I was recently in Starbucks – my new go to work space after I discovered how much more I’m able to get accomplished when I don’t make my writing compete with my laundry and dishes – when a father and son came in and sat at the table opposite mine. The father was older than me, maybe forty-five, and the son younger than Loch, close to four. As they enjoyed their separate drinks and explored their different handhelds, I found myself unable to work, not because they were bothering me, but because they were so charming. The little boy was just everything wonderful about childhood squeezed into one person. All fleshy elbows and turned up nose, legs dangling off the floor, his orange ankle socked feet shooting straight up in the air as he sneezed into the arm of his shirt.
Aside from the extreme cuteness and the fact that I wanted to go over and hug and kiss him because I no longer have a three-year-old of my own to cuddle, what struck me most was the boy’s exuberance. His unmitigated joy for almost all things. His outward, visible manifestation of everything that thrilled him. Finding the right table to sit at, taking the phone from his Dad and talking animatedly to the person on the other end, eating his croissant, everything was wonderful and worthy of note. Being told he was allowed to play Angry Birds on his Dad’s tablet resulted in a full body, booty shaking dance that made him fall over. He was just so into everything. He karate chopped the air when the birds hit their target. Pulled out the double fisting air pump “Yes-es!” and exhilarated “I can’t believe this” Whoooooo’s when he completed a level. He was fabulous and, no matter how into my writing I was, it was impossible to not just abandon it to simply watch this kid exist.
That’s the thing about people who fully commit to life. They’re infectious. It’s too bad we often lose that enthusiasm as we age. Life, bills, marriage, stress, anxiety and, quite frankly, the bloody news just make it more and more difficult to be truly thrilled about anything other than flopping into bed.
I guess that’s why I’ve always been such a big fan of parties and holidays and long dinners with people who’s company I love. It’s so amazingly nice to have a reason to leave the everyday behind and live in a moment of excitement no matter how brief. I really wanted to go to this super cool club for my birthday this year. It’s a fully themed Hollywood bar set up like a 1970’s house party where you enter through a vintage beer fridge at the back of a garage sale. What?!?! Come on!! So good!! It’s all shag carpeting and lava lamps and beer served in #1 Dad mugs. I love the idea of it. I love the effort that went into creating it, the attention to detail and the complete lack of irony in which you can embrace it. There’s a roller skating show for crying out loud. How can you not love the idea of putting on wide leg jeans and drinking properly mixed cocktails with your friends in a different decade?
It was in the same vein that Sean and I planned our school’s fundraiser last year. It was a 1920’s burlesque slash prohibition night at a club owned by the same people as that 70’s place. These genius brothers took one of the oldest private homes in Los Angeles and turned it into a what looks like a very hip, traditional speakeasy. Again, how fun to be greeted by a 1920’s madam in a vintage hotel room just to be directed to a secret set of stairs that leads you to a vintage club? Even knowing how reticent grown ups typically are at the mere suggestion of costumes, we went ahead and encouraged theme dress and it was amazing to see how many people actually made the effort to show up in period. The thing is, once you get over the discomfort of doing something out of the ordinary, people usually have a pretty good time.
Halloween for most children is right up there with Christmas and their birthday. It’s a BIG deal and they devote themselves to it whole hog. On Loch’s first Halloween, like the newbie parents we were, Sean and I decided to embrace the holiday and try to enjoy it the way the kid’s did. Every year since then we’ve done our best to be the Supemes to our child’s superstar. We try to back up the costume he’s committed to and attempt to have fun while doing it. When he was a three-year-old vampire, we tossed around the idea of being people who’d been bitten but, to ensure we were also entertained, we ended up as Sookie and Jason Stackhouse from the popular vampire show “True Blood”. Loch had fun, but so did we. Last year’s costumes were my favorite so far because Loch’s adamant decision to be Aquaman (a costume that is NOT sold in stores by the way) stumped us on what we should be. After talking though relatively pathetic, homemade jelly fish and squid costumes, we considered – for the first time ever – abandoning our family plan. When we finally figured out something we could get on board with: Punk Aquaman fan club members, it became easy and, once again, fun. Multiple fake face piercings and our son’s own costumed picture silkscreened on our shirts, we arrived at Loch’s school Halloween party with an unbridled enthusiasm that darling boy from Starbucks would have truly appreciated. Plus, we kind of made people nervous, which was an added bonus.
It’s fun to be committed. It’s incredibly enjoyable to dive in to things with enthusiasm and, from what I’ve noticed over the years, that kind of keenness is contagious – even if it’s just to yourself. Putting energy into something and getting positive feedback inspires you to make that kind of effort again and do it even better. That’s exactly how my family ended up with our increasingly elaborate Christmas card.
Every year we’ve been married Sean and I have sent out a Christmas card. For a while we couldn’t afford an actual card so we’d send a short letter with a separate photo we’d mass produced. Personally, I love getting Christmas cards but I wish every single one had a picture. I love to see people. How they’ve changed. How they look. It’s nice to get smiling faces in your mailbox and really, so much better than what usually ends up in there. I’m looking at you bills and black widow spiders! Anyway, in 2010, burnt out trying to write our Christmas wrap up, Sean came up with the idea to put our family on the cover of a magazine called McGowan (fonted to look like Esquire) with just teaser titles to highlight our year. It was easy and fun and the response we received made it well worth the effort we’d put into it. We were so glad we’d done it, in fact, we found ourselves in the catch twenty-two of trying to outdo ourselves the following year.
2011’s photo strip was cute – with the added bonus of it’s size leaving absolutely no room for any sort of written debriefing – but at the end of the day we felt we could have done better. So, the next year we stepped it up and did a full fledged 1950’s family portrait that entertained us probably more than the people who received it. It was a riot. In fact, it was that card that solidified for us that sending a Christmas card to your friends and family shouldn’t feel like a burden. It should be a happy thing that makes YOU smile as much as anyone else. If you’re not enjoying it what are you doing other than adding yet another thing to your “To Do” list? So, with that idea firmly in mind, and Loch old enough to truly be on board with the revelry, we went straight over the top last year with a card inspired by Sean’s Barry Gibb hair phase and shot a Bee Gee’s type Holiday Album cover. I take the fact that people tell us they now “look forward to our card” as both a compliment and reminder that we’re doing something right.
Take a moment and remind yourself to embrace life with the joy of your inner orange socked kid. Find the things and people that make you want to double fist pump or scream whooooo! Why not commit to a little escapism? Is it really so terrible to engage in things that might make you smile?
That little boy’s voice. His shining face. Every day my Lochie grows farther and farther away from being a little person and I want so desperately to make sure he doesn’t lose his joy while doing so. He’s still excited about everything. He’s still lives in a world without shame or self judgement but, I see it changing. He’s aware of people now. He’s mindful of who’s watching. He’s becoming conscious of what’s “cool” and what his friends are (or are not) into.
That little boy in Starbucks didn’t care anyone was there but his Dad. He was in the moment every single second and I want my boy to be able to hold onto that feeling for as long as possible. I don’t want him (or me, for that matter) to turn into some adult who’s forgotten how to have fun. Someone too jaded to be thrilled. Too caught up to let go. I want Loch to live in a world where, even with all the real problems and worries he’ll face, he will still strive to find the moments where he can fall over laughing.
In my perfect future that joy will advance past Angry Birds…but, you know, I’ll take what I can get.