I’ve had some heavy travel the past two weeks, and so I spent the latter half of last week and this weekend spending time with my two-year-old son, Benjamin. He’s two, which means that he’s mostly free entertainment – a combination of a living with a tiny drunk person and Mr. Magoo.
The more time I spend with him, the more I learn about the inhibitions I’ve developed. I hear that you reach a certain age that you realize that the whole system is completely stupid, and then you unlearn these inhibitions and just go about your business. Ever watch an 86-year-old women tell a young kid to turn down his radio on the BART? The old woman always wins because of the inner fortitude that’s regrown.
The problem is that most of us, myself included, wait way too long to unlearn what we’ve learned as societal norms or what we’re supposed to do or not supposed to do, and by the time we realize that nothing really matters except for personal happiness and well-being, we’re too old to do all of these things we wish we would have done when we were younger.
In watching Benjamin go about his business every day, I’ve picked up a few lessons about living a happier life.
1. Wear whatever the heck you feel like wearing.
Rain boots or snow boots when it’s 90 degrees outside. Choose pink Crocs to wear, and then wear them for three days even if they give you blisters because you like wearing them. Wear said pink Crocs with a red shirt and orange shorts. Wear your sunglasses upside down. Put stickers in your hair. Color yourself with permanent marker.
2. Walk into sprinklers.
It’s hot. The sprinklers are cool. Why wouldn’t you? Don’t think about the wet, muddy shoes as consequences.
3. “I don’t like it… Because I said.”
All the reason anyone needs to do, or not do, anything. If you don’t like it, don’t do it.
4. Take a second ride on the merry-go-round.
You rode the cow, and now you want to ride the dog. It’s $1/ride and it’s Saturday at the Farmer’s Market. So ride the horse. Now. You don’t have to wait until next week.
5. “I do it… I need help.”
At least give it a try by yourself. Anything. Then when you figure out you can’t do something, ask for help. It’s okay.
And once you’re on the right track, do it yourself again.
6. “Yeah! I did it.”
These were his first words on Sunday morning, cheering from bed. On some days, waking up should be a good enough accomplishment.
Celebrate the little successes because sometimes the little successes are harder than you think.
7. “Be a flying ace.”
We all wanted to be great things when we were kids. Then we let life or someone or something or no one in particular tell us that we can’t or shouldn’t or that it would be too hard or it won’t pay the bills or it’s too risky or it’s not really a job or that we shouldn’t. So then we don’t.
I saw an old guy walking out of a donut shop the other day wearing a t-shirt that read: “In every old person, there’s a young person wondering what the hell happened.”
Be a flying ace if you want to be a flying ace.
8. Knock it down and start over.
Whenever he and I finish building a block tower, he immediately knocks it down. I’m always a little peeved because I want to admire what we’ve built or that we’ve used every block.
It’s just a tower of blocks. The fun is in the process.
9. “It will be fun.”
Yes, it can always be fun. Go to Trader Joe’s and you can buy flowers, and they give away free snacks, and they give you stickers when you check out, and you can sit in the cart and pretend to be a flying ace. Yes, it can always be fun.
10. “I want to paint.”
So what if it’s 8:08pm on Tuesday and it’s bath time in 7 minutes. If you feel like painting, paint.
11. “I want to go high… Go really fast.”
What’s the point of swimming if Daddy doesn’t throw you 10 feet into the air so you can splash? What’s the point of swinging if you don’t go high? If you’re going to do something, then do it.
12. “Don’t touch me… Don’t push me.”
Hell yes. This is my space and don’t you invade it, or there will be hell to pay.
Annie Lamont talks of learning how all of us have an acre of land that we get to cultivate and as long as we don’t hurt anyone, we can do anything we want with it. If you don’t like what someone is doing to your land, you’re allowed to tell them to leave and they have to leave.
Keep your space and don’t let anyone invade you.
13. Draw on the walls.
Sometimes the hallway needs a bright blue line on it. The hallway probably needs to be painted anyway.
14. Barbecue sauce on pancakes is perfectly acceptable.
15. Walk up to complete strangers on the street and greet them with an enthusiastic “Hiiiiii!!”
They always smile back and say “Hi!” back to you. It makes everyone feel better.