Matt Madeiro

once took a swig of orange juice after brushing his teeth. :(

How to Act Like a Kid Again

I am impossibly cool.

That’s what I’d like to think, at least. (I know it’s not true. But stick with me.)

At approximately 8:15am this morning, I had an epiphany. Several epiphanies, in fact, all tangled in the dull heat of a Texas morning. They are as follows:

  1. I am late to work.
  2. I’m rocking a pair of sunglasses that my mother used to wear (out of desperation, I promise, moreso than any avant-garde fashion statement).
  3. I brought my lunch today in a football-branded lunch kit. This is the very same one I used in middle school.
  4. I brought my lunch.
  5. I just spent the last five minutes drumming furiously and way too enthusiastically on my steering wheel to the sweet, angry sounds of Frank Turner.

I can’t even imagine how I looked in the rearview mirror of the car in front of me. But I can put the picture together, untangle all of these little ideas, and realize something that should have been strikingly obvious from the start: I am impossibly cool.

The Long Road Home

More seriously?

I’m comfortable. I’m relaxed enough, now, to shrug my shoulders (mightily) and go about my business, blessed with the knowledge that I’m a tremendous dork and yet far too happy to care.

I’d like to pretend that I came to this conclusion on my own. The truth, as ever, falls back on someone else — a gorgeous, goofy friend who showed me, over the course of a year, how to reconnect with the silly, happy confidence that came natural in my youth.

She taught me how to be a kid again.

It’s strange to think that I lost that. It’s even stranger to think that so many of us don’t seem to miss what we’ve forgotten: our silliness, our childhood fantasies, and a steadfast fascination with the world around us that slips between our fingers in the years before graduation.

We grow up. We buy things. We follow the same path that we’re supposed to follow, and then we look back, sometimes, and wonder what might have happened if we’d let our imaginations take us by the nose and pull us off the road.

What Comes Natural to Children

Maybe that’s what I miss the most: the imagination. The curiosity. The questions, and the surging excitement whenever I came across a word I didn’t know the meaning of.

I was a bookworm, in hindsight. (You don’t have to act surprised).

But in so many ways, too, I was a bold one: not afraid to speak my mind, not afraid to sing loudly in the car, and not afraid to get down a little on the dance floor whenever my middle-school crush made an appearance. I haven’t lost these qualities, for the most part, but maturity did one worse: it buried them. Under a layer of doubt, a layer of concern, and a freakish concern for what other people might think that too many adults are saddled with.

Kids, though? Kids don’t know any better.

Kids don’t care. That’s not always a good thing, sure, but sometimes I wonder if we’ve gone too far to fix it — if we’ve started caring so much that our personality, and our confidence in showing it, can suffer.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not idolizing childhood. (I rather like my vodka, thanks.)

But I do think kids have it right sometimes, and I do think we can take a few ideas from what came natural to all of us before we were taught otherwise.

1. Kids aren’t afraid to be different.

Ever seen a small child walking through the mall? Odds are, they’re doing it as goofily as possible: bobbing, swaying, and generally having a good time, throwing limbs in every direction while their parents walk slow and steady beside them. The full-body workout continues when they get home: dancing in front of the TV, bouncing around the dinner table, etc., in order of increasing weirdness.

You’d never catch an adult doing any of these. Maturity, it seems, makes us think we don’t have it so easy. Just getting us on the dance floor demands liquid courage, and doing anything out of the ordinary sends our heart racing like we’d just won the lottery.

I mention dancing because of how well it fits the metaphor. Getting out on the floor might just be the purest expression of happiness—of motion—that I’ve ever seen, but so many of us feel like we can’t do it for fear of not being as ‘cool’ or ‘skilled’ as everyone else. (That’s another post for another time.)

My best friend from college proved otherwise. After his marriage ceremony, both he and his new wife did something I’ll never forget: don dark sunglasses, clear the dance floor, and rock their way through a fifteen-minute dance montage that no one saw coming. My friend, it bears mention, never claimed to be a natural-born dancer — but for that slice of time, him and his wife moved like the utter champions I’d always known them to be.

The sunglasses, I realized, were the trick. For those fifteen minutes, they let my friend be himself: confident, fun-loving, and an absolute pleasure to be around. They let him tap into the confidence he’d always had as a kid and do something well outside of his comfort zone — something different from the way we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re supposed to act.

Mini-action: put on some shades. And the next time you start walking across a cross walk, do something different: sprint across it as fast as you can. (Preferably with your husband or wife laughing beside you.) The next time you’re pushing the shopping cart back to your car, hop up on the bottom bar and ride the cart as far as it goes. The next time you’re strolling through the neighborhood, break out into song — and keep doing all of these until you’re comfortable enough to do them without the sunglasses.

2. Kids aren’t afraid to play.

I used to spend hours on the jungle gym near my house. I’d climb through tubes, swing between bars, and transform an otherwise mundane piece of equipment into something much, much more: an adventure. I’d embrace the role of an acrobatic astronaut exploring a strange alien ship, spending hours ducking around corners and running like mad around the playground.

Those hours are some of the best I’ve ever had. And while I’m still on the hunt for an adult equivalent (Vegas doesn’t count), I think the big takeaway is still applicable.

We used to make it fun. We didn’t have special equipment. We didn’t have access to some magical imagination machine that adults can’t afford. We took the same scenery, the same activities, and we made them fun — and we did it without wondering what anyone else might think.

Mini-action: make it fun. The next time you’re out for a walk, take an entirely new route through the neighborhood. Wind your way through trees, through tall fields, and pretend you’re an explorer out carving new roads. The next time you’re out for a run, mix in some wild, happy sprints and pretend that you’re being chased by zombies.

And the next time you see a jungle gym, climb to the very top. Swing on the bars. Who says you’re too old to enjoy it?

3. Kids aren’t afraid to ask questions.

How else did we learn?

If we had a question, we would ask it. There was no pause. There was no hesitation. We didn’t stop, wonder if the question was smart enough, and bite back our curiosity if the answer came up negative. We didn’t care if we didn’t understand — because no one had told us, by that point, that not ‘getting it’ was a bad thing.

We live in fear, now, of stupid questions.

But what’s worse: risking judgment, asking the question, and learning something? Or pushing it down, time and time again, and never growing?

Mini-action: ask a stupid question. You don’t need to make it deliberately dumb, sure. But the next time a question springs to mind, shut off your brain. Ask the question. Accept the fact that some people might roll their eyes. But realize, too, that you come away from the experience smarter, and growth like that matters a thousand times more than the opinion of your peers.

Kids aren’t afraid.

That’s the core epiphany, here, and the message worth remembering.

We weren’t afraid. A dark closet (or the space under our beds) might make us pause, sure, but we had something so much stronger—so much more vivid—than the unknown.

We had confidence.

We had the confidence to be ourselves. Not because we had read books, taken courses, and watched movies to try and develop it, but because it comes natural to every fresh-faced human being on this earth.

We start out, all of us, comfortable in who we are. Somewhere along the way, we’re told to start caring what other people might think — to start considering what society as a whole might say about how we think, act, or believe.

But guess what?

We don’t have to. We spent the majority of our childhoods not caring, in fact, and those might have been the happiest years of our lives.

Notice the connection?

Go grab some sunglasses. Go outside and play. Ask a stupid question. You’ll be happier for it, I promise, and you might just feel a little bit like a kid again — like how you were when you were younger.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s time for handstands. (The office thinks I’m weird. That just makes me want to do them more.)

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