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Consider this your permission slip to relax, laugh, and finally find happiness. At once hilarious, irreverent, and downright inspiring, Kidding shows you how to connect with your inner child to make your mundane, complicated adult life much simpler (and happier). It’s a book about using your imagination and creativity to find joy, and about being happier by being who you are-which is to say, by being a big kid at heart.
Author Laura Jane Williams argues that you can be an adult but still embrace childlike (not childish) tendencies: you can own your own home and still want to build a pillow fort when the mood strikes; you can pay your bills on time and still snuggle something soft against your face because you’re sad; you can run a business and still take time to play. Divided into 40 short lessons, it’s an accessible, fun introduction to the self-help world that anyone can stomach.
Laura’s experience as a nanny to three young, precocious children has transformed her view on life, and in this book she passes along the lessons she’s learned from them. Because kids live in the present. They lose themselves in what they love, they show off, and they like themselves. Kids are curious by default, and they don’t have limits because they haven’t learned they exist yet. Kids do whatever the f*ck they want, precisely because they want to. To put it simply, kids have the answers, man.
It takes a long time to become young.
introduction, or: why I wrote this
In the spring of 2016 I was on the verge of the career I’d always dreamed of. For ten years I’d worked toward the publication of my first book, and finally it was happening. The dead-end “filler jobs” I’d had in order to make rent while stealing minutes and hours to put pen to paper, the parties missed and “no’s” I’d issued and relationships thoughtlessly squandered—everything I’d sacrificed to achieve the thing that so many people talk about but so few actually do—were paying off. Words had been proofed and front covers designed and there, on the spine of a hardback, was my name. I did it! I had national newspapers asking me to write things for them, my photograph was in fancy magazines, and important people said my name. There was a big party to celebrate, where everyone came for me, and I had a living room of more lily bouquets than Elton John. It was the moment of my life. The pinnacle of so much. I’d made it.
I’m sure it would’ve all been incredibly exciting, were it not for the fact that I was dead inside.
I’d burned out. I didn’t know I was burnt out, because by its very definition it’s a sort of slow fizzle. Nobody wakes up one day to find creativity packed up her paint box and left with the kids, Playfulness, Giggles, and Fun, poof! Just like that. No. Burnout is clever. Burnout goes slowly. Burnout blurs the edges, at first, by telling you to work harder, for longer, and suggesting that maybe sleep isn’t that important after all. Burnout tells you nothing could be as important as work. “Success.” Burnout dismantles the house bit by bit so that from the outside everything looks the same, but inside, the furniture has been moved in a way that doesn’t feel like you, somehow, and the curtains have been drawn so it’s all a bit dark. The music has stopped. It’s all very serious.
I didn’t know I’d stopped feeling the warmth of April sunshine on my face, or that I’d ceased to find things funny, or that I no longer did things simply for the pleasure of doing them, until a medical professional asked me the right questions. I hadn’t noticed I sighed a lot. Got cross frequently. That everything had to have a reason. A purpose. That it all had to be for something. I didn’t know I was miserable until my doctor told me so.
I thought I was simply an adult.
The doc explained that no, it is not normal to be exhausted and teary and work sixteen-hour days. I wasn’t, she intoned, making a fuss out of nothing. What I’d done, she said, is work so hard that I’d used up all the serotonin—the happy hormone—in my body, and I’d continue to feel pretty shitty if I didn’t drastically reconsider how kindly I treated myself. It’s ironic, really, but out of the corner of my eye, I could see the issue of a monthly magazine that I was featured in, cited for my “bravery” and “daringness” in living a life that went balls-to-the-wall. I was sitting opposite a kind GP and telling her I couldn’t properly taste food anymore, that I was a fraud. There was nothing bold or daring about me. Not right now. I’d forgotten how to just be happy— how, in fact, to just be—and I’d hidden that behind the foolhardy notion that that’s what being a grown-up is. Hard work. Relentless, miserable, hard work.
That’s not what being a grown-up is.
