Put Away Childish Things


Kristin Devine

Kristin is a geek, a libertarian, and a domestic goddess. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals and works with women around the world as a fertility counselor. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of https://atomicfeminist.com/

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71 Responses

  1. fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

    My sense of it is: what do you do “in the clutch”? What do you do when there’s an emergency at work, a death in the family, a budget crisis?

    Some people flake totally on everything. They say they’ll do whatever they’re supposed to to take care of the emergency at work, but then they don’t do it. And they sometimes lie about it. I’ve seen families (NOT MY OWN) where when a member was grieving, other close relatives “ghosted” on them. And I’ve seen people incapable of being responsible about money.

    That’s being childish.

    I’ve become MUCH more unapologetic and open about traveling with a favorite stuffed animal to sleep holding crushed to my chest in recent months. Because I’ve come to realize: I’m pretty damn good at being an adult out in the world. I survived a major budget crisis at work and kept a smile on my face and kept helping my students even when both they and I knew I was being paid 1/3 of what I normally made one summer. I made some hard decisions after my dad died when my mom was too overwhelmed by other decisions she had to make. I’ve managed to live within a budget for the past 30 years.

    So no one gets to tell me crap about liking “The Goonies” (which I just bought on dvd) or needing to watch cartoons instead of the news some times

    One of the things the grief counselor pointed out to me yesterday afternoon, after talking to me for a while about what I was doing to cope and hearing my concerns: the things I was referring to as “distractions” (re-reading “The Hobbit” for about the thirtieth time, watching cartoons, going fabric shopping) are actually “breaks” – that I AM processing the grief, but humans need a break from the grinding quality of something like that from time to time.

    I think it’s a spectrum: yes, I’m sure there are the people who stay up until 3 am playing Fortnight and aren’t functional at work later. But then there are people who spend a couple hours watching, yes, “My Little Pony” and who show up to work the next day *more* rested than maybe they would be if they watched what passes for grown-up fare these days….

    I think the other thing is, a lot of us, we look at the world now and we see a nearly-literal dumpster fire. Huge fires in the Amazon and a circular-firing squad of passing-the-blame for who set them. World leaders who seem more interested in working out their own personal beefs with each other than the well being of the people they’re supposed to lead. Being told in a pre-semester meeting that fundamentally, if a shooter comes to campus, some of us will die, and maybe faculty be prepared to make the sacrifice to protect the students. Talk of recession, which would wipe out the retirement savings of those of us in Gen X who were privileged enough to HAVE retirement savings. It’s all terrible! And so I do take hot baths with fizzies in them, and think about what color I’m going to paint my toenails next, and spend time looking for amigurumi (crocheted toy animal) patterns online, and watch cartoons and work on my epic-but-totally-imagined mental story and check my Neko Atsume cats.

    Because I’d go absolutely mad if I always had the awfulness of this world shoved in my face 24/7.

    And I think in the 50s and earlier, grown-ups had OTHER coping strategies – they drank a lot, or they carried on affairs, or they ran off and played golf. Is watching cartoons *really* worse than downing three martinis most evenings in order to “cope”? I don’t think so.

    (And sitcoms used to be funnier and nicer some years back – somehow, something you said, made me think “What if The Golden Girls, but with My Little Pony characters” and now I am so on-board for this I may have to find a random GG script online and try to rewrite it. And yeah, GG had more than its share of racy jokes, but it seemed different, somehow)Report

    • There is also absolutely that element of it, which I skipped over because I felt like others had mentioned it before. But yeah, I def. feel many days like I don’t particularly want to watch Saving Private Ryan or similar equivalent, KWIM? I just don’t have the emotional energy left to spare.

      I should have very likely split this piece but I liked the overall theme.

      ps – love your idea! 🙂 Fun!Report

      • YES so much about “I don’t have the emotional energy.” I usually use the shorthand of “spoons,” which I admit I stole from someone with a chronic physical illness (The Spoon Theory) about how you have limited reserves, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.

        And right now, I have very few “spoons” for the fires (both literal and figurative) going on in the outside world; watching five minutes of world news makes me throw up my hands and say “that’s it, we’ll all be dead in six months, so what does anything matter any more?”

