Today was great! I got to build towers with Legos and play with the Marble Maze. I got to swing on the swings and go down the slide at the playground. I did three puzzles and read “The Little Engine That Could.” Life is sure fun when you’re two! Or hanging out with a two-year old.
“It’s never to late to have a happy childhood” says author Tom Robbins and I quote him all the time giving Orff workshops where adults get to “play” music in the playful way it should be. For many, it’s a deep healing of those wounds inflicted on them by angry music teachers or dull hours of practice or not making the cut in the music competitions.
And as with music, so with the rest of childhood. We imagine childhood as care-free, innocent and pure joy, but some of us had a different experience. (Just for the record, not me! Of course, skinned knees, neighborhood bullies, occasional spankings, mean teachers and the like, but mostly, hours spend wandering in the nearby park and the chance to be wholly a child.)
When we have our own children, we get another turn to try for that happy childhood. Correct the mistakes of our parents and have fun with our children! We get to have a second childhood. And for some (me, again), it indeed is happy to read all those old books again and play all those old board games and initiate your kids into those first-time pleasures you once knew— from riding a bike to riding waves in the ocean to the first Hitchcock film and beyond.
But there is one catch. While trying to recover that sense of childlike play, we’re in the thick of work, the kind that brings home the money for the groceries and the rent and pays for the family vacation. In the midst of trying to feel carefree, we’re burdened with immense responsibilities, not the least of which is, actually taking care of the kids! Getting them to the doctor and dentist, feeding, clothing and sheltering them, comforting them when their bodies or feelings get hurt, being strict with them when they push at the boundaries. It’s a second childhood with a split personality.
But good news! There’s one more chance! The third childhood of grandparenthood!
You’re either retired or at the far end of your work life when some money is the bank and you’re done pleasing the boss. The mortgage is (hopefully) paid for and you are not your grandchild’s taskmaster—that’s your kid’s job. You are their playground! You get to be the “Yeehaw!” person who hands them back over when they’re grumpy or when you’re tired. You get to play with them in wholehearted abandon while also passing on some of your adult masteries— showing them how to cook or fingerpaint or pull weeds or sing songs or build masterworks of architecture with Legos. And when they take a nap, you can too! It’s great!
So don’t despair. If your first childhood was less than happy and your second always fraught with adult worry, there’s still hope with the third. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some serious tricycle riding to attend to.