What happened next is a bit out there, but when I saw a posting on GumTree (a classifieds site in the UK) for a part-time nanny for a local family, I applied for it. I don’t even know why I was on GumTree looking at nannying jobs. As I said, I wasn’t paying much attention to anything in those months. I met the kids, they weren’t awful—they were, in fact, more clever than me and funny and very polite to boot—and so I told their mum and dad that I’d love nothing more than to make packed lunches for three under-elevens every morning. Sure, I said, a 7 a.m. start is fine! Great! I smiled, $15 an hour is perfect! No worries, I nodded, it takes three buses and an hour to deliver everyone to their individual schools? I’m looking forward to it! I had a bonkers nine-month period after that, in which I spent twenty-five hours a week braiding hair and playing dolls and going to the park with somebody else’s children, before heading off to the BBC for radio interviews or writing a column for a national magazine. Then I’d take these children who didn’t belong to me to swimming class or gymnastics. I don’t think their parents ever truly understood why a writer who sometimes gets recognized at the bus stop was loading their dishwasher—because it was cash-in-hand, maybe?—but as it all worked out so well for everybody involved they didn’t push the issue. I don’t know what I would’ve said if they had. It was weird to me, too. I just knew that being around kids would… help. And that I’ve always been good at it. I used to run a children’s language school in Rome and do summer camps while on break from school. Kids have always been my natural refuge.
Anyway. I’m not saying that if you’re knackered or a bit sad or overworked, you, too, should go and insert yourself as a hired help into somebody else’s family—and for less money per hour than you normally spend on an average lunch, too—but I am saying: holy shit! The change in me was almost immediate. From that very first day after school when the six-year-old slipped her hand into mine and said, “Laura, will you come on the swings with me?” I started to come home to myself. I was forced to clear my mind to focus on this new, massive responsibility that had nothing to do with me and my words and my typing and my self-editing and my career, and by the end of week one was able to marvel, for the first time in a long time: So this is what it is like to play, huh?
Every day I’d find something to laugh about with them. They were hilarious, and difficult, and stubborn, willful, opinionated children who asked questions and told me when they were upset. They fought and loved and fell over and got back up and talked shit about each other but snuggled up in a pack on the sofa when it was movie time.
Kids, I learned, they live in the present. They lose themselves in what they love. They show off. They like themselves. Kids are curious as default, and don’t have limits because they haven’t learned to think they exist, yet. Kids do whatever the fuck they want, precisely because they want to.
Kids have the answers, man.
Acting more like a kid—being childlike, not childish— finally made me content again. I get it now. The point of it all. Kids saved me. Being more childlike saved me.
Kidding is a book, then, about all of that. About the childlike solutions three kids from North London unwittingly taught me to apply to my own adult problems, most of which were bullshit and all made up in my head, so that I could rediscover what it feels like to go full force on the delights of my own existence. This is a book about how fun is a choice, but silliness isn’t a privilege. It’s a right. A necessity. Let us play or let us die, says I. The overly somber alternative is no life at all.
Kidding means knowing what the grown-up rules are and bending them for shits and giggles. For the thrill of it. Questioning what we “should” do and doing what makes us cheerier, instead. We can’t have ice cream for breakfast every day, but when we do it is naughty and freeing and cheeky and childlike. Let’s all have more ice cream for breakfast—or at least behave like we have.
Divided into forty (swear-y, which isn’t very childlike at all…) life lessons from the mouths of babes, read this from start to finish or dip in and out when you need it. It’s not written in any particular order because fuck it, you think those little monsters taught me this stuff in any kind of linear fashion? To hell they did. It was chaos, and I’m still reeling from it. Chaos doesn’t have to be bad, though. They showed me that. They showed me everything.
These are notes on curiosity and play. Living in the moment and worrying less. Words about how worthy you truly are. It’s a book on how children can reteach us to use our imagination and creativity and to locate our joy. It’s a book about feeling better by being who we are.
Which is to say: big kids at heart.
the difference between childlike and childish
Okay, before we start, let me just clarify: I cannot stand the “baby voice.” The playing-up of stupidness; acting cutsey or dumb to get away with murder. It isn’t clever, or fair, or nice to be around. It’s childish, both in little folks and in adults. But acting childlike? Oh, that’s just a dream. There’s a massive difference between the two.
Kids are new to the world. They haven’t learned to be jaded and on guard and worn down by society and all she expects. To a kid, mountains are tall, the ocean is huge, everything is both a question and an answer and limitless because of it. They marvel. They wonder. They aren’t inhibited because they don’t know that they “should” be. They run, they’re free, they say what they think and they are boundlessly, endlessly positive.
