Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bringing Out the Kid in Me

Discovering Dad asks, "What Brings Out the Kid in You"? Winner gets a Wii. Who could resist?

In many ways, I'm still a kid. I still love to watch old Land of the Lost reruns. I'll still read a comic book if I can find one, even from my collection that I still have. I enjoy silly songs and bad jokes and making goofy voices. I can still turn off that little part of my brain that says, "Ok, there's no way Indiana Jones could make THAT jump" just for the fun of it - like we all used to. I can still crawl around on the floor and jump cars and build Legos. I can recite the whole preamble to the Constitution - not because it was taught in school, but because Schoolhouse Rock taught me on Saturday mornings. And not just recite it - sing it. People may also look at me a little strangely when I try to sing "Bohemian Rhapsody" as a solo (all parts included), but that doesn't mean I'm truly off my rocker. It's because I enjoy still hanging on to that part of my childhood.

This of course doesn't mean I don't take life seriously. I absolutely do. I have a family, two kids we're trying to raise. Planning for their future is a serious business whether it's school choices, tough homework assignments, discipline or teaching morals and the difference between right and wrong. My job future is always in flux...stable one minute and murky the next. I have many friends and church that mean the world to me, as we do to them. I stay attuned to the issues of the day - politics, world affairs, money... And I'm still working on my 15+ year marriage to a wonderful woman whom I perplex on a daily basis, but still somehow loves me.

Life isn't for children. It's a very adult thing. We have to put our childish ways behind us, to a certain extent. But I don't want to be known as that guy who's still basically immature but means well. I need to present a mature image to deal with mature things.

So what brings out the kid in me? Simple. My own kids. I remember when I was young, and the wide-eyed innocence I had watching Star Wars for the first time. I remember dreaming, making up worlds, situations, stories with my action figures. A 10-yr-old dares to put people in impossible situations, and figures out ways to get them out. They read Robert Heinlen and learn what's possible. They read Franklin W. Dixon and learn how to figure things out. They read Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary and learn how to cope with siblings, parents, friends and the difficulties in growing up. They gaze at the majesty of Cinderella's Castle and hide from scary Pirates of the Caribbean and grim grinning ghosts of the Haunted Mansion. They climb trees and chase butterflies and bat balls, all with the incredible knowledge of there's still more out there. What an incredible awareness, that with all this there's still so much, much more. And I share that with my own kids, and show them what I loved when I was their age. And they love it too, thankfully. I've tried my best to show them that life is what you make it - not what others tell you it's "supposed" to be.

In many ways, I get to relive my childhood through them. In less than a week my son, Brainyboy, will experience (if he has the nerve) his first real roller coaster ride at Busch Gardens Williamsburg). Probably Big Bad Wolf. And I'll be right there with him every curve of the track, knowing that the cycle has begun again.

What brings out the kid in me? Watching my daughter's eyes as they twinkle, mischievously. Watching my son's face as he sobbed real, silene tears when E.T. "died". Because I know that even though one day they will grow up, they will still keep with them an innocence of youth that transcends the cynicism and detachment of many kids today. They will keep with them the memories of glorious possibilities, the endless days of "what's next, dad?" And someday pass them on to their kids.

Our world is so sad these days. And so competitive. And so mean-spirited. Just a casual flip through the cable news and network channels will show you how simple differences of opinion divide our country. Children bring guns to school to protect themselves from bullies, while parents stand idly by. The images of children are endlessly sexed up in the media, from "Bratz" dolls to the latest line of teen clothing. 15-yr-old girls are routinely presented as objects for boy's (and men's) desires. Politicians and pundits give forth hate and sling mud only to gain a little prestige over the other side. People with different idealogies blow up buildings, kidnap boys from their villages to be soldiers in petty, greedy wars none of them understand. Other kids end up wrapped around telephone poles in their cars because mom and dad wanted to sponsor a graduation party with a little free booze. It's a cloudy world out there, and it's up to us to give our kids the wisdom to understand they don't have to feel like their destined to have to buy into it.

That's why I make funny voices at my daughter. That's why we always do the "gimme some fin...noggin...Dude!" from Finding Nemo and laugh ourselves silly. That's why I want Brainyboy to read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or keep practicing with the bat. And the piano. It's up to us as parents to get the kids ready to change the world, like we wanted to long ago in our own backyards.

What brings out the kid in me? Hey, they're already here, and always will be.

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