Refusing to grow up might be the key to longer, happier life

“I want to be like you when I grow up!” That’s something my hair stylist has told me more than a few times. The reason it’s funny is that she’s only a year or two younger than I am. She’s very sweet, and it’s a lovely compliment, but it always makes me think… “I grew up? When did that happen?”

When I was a kid, I loved being silly and playing practical jokes – which I still do – and I thought comedians were amazing. How cool, to be able to think of things so creative and quick, and to make people laugh. I remember watching great entertainers like Ellen Degeneres, George Carlin and Robin Williams on the variety and talk shows of the day and wanted to be like that when I grew up. They always seemed to be having so much fun, and I thought they must be a lot of fun to be around.

I loved it when adults were silly when I was a kid. It helped me remember that they were young once, too, and it made me very happy to know that even once you did grow up, that silly part of you was still alive and well somewhere deep inside.

My adorable, cigar-chomping Uncle Ted always had the funniest stuff to say, no matter what the occasion. One of my favorites was, “I don’t care what anybody says, Paula, I love you anyway.” And he’d give me a great big hug. There was always laughter in my cousin’s home when we would visit, and even when my Aunt Janie reprimanded her kids, she did it with deep sarcasm and a sense of humor that made it seem not quite so harsh. It was a wonderful time and I miss those family visits during the holidays a lot.

I played all sorts of practical jokes on friends in school, but I had a tendency to take things a little too far, so I got my fair share of playground beatings when I crossed the line. That was way before there was such a thing as political correctness. You took what life had to dish out, and your parents never took your side and defended you, they just told you that you got what you deserved… and they were right.

In college, my roommate Cathy and I were like two peas in a pod. We pulled every college prank we could think of, which was even more fun since she was a resident assistant and had a master key to everyone’s rooms. No one was safe from our nightly excursions.

One day we pulled a prank on one of our art instructors, Mrs. Burman. Valerie was a very cool, older lady, who wore braces, and said things like, “I like what’s happening here” when she looked at your artwork. Cathy thought it would be funny if we put red ink in our wrist creases and then glued them shut with rubber cement. When she extended her wrist, it popped open to reveal the red ink, looking like she’d had an accident with the Exacto knife. Poor Mrs. Burman! She was a very trusting soul and I thought she was going to pass out after that one.

In my late twenties I got married and had children, which opened up a whole new set of opportunities for practical jokes. Stalking the family when their guard was down was endlessly entertaining for me. The glass of ice water thrown over the top during my spouse’s shower was a great one. My son and I used to try and outdo each other sneaking up and scaring the bejeezus out of each other. He got very good at it, and I loved it when he would “outscare” me.

Unfortunately there are things in life that force you to face life as a grown-up. I’ve lost a few jobs, and coming home to tell your family you no longer have one is a very heartwrenching thing to have to do. I’ve had to put down a few very beloved dogs and bury several horses, and asking your family to come and say goodbye is one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. I hated being a grown-up at those moments.

Watching my children grieve the deaths of their grandparents was so much harder to bear than my own grief. And anyone who has ever experienced divorce knows that it’s not just between two people who were once in love, but affects every single family member no matter how carefully you try to insulate them from it.

Yep. Sometimes being a grown-up stinks. It’s important not to dwell in the despair of it though. In the movie “The NeverEnding Story,” Atreyu, the boy on the quest, loses his horse Artax in the Swamps of Sadness. The horse is overcome with melancholy and sinks, disappearing into the mud in spite of Atreyu’s pleading words to keep moving. An awesome analogy, and a lot of wisdom in a simple children’s story.

Unfortunately, I lost a few precious things during my time in that swamp. Thankfully, some friends were brave enough to find their way in and pull me out, by reminding me of the healing qualities that laughter and friendship bring. They know who they are, and I am forever grateful to have them in my life.

So the next time there’s a choice between maturity and silliness, you may want to rethink your choice. Don’t be afraid to grab a whoopee cushion or some fart putty and play a practical joke or two. Being silly is serious business! Cheering someone up will cheer you up as well, and might just change (or save) a life. There’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.

Originally published June 22, 2012.


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