        While I never have a high tolerance for news, it’s extra hard now with all the surprise crap I’m learning about how grief works. (We don’t talk about grief enough, or openly enough.) Most of my energy is focused on working through that and getting through the day at work and remembering to shower and feed myself and stuff. So if I can replenish my energy by watching “We Bare Bears” or whatever instead of “grown up” shows, I’m gonna do that.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to fillyjonk says:


    • Avatar Tom Payne in reply to fillyjonk says:

      {Ed Note: Even if Tom Payne weren’t already a banned commenter, this one would have gotten him a nice suspension.}Report

  2. Avatar InMD says:

    You had me for most of this piece until about the third act. I’m not on a Saul level disgruntlement with pop culture. I follow my local sports teams too much and watch too many dumb horror movies to claim to have totally jettisoned the cotton candy of youth. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find a lot of it cringey, insipid, and over-indulgent.

    But where this goes off the rails to me is when it turns into yet another defense of the merits of super heroes, YA literature, etc. which itself has become a genre of its own. I’m in the Xennial range so not a true Gen Xer but my parents are boomers and I agree that a sort of failure to pass the baton came out of the 60s. It’s something I often think about with my son, and how I can do a bit better, and how we all could do a bit better with the next generation.

    I don’t want to criticize the essay you did write for the essay me, a random (and appreciative) reader for not being the essay you didn’t write but here’s the question I’d ask. How do you think we can do better? Because I feel like a defensive appreciation for Star Wars or whatever else isn’t going to pick up the baton and better pass it off. To me the correction you seem to be calling for requires considering those issues.Report

    • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to InMD says:

      Yeah, if I’d had enough time I’d have split it into three pieces, because I already split it into two, gonna post the other on my blog shortly. I felt some (totally self-imposed) time pressure on this one and it shows, unfortunately. Big gear shift towards the end. Would have been better for a month of rumination, no doubt.

      I’m not super interested in offering solutions. I’m a libertarian and that means that I believe when there’s a problem, eventually someone will come along and start fixing it, and I think we’re already seeing that happen with quite a few of the superhero shows really bringing the heat (S3 of Daredevil, and the newly released The Boys, for example). I’m just naming the problem as I see it, because I’m tired of everyone acting like people don’t want to grow up, when in reality they just don’t want to read/watch a certain type of show.

      Thanks for reading.Report

  3. Avatar Aaron David says:

    The judge smiled. Men are born for games. Nothing else. Every child knows that play is nobler than work. He knows too that the worth or merit of a game is not inherent in the game itself but rather in the value of that which is put at hazard. Games of chance require a wager to have meaning at all. Games of sport involve the skill and strength of the opponents and the humiliation of defeat and the pride of victory are in themselves sufficient stake because they inhere in the worth of the principals and define them. But trial of chance or trial of worth all games aspire to the condition of war for here that which is wagered swallows up game, player, all.
    Suppose two men at cards with nothing to wager save their lives. Who has not heard such a tale? A turn of the card. The whole universe for such a player has labored clanking to this moment which will tell if he is to die at that man’s hand or that man at his. What more certain validation of a man’s worth could there be? This enhancement of the game to its ultimate state admits no argument concerning the notion of fate. The selection of one man over another is a preference absolute and irrevocable and it is a dull man indeed who could reckon so profound a decision without agency or significance either one. In such games as have for their stake the annihilation of the defeated the decisions are quite clear. This man holding this particular arrangement of cards in his hand is thereby removed from existence. This is the nature of war, whose stake is at once the game and the authority and the justification. Seen so, war is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one’s will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god.

    Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
    The point of that is that games, and other so-called childish pursuits may have a place in the world of Adults and a very important one at that.Report

  4. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Kristin Devine lays the trap for Saul. Let’s see if he takes the bate.

    This essay went in.a way that I didn’t inspect. I forgot her name but a few years ago a female author made the same point of sorts in the New York Times. There is a lot of adult literature and media that ins’t about sex and it isn’t that hard to find. For instance The Republic: A Novel by Joost De Vries is about how modern society treats history as entertainment. Deep River by Karl Malantes is an old fashioned family saga. The man and his penis genre of literary fiction is not that prominent.

    I do think that this essay does prove my point that when it comes to heterosexual romances/sex novels, both genders find the material aimed at the opposite gender to be highly annoying at best. My theory is that since romance/sex novels are fantasies of desire, the pissed off gender doesn’t like how the ideal partner of their own gender is depicted.Report

  5. Avatar Tom Payne says:

    {Ed Note: This is a good comment. If there were more coments like this we probably wouldn’t even know to check if they are someone who has already been banned. And by the time we noticed, maybe we wouldn’t care.}

    > “Do what you love and the money will follow” only works if there aren’t 10 million other people also doing what you love and expecting to make money at it.

