There's one thing that the kid/parent switcharoo movies of the 1980s got right: Kids want nothing more than to be grown-ups and grown-ups want nothing more than to be kids, if only for a day to have some fun and stage an elaborate water balloon fight against a bully and his minions. That's what human kids do, right?
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Of course these are water balloons, not the eggs of my people.
This time of year, juveniles of the world are heading back to school for new adventures and opportunities to be rascals, while adults are stuck in an endless montage of Dilbert panels. So why not carry some of those old back-to-school rituals with you into the adult world? Just because you're old enough to buy beer and have/buy sex doesn't mean things are all fun all the time.
#5. Summer Vacation
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One minute, summer vacation and all the promise and hopes and dreams attached to it is a staple of your childhood psyche. The next minute, it's gone. Losing summer is like losing an arm in a battle you don't remember having. Until the day you die, you're going to have phantom twinges of hope for a three-month holiday that is never ever coming.
What you might have forgotten was that having a fun summer took work. Think back. You had 90-ish days to fill up with your own agenda, but if you did any one thing for too long, it probably got old. Maybe one day you watched cartoons, another was spent learning sick yo-yo tricks, while the next day was all about painting faces on your toes and taking them to a shoebox techno club called "The Toe Hold" and watching them dance. Your brain was forced, maybe for the first time since your last summer vacation, to invent things to do, otherwise an adult would come up with something for you. Would you rather dust the hobo clown figurine collection or sit in your room and play endless variations of M*A*S*H all by yourself? It's an easy question with an easy answer.
How to Bring It Back
Surprise! When you're a grown-up, every night is summer vacation. Those same options that you had during long breaks are all still on the table until the day you die. Actually, I take that back. Once you're sporting a beard and driving around with a Domino's sign on your car, you should also plan on never playing hide and seek with the neighborhood kids again, so let's knock that off the list of ways to spend your nights.
Otherwise, remember that the fun of summer vacation wasn't the endless days watching TV or playing video games or "chatting" on "forums," although those are all great things to do. The fun of summer was that you were free from the routine that someone else invented for you. Are you bored with your life right now? Think like a kid. Find something new to do. Finding a new hobby or skill is like giving your brain a vacation from the routines that are boring you to death.
In fact, at the beginning of the year, David Wong actually challenged readers to learn a new skill set. It's that important to your not-turning-into-a-cranky-bastard development. The Cracked forum now boasts 55 pages of readers who took the challenge, not because they had three free months of summer to goof off, but because what else are you going to do? Watch Breaking Bad? Yes, obviously you're going to do that, but when it's over? You're going to need a new activity to fill the Breaking Bad hole in your heart pretty soon. That's what a new hobby/summer surrogate can do for you. I know I'm having fun with M*A*S*H this year.
#4. The First-Day-of-School Outfit
Never in your life will you work harder to make a good impression than on the first day of the school year. Not during interviews for your dream job, not on your wedding day, not when you're getting knighted or meeting your so-called child for the first time. Because hopefully by the time you get to those stages in your life, you're confident enough in your own identity to be comfortable around others and not so hung up on what everyone thinks about you. Or comfortable-ish, for you.
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Too comfortable! Retreat!
I could go to Walmart wearing a hole-ridden Tweety Bird nightgown and a fright wig RIGHT NOW and hold my head high, that's how confident I am in all this (points at self, head to toe). That confidence might come from being a grown-ass woman, or it might come from drinking too much wine earlier this morning, one of those two. But I certainly didn't have it when I was a kid. That's what the first day of school outfit was for -- to fake everyone out into thinking you were better than you really thought you were.
If my perfect first-day-of-school fantasy ever came to fruition, the combination of my new clothes from Sears, extra crispy bangs, and fresh, dope, plastic framed glasses would have translated into a girl that no one would recognize from the year before. "Who's she?" they'd all say. "Is she an exchange student from France?" and "I didn't know we had a vocational model program!" And then they'd say "It's Kristi! Kristi from last year! But you're so pretty!" And then they'd immediately elect me homecoming queen even though the vote was a month away and we were in elementary school and didn't have homecoming.
How to Bring It Back
That ridiculous optimism that you can create a whole new you on the first day of school is rooted in fact that's as American as apple pie: You really can reinvent yourself. Maybe not in front of the same kids who know you wet your britches under the slide in kindergarten, and maybe not when everyone else is also trying to solidify themselves on the cooler side of the social spectrum, but upgrading is not only possible, it's a good instinct. If you're familiar with the show Mad Men, you know the character Don Draper took the idea of reinvention and ran it to the finish line (of death? We don't know yet). Here's the character Don Draper as we know and love him:
Here's a screenshot of Don "Knotts" Draper as a young man, before he created a new life for himself:
Shocking. But it's nice to know that nothing about you is completely set in stone, and that's a good thing to remember once the doldrums of adulthood get you down. There's nothing you can't change: your body, your skill set, your friends, your personality, your IQ (ish). Just don't let that ambition manifest itself in a spouse-dumping midlife crisis or worse -- a single stud earring. That's actually good advice for you high school boys, too.
#3. Back-to-School Jitters
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It's the night before your first day at school. You've packed your backpack, laid out your outfit, memorized a map of the school, practiced your choreography just in case the opening sequences to Grease and Grease 2 were documentaries all along (as you always suspected), hid your secret summer baby, and put on your jammies. Now it's time for sleep. After saying your prayers and reviewing the alphabet just to make sure you didn't get a sudden case of the illiterates, you try to go to bed. But you can't. Sleep will not come. Instead you're bombarded with a hurricane of terrible first-day scenarios.
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"Maybe they'll figure out I'm just a narc posing as a high school kid."
What if no one likes your clothes? What if they like your clothes so much that all the teachers are wearing your outfit, a plot totally executed to perfection in an episode of Full House? What if you period all over your new Girbaud jeans and everyone called you "Bloody Mary" all year? What if every time you walked into the bathroom the mean girls turned off the lights and yelled "BLOODY MARY" three times and then, because your luck is awful, the historical Bloody Mary showed up and killed you and you are now actually dead? What if Elton John comes to your funeral and sings "Goodbye, Texas Rose" and the very hottest boy at school places a yellow porcelain rose inside your coffin because he loved you all along? Whoops, looks like it's time to flip the pillow, this side is too tear soaked.
How to Bring It Back
For insomniacs, that night-before-the-first-day-of-school imaginary soap opera isn't a once-a-year deal, it's an every-night deal. After an hour or two of trying to sleep, you eventually just end up thinking of terrible ways that everyone around you will die, then you feel sad and cry until the sun comes up. What? That's not how insomnia works for everyone else? Huh.
"WHAT IF MY BABY DROWNS IN PUDDING?"
Everyone gets to play insomniac the night before school starts. It's like the world's most boring cosplay event. But those jitters are kind of fun, too, like waiting in line for a roller coaster. By the time you've made it to the front of the line, you've imagined every single way the thing can malfunction, but you get locked into your seat anyway. Or you slip out of line because your fears got the best of you. Either way, nervously imagining the worst case scenarios isn't in itself a bad thing. You will get fired someday. That's going to happen. Playing out a version of that story in your head isn't going to hurt anyone. Your whole family and all your friends are going to die someday. I'm so so sorry. But that's true. Weird as it is, I think my own sleepless nights have worked as a pre-therapy for real-world mourning times to come. Fixating on the worst possible things that could happen to you is a bad idea. Imagining them, playing with them, facing your fears, getting through them, isn't a bad idea.
On the other hand, if you perioded all over your Girbauds on the first day of school, I'm really sorry for you. Life only gets better from here.