5 Childhood Traditions That Would Make Adult Life Awesome
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
Adorable picture of Tom Reimann
The first day of school wouldn't be complete without mom stopping you on the way to the car, lining you up with your siblings (or, in the absence of siblings, air), and taking your picture. It's the perfect time capsule of the year's fashions, how much you've aged, and, depending on the decade, how high you could pull your shorts up. Midway between the belly button and nipples seems to be the standard for most of the '80s. At least you didn't have to wear a dress and knee socks like some people.
Long before parents were Facebooking the crap out of their kids' every move, they had the instinct to capture the first day of school each year, even if the beginning of that roll of film was the first day of school and the end of the roll was opening presents on Christmas morning two years later. Don't kid yourself, the first day of school is Christmas to parents. While you're in homeroom, mom and dad are going to stay home from work and have day sex and eat all the ice cream in the house. The first day of school was a very good day for them.
How to Bring It Back
Take more pictures.
Adorable picture of Cyriaque
I know what you're thinking: that no one needs more encouragement than they're already getting in this oversharing world. That you don't need more images of everyone's stupid kids doing their stupid kid stuff and if people would just keep their pictures to themselves you'd be a lot happier. Throughout human history we have never documented so much crap so prodigiously. Grrrrr.
Actually, that's my point, and why I'm telling you now to take more pictures. Throughout human history we have never documented so much so prodigiously, and as a fan of history, I'm thrilled. Let's put it this way: What do you know about your great-grandmother? Was she pretty? What did she like to do for fun? If you could have access to a Facebook photo album from one summer of her life, would you want it? Of course you would. Even if she was the greatest peg-legged prostitute of her generation, her history is your history, and you'd probably love to know more about her. Images do what words and mimes can't do, try as they might: They catch people as they are at that moment. Which wouldn't be a big deal if we all stayed the same forever, like Demi Moore or John Stamos. The rest of us need documentation of who we used to be, before that person is old and fat.
Your kids? Good lord, take more pictures of your kids. You won't have enough when they leave you. Plus, those snapshots are your evidence that you tried your best when they inevitably conclude that you failed as a parent along the way. "Are you kidding me? Look through these 700 photo albums of all the good times we had, loser!"
"That's right, turn your back. Don't you dare make those weak sauce parenting accusations to my face."
Also, take those selfies while you can. Ain't no shame in it. You're getting old and won't be cute forever. Your spouse, your neighborhood, your town, your work, your co-workers, your friends, your favorite tree, all of it will change in the years to come. Take the pictures. In the short history of photography, no one has ever said "I've got too many pictures of my precious memories!" And if they did, they had more problems than too many pictures.
Finding Someone to Eat Lunch With
Chief among the worries plaguing every kid on the first day of school is this: Who will I eat lunch with? It's hard to remember how traumatizing the prospect of a friendless lunch is, because as adults we spend 99 percent of our lunches alone, in silence, probably seeking refuge from whoever is driving you the most crazy that day at work. But think back for a minute. If you haven't been in a middle school cafeteria in a while, the noise is like the roar of a waterfall, but in an echo chamber, and with each drop of water played by Sam Kinison. Cafeterias are the opening acts to hell.
And everyone has someone to sit with. You have to have someone to sit with, because pop culture has taught us that only the weirdos sit by themselves, and half the time, even those guys have a friend or two. Even the kids who shoot up the school have someone to sit with. Sitting alone means you have NO ONE. Which isn't true, obviously. It just means your friends don't have that lunch period, or maybe you're quirky and above it all and don't even care that you're sitting on a sharp rock eating your lunch all by yourself. What more do you need when you've got The Catcher in the Rye and a hat? You're all set.
How to Bring It Back
Once you're an adult, find a clique and stick with it.
And by "clique," I mean "friends," and by "stick with it," I mean "Just be a good, loyal friend." Especially to your work friends. This is a crazy thing to imagine when you're young and hot and all up on that text lingo, but once you're a grown-up, those work friends might end up being your only friends that you talk to every day, despite what Friends the sitcom taught you about having adult friends. Once you've got a family and a house and countless crocheting projects to keep up with, you're not going to have time for a Carrie, Samantha, Whoever, and That Other One. So your co-workers become your Carrie, Samantha, Whoever, and That Other One, even if they're boys and they don't know it.
I'm lucky, because my work friends are probably cooler and smarter and funnier than yours. For example, my very first work friend from Cracked was this goofball.
That's right. The one and only Alice Cooper. I'm way older than I look.
Fellow editor and columnist Adam Tod Brown and I joined the Cracked Writers Workshop the same weekend six years ago and we've been buddies ever since. He got me my first freelance writing jobs and I laughed uncomfortably hard when I got to see his stand-up act in person. That's reciprocity, baby. And you don't get it by sitting alone like a weirdo every day. So when you grow up, make some friends. Stick to them. Chances are they're not going to be nearly as awful as the kids you went to high school with, anyway.