    I know this wasn’t the raison d’etre of your piece, but this is a great point worthy of its own essay. People forget that you can’t repeal the laws of supply and demand, so occupations that seem like they are easy and fun quickly become “winner take all” with a skewed compensation structure.

    Also, just because you enjoy an activity doesn’t necessarily mean you want to want it to consume your life. Even if you like sports, do you want to be forced to watch sports as your livelihood? If you work in college athletics because you love football and basketball, you are still going to give up almost every Saturday working a game. Plus there are other sports you might not enjoy like soccer and field hockey and baseball &c that still need coverage.Report

  6. the rest of the piece explains it a little more, and I expanded on it in my blog: https://atomicfeminist.com/2019/08/24/on-glorious-bastards/Report

  7. Avatar James K says:

    While I agree that “do what you love” doesn’t work terribly well as life advice, I can’t help but feel a little absolutism in your position here Kristen.

    Now in the Dead Poets Society case we have someone wanting to act as a job, which is a career you want to have a back-up for at minimum. But why must soccer or Roller Derby be careers to be worth pursuing? My office (which is a government department, just as a reminder) participates in an inter-office soccer league, and I know of at least one person in the department who is involved in Roller Derby. I’ve worked with amateur actors, artists and musicians. I, of course, have my own hobbies, I spend much of my off-hours playing games of various sorts. I note that the Ellen Page character in Whip It was moving her work schedule around to play Roller Derby, not quitting her job. That isn’t a foolish youth pursing pleasure at the expense of responsibilities, it’s a young woman balancing her responsibilities in order to pursue something she enjoys – to become her own person instead of a reflection of her parents. Isn’t that an adult thing to do?

    It strikes me as an essentially American idea that as adults we should do nothing but work until we fall over dead some day. An adult must meet their obligations of course, but many people can do that and pursue other things as well.Report

  8. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    This is Saul bait.

    Despite appearances on the Internet, I do not think all pop culture is evil or wrong. Marvel movies can be entertaining. I think you get it correct though when you discuss how fun and entertaining childhood is for many people. Adulthood is hard. You need to work, pay taxes, be responsible, etc.

    But there does seem to be something really limiting in just sticking with childhood entertainment. There is also a cultural change. I think there used to be more importance placed on sophistication. It was cool to know about Truffaut and Goddard films and appreciate them. The modern pop culture fanatic insists that there is no such thing as liking anything deep or serious. People only pretend to like contemporary art, serious literature, jazz music, whatever to “appear cool and urbane.” The pop culture fanatic insists that deep down we all prefer being overly sugared diabetic ten-year olds full of squeeeee!

    I can’t be the only person who thinks there is more freedom and interesting things in being an adult than a child.Report

  9. Avatar Jaybird says:

    This was a really good essay.

    I know that part of my neoteny has to do with the fact that I don’t have kids. I’m perpetually in the “just got married/no kids yet” part of married life. My friends have kids graduating high school and, at my age, my parents were in the same boat. My grandparents were welcoming grandkids at this point in their lives.

    For me, being “grown up” means “dealing with children becoming adults that can have children capable of becoming adults capable of helping children become adults that can have children capable of becoming adults that can have children capable of becoming adults ad infinitum” rather than “enjoys pinky-extended movies rather than ‘splodey ones”.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

      Part of that is steering your children towards the cultural equivalent of steak (or even kale) in addition to bacon-wrapped fried Snickers. Case in point:

      My daughter and I just saw a local production of Pinafore, which completes the Big Three for us (I wrote about The Mikado here). I thought she’d been going mostly to humor me, but when they announced that their next show would be Princess Ida, starting around her next birthday, she told me that that was what she wanted for a present. A very proud moment.Report

    • Avatar Maribou in reply to Jaybird says:

      And I already raised a passel of kids and had to be so grown up before 18 that I’m honestly more of a refusenik than anything else at this point.

      Want me to be your sidekick and help you be all adult and paternal and grandpaternal and etc, I’m 100 percent there. I will happily be the fun aunt or uncle or nonecle or whatever label you want your kids to slap on me.

      And if you are in a real crisis and I love you or you don’t have anyone to help you, yes, I know how to be a pillar and/or an anchor and please let me help you.

