I love little kids, because they’re smart and energetic and curious and they don't have any of the baggage we tend to pick up by the time we're adults. Yes, they tend to cry more than grown-ups when they’re hungry or tired, but there’s none of that passive-aggressive crap you get from “mature adults.”
It’s disappointing to see that childlike wonder and innocence, the joie de vivre that makes us smile, wear away as they grow up. One day, your little baby is smiling and laughing at everything you do and the next day she’s a sullen teen who hates both you and the fact you exist. Not my kids, of course, but I hear stories about this from other, lesser dads.
Psychologists will tell you this is normal and unavoidable and part of the growth and independence of young people and yada yada bull bull yada. In fact, we can prevent this deterioration easily, and I figured out the solution recently at a Chinese restaurant.
At the next table, a lad of four or five was wailing, crying, moaning, screaming and otherwise expressing his displeasure at the immediate circumstances of his life. His flustered parents were cajoling their tot to turn down the volume by about 800 decibels and to redirect his energies to a coloring book they had brought for his amusement. Eventually, he complied, which led to a celebration that included exuberant acclaim and non-stop applause.
Once he stopped throwing a tantrum, his family praised him like he had just won the Iditarod without a sled.
Which made me feel pretty neglected, because I was eating quietly and nobody was applauding for me. Granted, I was dining alone, but the people at the other tables were benefiting from my silence. A word or two of gratitude would certainly have seemed in order.
Even more admirable, I was eating with chopsticks like I was born in China and, again, nobody was clapping for me. The waiter thought it was no big deal, since his kid is five and he handles chopsticks as well as I do at 65. But his kid had to learn to use chopsticks to avoid starvation, while I merely needed the skill to impress my friends and an occasional waiter.
That's when it hit me. I don't get applause for eating with chopsticks or putting my clothes in the hamper or using the potty or finishing my dinner. When I was a kid, I got applause for making all gone at dinner, but I've been polishing off my plate to the sounds of silence for the past 60 years. One day, I hope, I'll force down that last French fry or inhale that last slice of pizza and the whole crowd will go wild with thunderous cheers. So far, nothing.
And that's how we lose our joy for life. When we're three or four or five, we do what we're supposed to do and we get a psychic reward in the form of an attaboy or a standing ovation. Then, they take it all away.
“Yeah, you ate with a fork instead of your fingers. Big deal.”
“So what if you buttoned your own shirt? Nobody cares.”
“Great. You finished all your food. Now we begin the fat shaming!!”
And slowly, as our excitement for life deflates, we turn into the sour, bitter, cantankerous, small-minded, weasel-lipped Morlocks who prowl Planet Earth today. We’re miserable and petty and we have more trigger warnings than a gun control rally.
The solution is obvious, of course: More applause for doing what we’re supposed to do in the first place. Like writing this post.
Where the hell is my standing ovation????