When was the last time you skipped?
If you’re like me, that’s a difficult question to answer because in all likelihood it’s been a very, very long time. Ordinarily, that is, because I can now answer that question with precision. It was Thursday afternoon, December 19, 2013.
My youngest and I were leaving his school, chaotically disgorged with the hordes of howling pre-Christmas children and their parents, and next to me my three-year-old suddenly broke into an exuberant bouncing skip. So hey, what the hell, I did too.
After a few bounding hops I stopped, however, and cast a somewhat sheepish look about me. Not quite proper for a 43-year-old man to be skipping, after all. Grown men neither caper nor cavort, you know.
Which got me thinking. Why not? Skipping is a fast, efficient mode of locomotion, one which sets the heart racing and instantly, involuntarily makes you feel good. You can’t help but smile when you’re skipping. It’s a natural law.
So at what point do we lose such spontaneous outpourings of emotion? At what age do we stop climbing trees? Or getting so excited as to almost hyperventilate at seeing a police car, a spotted dog, a falling leaf?
It’s a gradual slide, of course, one so slow as to be mostly imperceptible. Though at times we consciously cut the cords of youth and make resolute leaps into grownuphood – come adolescence we eschew ‘childish’ behavior and try to be taken seriously as adults – generally the process happens without our knowledge or acquiesence.
As kids grow they learn to control their emotions, and that’s a good thing. Think how ridiculous you’d look rolling around on the kitchen floor sobbing uncontrollably because you’d dropped your cookie. Or getting so slapstick silly with your colleague that you lick her face.
I have no intention of glorifying childhood and I’m not particularly prone to nostalgia. No matter how advanced your daughter is for her age, no matter how precocious, by adult standards kids are, after all, fairly moronic.
Think about it. Could you easily convince one of your friends that you’d just pulled his nose off and are now holding it between your fingers? Would you fool your coworkers into believing that you could remove and replace the tip of your thumb? Probably not. At least I hope not.
But the depth of feeling that kids have, the raw irrepressible, irresistible joy that can suddenly sweep through them seems something to envy.
Of course you never want to slog through the painful troughs of pre-adolescent unrequited love again, for example, but do you necessarily want to forgo the sheer exhilaration, the waves of elation that washed through you when that love was requited?
When we’re young every emotion is amplified, every sentiment exaggeratedly sentimental. Remember that girl in fourth grade? The brunette with the dewy skin and irresistible dimples? Remember the day you sent her the note that said Will You Go Out With Me, Check the Box for YES or NO?
You were ‘going out’ for three days and then she left you when some other love-struck schmuck sent her a similar yes-or-no voting ballot for her to tick off everlasting love. Remember the heartbreak, the heartache, the shame, the hatred, the denials to friends – ‘yeah, I never even liked her’ – the anguished nights in bed as you thought of the notes passed hand to sweaty hand from her to him? Remember her name? Probably not.
The young are spun in a maelstrom of emotion which reaches its peak intensity – an F5 tornado – in adolescence, when hormones crash like hailstones against the battered windshields of our brains and cause floods of love and hatred that carry along all those unfortunate enough to cross our tempestuous paths.
Yeah, you don’t want that again, but as we age we seem to become deadened to intense emotion, as though we’re hearing a symphony from outside the opera house or a lively party from the lonely apartment next door. It’s frequently said that children laugh on average about 300 times per day, while adults laugh 20 or so. A bit of digging seems to indicate that these numbers are total bollocks, but I do know this: Kids certainly seem to laugh a lot more often than adults do, and kids feel emotion far more deeply than we do, for better or worse.
“Oh, grow up!” is a remark that’s regularly lobbed in the direction of growing kids (and occasional adults). I myself, if you can believe it, am sometimes chided for acting like a 10-year-old boy. But if what it means to be grown up is to lose the intensity, the spontaneity, the profundity of your emotions then, well, I have to politely reply, “No thank you.” And then I’ll peel off down the street, skipping all the way.
“Dear God,” she prayed, “let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry…have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere – be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.”
― Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
“If growing up means it would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree, I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up! Not me!”
― J.M. Barrie