      The rest of the time? I’ll be a grown-up at my job, where I actively model and teach different ways of claiming the baton for one’s own damn self without having to put on a gray suit, for 18-22 year olds who are going to be WAY more effective in 20 years than I have a shot at being, and then come home and play as much as I want. All day erry day.

      yes, I did spend a large portion of the night working on what songs go best on a batman fanfic’s playlist. I *never* had the kind of time i wanted for music when I was a teenager, even though it was the thing that made it less awful to stay alive most often.

      (this is a very sideways way of saying, “what a delightful essay this is, Kristin!” so let me be a tad more direct: What a delightful and thought-sparking essay this is, Kristin!)Report

  10. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I don’t give a rats hooey what someone does with their free time. It may seem childish to me but ultimately who cares? Do what makes you happy.

    But to be an adult is to be someone who takes responsibility and accountability for themselves. Now, this can mean different things for different folks for various reasons, but ultimately you need to handle your shit. Doing so allows for free time. But free time comes after. That’s what makes it “free”.Report

    • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Kazzy says:

      Yeah, this. I’m bracing for the annual wave of pumpkin-spice-latte hate. I don’t give a flip about ’em myself, I don’t drink coffee and I’m not a big fan of pumpkin. But you know? If it makes someone happy and it’s not hurting other people*, we don’t get a say about someone’s personal choices like that.

      I saw something on twitter that went like:

      “2009 Twitter: Person A: I like apples. Person B: well, I like pears. Person A: Oh, that’s cool, tell me why you like pears….”

      “2019 Twitter: Person A: I like apples. Person B: Oh, you mean you’re anti-pear than. You are a fruitist. Person A: No, I just said I like apples. Person B: Yes, but that means you don’t like pears. Blocked and unfollowed”

      (*And yes, of course, we can lawyerball everything down to “well, actuallies” like “but the production of pumpkin flavoring uses these synthetic chemicals that are harmful to the environment’ (but in a very small way compared to many other things) or “but it comes in a paper cup, that’s bad for the environment” or “but you’re contributing to Barista Oppression by shopping at coffee shops” and it makes me very extremely tired)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to fillyjonk says:

        The thing is… I’m often up for a good ol’ round of curmudgeonly complaining about something or other. It can be fun! But there is a big difference between, “UGH! How many damn flavors are Oreos going to come in?!” and “You are a bad person because you think Diet Coke takes better than Coke Zero. I will try to get you fired now.” It is the conflation of differing opinions with value judgements that really gets us into trouble.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to fillyjonk says:

        I think the pumpkin spice stuff (lattes and other things) uses the spices one usually uses in pumpkin pies – ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, that kind of thing – not actual pumpkin or pumpkin flavour.

        Which might remain largely irrelevant to you if you don’t care for coffee.Report

  11. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    Graduate school is where I really learned the value of keeping hold of a few childish things. When a regular week is at least 70 hours*, and any time you sit down you can make a list of at least a half-dozen things related to academics that you should spend time on, plus sleeping (I’m an 8.5 hours/day guy), and doing the necessary stuff like eating and laundry and shopping and getting to-and-from campus, squeezing in an occasional childish bit was a handhold on sanity. For me, it was usually 20 minutes of reading something that was purely for entertainment, without any deep thinking, in bed before I rolled over and went to sleep. Occasionally dinner with someone, or a movie, but it was harder to do planned things with other people because there were so many deadlines I didn’t control.

    As for other people’s childish things, I’m a live-and-let-live sort. Whatever rocks your boat.

    * One of the biggest mental adjustments about leaving graduate school for a non-academic position was finding things to fill up all of the newly-available hours in a week. Bell Labs had a ton of young people with shiny new graduate degrees who had to adjust to that. Help was available.Report

  12. Avatar Kaleberg says:

    Wasn’t golf a game? Wasn’t bridge a game?

    I think you are spot on with regards to YA literature. In the 1960s, proper grown up literature was reduced to “oral sex in the suburbs” as one critic put it. No wonder real readers went for genre fiction. Look at the 19th century classics that kids are forced to read in high school. They tend to be about something, financial chicanery, sexual repression, social pretensions or what have you. The extremely personal novel that came in starting the 1950s was claustrophobic. If Charles Dickens had to write Oliver Twist or Emile Zola had to write J’accuse nowadays, it would have to be YA fiction. (Hell, Milton’s Paradise Lost was just fanfic.)

