There was a person with a young child who declared that she couldn’t find her keys. The 4-year-old, precocious as only a child can be, said, “I’ll find them for you for $5.” When the mother heard that, she laughed and said, “For $5, I’ll find them myself.” She was speechless when the child replied, “Good luck. I hid them pretty well.”
Stories like that seem too cute and funny to be true. Ask any parent, however, and you’ll learn that children are capable of feats that are humorous when young but would often appear strangely creepy if re-enacted as an adult.
One reason is that children don’t understand the rules of society or the difference between right and wrong. To a toddler, being told it’s against the rules to eat the upholstery staples under a recliner is a reason to cry. For an adult, it’s a potential cause for a psychiatric evaluation.
Those moments disappear at the age when most of us discover the fine line between cute and caustic. A 4-year-old saying, “I already know how to share, I just don’t wanna,” when asked to give a toy to his sister is funny. An adult saying the same thing when asked to let someone borrow a pen is not funny.
The age when we learn the boundaries that determine what’s appropriate varies. There are children who act older than their years and there are childlike adults. Dealing with those who have yet to mature is difficult. The days of breaking into tears because the dinosaurs went extinct are remembered fondly, but you realize tears are reserved for more serious issues.
Growing up means letting go of trivial passions that consume our identity and changing how we want to be seen. It’s not uncommon to see a teen arguing passionately about a favorite band or type of food. It’s rare to see an adult share the same passion. Adults realize enjoyment does not decrease with a difference of opinion. They understand that those who don’t learn this lesson are often people to avoid.
Adults understand responsibility and also realize that mature and boring are not interchangeable words. While it’s important to understand the difference between serious and trivial, it’s equally important to never let go of the wide-eyed innocence necessary to discover and enjoy something new or funny.
It is possible to maintain childlike joy without acting like a child. Never give up your sense of wonder. Never stop being amazed. Be surprised every day when you learn something new. If you can keep that optimism and hope alive, you’ll always remain connected to your inner child.
It’s easy to identify that inner child. It can be seen in the young girl who cries because she can’t see the butter on her pancakes because it melted, or in the boy who pouts because he’s not allowed to go trick-or-treating in March.
Growing up means many things, but it does not mean growing old. Take time to understand the difference. It’s the key to a happy life.
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