are confronted by some of the hardest problems we have ever faced. Jobs that pay lower wages than ever, debt that might last a lifetime, more and more responsibilities. People look to us to make decisions on things. We don’t want to make decisions that make people mad at us. We don’t like confrontations. With the addition of social media in our lives, any decision we make is liable to be spread across the internet as fast as pixels can go. Bad decisions haunt us, good ones rarely get the praise we think they deserve. It’s no wonder that ‘adult’ could be the worst curse ever.
When my friends talk about making pillow forts in their social media posts, or curling up with a box of Oreo (TM) cookies, or getting out nerf guns for a spacemen battle, or marathon watching episodes of Sponge Bob, I sympathize, because I know that they’ve reached some crisis level of adulthood that forces a retreat. Its too much. Stop this thing called being an adult, I want to get off. I sympathize, but inside I wonder: what will it be like to live in world where more people want to be children than children want to be adults?
I picture entertainment catering to them. All the movies and TV shows will be somehow connected with childhood. We already have comic books front and center in the movie theaters, and its a trend that doesn’t seem to quit. I suspect that TV cartoons from the 1990’s will show up soon as well. And there will probably be more TV shows based on childhood things. Video games already grab more adults into fantasy worlds and keep them there. I know too many people who get home from work and log into their favorite game. Video games take us out of the world of making adult decisions. Dishes? What dishes? I gotta level! Fashions catering to childhood are already popular. I’ve seen pigtails on young women, and cutesy clothes that seem out of place in the office. I rather draw the line at Osh Kosh B’Gosh grown up sizes.
Work environments. Oh I cringe when I think of work environments ruled by adults who don’t want to be adultish. Decisions involving billions of dollars? Um, can I get back to you after I pop these balloons? We can label these people as creatives, as people who have the capacity to think beyond the norm, but really, if I am waiting for an answer, I deserve one. I have seen workplaces rearrange themselves to put in playgrounds, slides, playrooms – and not for their employees children – for their employees. Play is important, but not at the expense of work needing to be done. Small things – like a stuffed bear sitting on a desk, or a personal style that involves green sneakers on Casual Day? Go ahead. I even support having teams take a break together to get out their frustrations by having a nerf gun fight.
I like being an adult. I like being able to make adult decisions and stick to them. Being an adult means I have the ability to change things for the better for tomorrow’s children. I even like getting chores done. Probably because if I get the chores done I can do things like curl up with a marshmallowed hot cocoa and my favorite videos. Bugs Bunny here I come!