    Becoming an adult is about being able to pay your bills, acting responsibly with friends and family, and following and acting in the political arena. Adults were expected to have hobbies, that is, to do thinks for their own pleasure rather than as part of their responsibilities as an adult. That meant playing bridge or golf or knitting or running model trains. Well, bridge and gold aren’t as popular as they once were. Why not comic books, fantasy novels and video gamingReport

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Kaleberg says:

      Golf is a religion. Bridge is too much like work. :^)Report

  13. Avatar blake says:

    lol…I have no idea what this ban was about, but I love the Editor’s note.Report

  14. Avatar blake says:

    I’m not sure if that post about the deleted comment is going through twice or not. Well, I apologize to any adults who might have to clean up my mess.

    I’ve already written 2,000+ worse in response to the spin-off post Kristin wrote to this, so I’ll keep it brief here:

    1. One of the worst thing adults to do kids is to convince them growing up offers no benefits.

    2. There is no difference, objectively, between work and play. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine what that says about why we create subjective differences.

    3. I don’t object to a lot of the modern kid culture per se, I do object to its blandness. I’ll take a goofy, fun, even “gritty”, Asian action flick over most any recent American one.

    4. I agree “adult” culture has been reduced to boring sexual things, and further object to its blandness which is possibly worse than the kids stuff, because it’s dictated by a very small number of approved narratives. You know who makes great movie for grown-ups? Israelis. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. (I highly recommend this year’s “The Other Story”, but recent years have given us classics like “Fill The Void”, “The Women’s Balcony” and “Ushpizin”.)

    Kidlit from 60-70 years ago or more is far more sophisticated in terms of writing and raising the big questions than modern adult tales, hands down.

    And now I’ll shut up.Report

  15. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    people: “it’s stupid that grown-ass adults pay so much attention to little kids’ entertainment, grow the F up and look at REAL ADULT STUFF that has complexity and nuance and isn’t just four-color Heroes Punch Villains”
    same people: “wine is bullshit, there’s no proveable difference in flavor between that $300 bottle with some fancy-ass French on the label and this Two-Buck Chuck I got at the grocery store, if you think alcohol needs to be sophisticated you’re just being pretentious”Report

  16. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    There’s also an argument that YA lit is just as much a monotonous exploration of white authors’ issues as Adult lit, only instead of being mens’ empowerment fantasies it’s womens’.Report

  17. Avatar dragonfrog says:

    I think there’s a good distinction to be drawn between “childlike” and “childish”.

    It is childlike to enjoy cartoons, onesie PJs with animal ears on the hood, YA novels, playground swings, etc.

    It is childish to throw tantrums, to resent people when their needs impinge on our wants, to get in physical fights over perceived slights, to blame others for our own wrong behaviour.

    We should strive to put away childish things, and hang on to as many childlike things as we would like to.Report

    • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to dragonfrog says:

      Nicely put.

      At the risk of gilding the lilly, it struck me that in another milieu we’d have just said:

      1 Corinthians 13:8-13
      Mark 10:13-16

      But those were different ways, a long time ago.Report

    • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to dragonfrog says:

      +1 yes, this too. I am a monkeyfighting adult when I need to be. I don’t demand to speak to a manager when there’s some glitch at the bookstore, I don’t ghost on people I agreed to do something for, I tell my students “no” when it’s good for them to hear “no” even if they whine at me (and oh, the whining gets to me). So I think I should be allowed to enjoy my stupid cartoons and my stuffed animals and my occasional indulgence in YA lit. But apparently some people think that makes me a bad person. Fine. Whatever. I’m not QUITE to the point of being able to say ‘fish them, then” but I’m slowly getting there.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to fillyjonk says:

        Only slightly connected to the topic, but – I recently encountered your namesake! I’m reading my daughter “Moominsummer Madness” for bedtime stories (the same copy my dad read to me).

        I really am enjoying all the fun novels we get to read now. Picture books were fun too, but it’s great her being old enough that we can get into real longer form books.Report

  18. Avatar Aaron David says:

    “We should strive to put away childish things, and hang on to as many childlike things as we would like to.”

    This is extremely well put, Dragonfrog.Report

  19. Avatar Fish says:

    Man, if growing up means I can’t wear Star Wars pyjamas, play video games, read fantasty novels, watch super hero shows, and stan for Tony Stark then what was all this for?

    Good post!Report

  1. April 6, 2020

    […] playing soccer and roller skating and hanging out in the forest shooting arrows at stuff all day, doing only stuff we want to do. For most of us, adulthood requires, REQUIRES, the setting aside of childish pursuits to focus on […]Report