Grow up. Act your age. Be an adult. Be serious.
We have all heard these phrases before; either directed at us or someone we know. If we are old enough, perhaps we have even found cause to say them ourselves in moments of anger or frustration. So often, there comes a turning point in our lives, when these phrases cease to be just phrases that are spoken out of a moment of rash impatience. They become our mantra….our identity….the banner by which we live our lives, where we no longer identify with the child we once were. Where there is no room in our hearts for that child to exist.
The moment tends to come when we reach that magic age of maturity. At that golden pinnacle of maturation, we are expected to grow up. Be mature. Put away childish things to embrace a world that is serious and sophisticated. We replace Kool-Aid with mixed drinks. We pretend to be chic – cooler and hipper than we really are. We scoff at the simple pleasures that used to bring us joy, like chasing fireflies in the back yard and walking barefoot in the grass. We seek instead to fill our lives with more grown-up noises and distractions, as though somehow sophistication will make our lives feel more meaningful and fulfilled. We forget what it feels like to be silly and care free, because in our grown-up world, part of being grown-up means taking the weight of the world upon our shoulders and plugging our ears to the sounds of joyful jingles and silly giggles.
I have felt the growing weight of my grown up world as of late, and I have, at times, felt suffocated beneath the burdens it has laid upon my already over-burdened shoulders. I have found little solace, or joy for that matter, in the sophistication and serious demeanor the world has taken on around me. I marvel at the letdown I feel in the environment I once craved so much as a burgeoning young woman. I could find no comfort in any of it. Not the noise. Not the sophistication. Not the grown-up ways. I thought I would be swept away by it all until a simple, little fluff of joy showed me the secret to maintaining my sanity in the midst of my crazy, grown-up life.
My secret lies with Peanut Pumpkin Pie. She just turned nine years old. That means by human standards, she is very mature. In fact, some might even go so far as to categorize her as having passed the old fart stage and slipped well into her Sansabelt-wearing, shuffleboard playing years. She is mostly blind in one eye, she had her right knee reconstructed, she has issues with her gall bladder, and she has a touch of arthritis that plagues her when the weather grows cold or when the air conditioner is turned up too high. She has a retinue of medicines that have to be taken on a schedule; some of which are compounded by our local pharmacist. She is a mess, but you better not tell her any of that, because Peanut won’t listen to you. She is too busy enjoying life.
Peanut doesn’t “act her age;” she defies it. She is the same silly billie baby she was when she was little. I have had her since she was six weeks old, so I should know. Maybe it is because no one has ever told her what her limitations should be. I never set the ground rules on how she should act, aside from ‘don’t poop on the floor’ and ‘no chewing mommy’s shoes’. Even such transgressions would be forgiven were they to occur. I have just spent the last nine years relishing the joy Peanut brings to my life; the uncomplicated, silly, undemanding, pleasurable joy that comes from the life we share together.
Peanut and I wear silly clothes together. I have often said if I were to open a line of shops, they would be a string of ‘Mommy and Me’ boutiques where eccentric owners like me could buy matching outfits for themselves and their pets. Sweaters, shirts, coats, flashy shoes, the works! The sky would be the limit as far as what I would offer. Not because I view pets as an accessory to be dressed up and shown off but because pets are too integral a part of our lives to be given anything less than what is equal to what we give ourselves.
Peanut and I play with the same toys. I have often assaulted and annoyed my fellow shoppers with my incessant need to test the squeakability of the dog toys I contemplate buying my little angel. In my mind, it must have the right tone, texture, and look to be acceptable for my Peanut. And not just any toy will do. It has to be something that will bring out the smile on her face; the smile that I love so much.
We sing together, break bread together, do laundry together, read books, tell stories, run amok, you name it. There are so many things Peanut and I share. I could enumerate them all, and still never reach the end of the list because something new would come along and add itself just at the moment when I thought I had reached its ending. Peanut is full of surprises and so is my life with her.
With Peanut, I am not sophisticated. I giggle like a child when she kisses my face. I seek her kisses just so I can feel the giggles bubble up from my tummy and burst forth, lightening my heart in a way nothing else can. I run in the grass with her like a gangly adolescent; awkward and graceless, true, but oblivious to anything but the joy I feel when that little smiley face looks back at me. I roll on the floor when we play in the house; forgetting that I am “too old” for such childish behavior. We share popsicles together, and I always give her the best part. I kiss her nose with abandon, never contemplating the germ count or what she might have been sniffing or licking before coming to say hi.
Everything in life is sweeter for me when Peanut is near. I have often wondered why that is. Why does Peanut transform the world for me? Why does she make my life so special? One day the veil was lifted, and I was blessed with a rare moment of understanding. Every day, Peanut renews and rekindles the child in me. She reminds me what it feels like to embrace the wonder and the innocence in the world around me. She helps me throw off the shackles of my oppressive “grown-up” ways so I can once again find the joy in chasing fireflies and walking barefoot in the grass.
With Peanut in my life, I can see the pictures in the clouds as they float by. She helps me believe in fantastical possibilities, which are the essence of the worlds I create. As a writer, it is paramount that I have the ability to dream the impossible; to imagine realms beyond the world in which I live my daily life. Such pure abandon is something I knew when I was a child, unfettered by the harsh realities of an unyielding world. Everything was possible then, and with Peanut as my daily example of silliness and unsophistication, all things are possible once again.
I am still required to live within a “grown-up” world with its “grown-up” responsibilities. I still have bills to pay and people to answer to. Sometimes the two are as unpleasant as it gets. I do not live in Never-Neverland. I have discovered, however, thanks to Peanut’s example, that I do not have to live by every rule the “grown-up” world requires.
As long as there are fireflies to chase, I will chase them. As long as there are clouds in the sky, I will look for the fantastic images they form. I will run and giggle and seek every opportunity I am granted to let the child in me come out to play. If I am truly blessed, each one of those moments of pure abandon will be shared with a little 10 pound Pomeranian named Peanut Pumpkin Pie who reminds my heart each day what it means to live life to the fullest at any age.
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H.L. Stephens is mystery and fantasy novelist who lives in the Appalachian Mountains with her best friend and Pomeranian Peanut Pumpkin Pie. She is currently finishing her third novel Journey to the Darkened Realms, a fantasy adventure novel, and has just begun work on the third installment of the Chronicles of Mister Marmee series entitled The Case of the Monkey’s Misfortune. Both novels are due out in 2014.