Childlike embodies the positive, lovely side to kiddie behavior. But childish? Is gross. Childish traits are mostly undesirable (except for on reality television, where they make great viewing): tantrums, self-centeredness, not knowing when to be serious… childishness in a grown man or woman is immature and the exact opposite of charming or charismatic.
So. Let’s be very clear on the difference.
Childlike? Mischievous and brazen and enthusiastic as hell.
Childlike is GREAT.
We can be like children, without forgetting how to be functioning, responsible adults.
sleep, because it all starts there
In a life where there is always a last round to be drunk, and this Netflix series must be binged upon RIGHT NOW lest Twitter converse about it without you; in an existence where email will be answered immediately, because your phone is, after all, right there… sleep becomes a luxury.
Let’s sit with that for a minute. Sit with the fact that the very thing that keeps us functioning at all is the very first thing we throw out of the window when we need it most.
Can you imagine telling a five-year-old that? Issuing a list of jobs they must complete before they’ve “earned” the “right” to sleep?
“Okay, Timmy, I can see that you’re crying at how I’ve cut the sandwiches into squares and not triangles because you’re tired and can’t think straight, but I need you to man the bastard up and pull yourself together. Look sharp, old chap. You can sleep when you’re dead.”
The first rule of child care is: if in doubt, the answer is bed. Tantrum? Go sleep it off. Sickness? Bed. Still tired when you wake up? SLEEP SOME MORE. Does that sound dull to you? Fucking good. Because rest isn’t supposed to be stimulating, dickhead. It’s supposed to be the exact opposite of stimulating, which is the point. THE POINT IS TO STOP DOING THINGS FOR A MINUTE!!!!
Well. Many minutes, actually. Eight hours’ worth of minutes. Personally, I like to err on the side of caution and get closer to nine. But oh,—when I don’t? You’ll know about it. My best friend demands to know gently asks me, on occasions of any meltdown or panicked text or inference of irrational anger, “Babe, how much sleep did you get last night?” The answer is nearly always, through misty eyes and a lump in my throat: “Not enough.” A quick Google search suggests about half of us feel that we don’t get to spend enough time in bed. Sad face.
The best drug in the world is sleep. Sleep will make you funnier and cleverer and nicer and prettier, and the quickest way to know if you got enough last night is to make a note of your first thought on waking up. If the alarm goes off and you reflect, “Bollocks to this shit, I’m done,” before hitting snooze and forcefully engineering dreams about getting on a plane someplace warm and never coming back—never, ever, ever; good-bye people of the world!—hit the hay an hour earlier for the rest of the week. The day you gracefully awaken five minutes before your alarm? That’s the morning your first thought won’t be “Oh, fuck.” That’s the day you change your world. Nobody should start the day grumbling, “Awwwww, heck. Again?!”
(And if you do get enough sleep? Fucking good for you, sugartits. I’m proud of you. Teach us your ways.)
Most kids don’t exactly leap out of bed, and I’m not saying you ever will either (sorry), but kids are pretty pumped about what the day might have in store, because they’ve got the energy to be. Let’s do more of that. More of the “wow, anything could happen today, huh!” mentality that comes with proper time in bed, snoozing. A rested person is an energized person, and an energized person can master her world.
While we’re on the subject of nighttime, do whatever it takes to give yourself comfort in bed, too, ‘k? It helps! Fuzzy PJs? Something to snuggle? Heated blankets? Oooooh, maybe some of that fancy pillow spray that forces you to breathe more deeply and so slip into slumber more calmly! Just, you know, make the goddamn effort. Get excited about sleep.
Bedtime can be just as much an occasion as anything else. And you’re worth it. You’re worth the necessity of rest. Let’s stop perpetuating this lie that sleep is somehow a luxury. Sleep is your right. Claim it.
making the ordinary an occasion
Speaking of making bedtime just as much of an occasion as anything else, let’s look at that. At the “anything else.” The everyday.
When I nannied, we called homework time “Hot Chocolate Homework Club” because, predictably, we had hot chocolate as a treat for working hard.
We started to call ordering for ourselves at the counter a “Fortune Favors the Bold Day,” because the first time the six-year-old used her voice to ask for what she wanted, she got a free croissant from the very impressed barista, and every time we needed to be brave we reminded ourselves that lovely things can happen when you are, indeed, brave.
What I call a “Clean-Out Lunch”—making do with whatever you have in the fridge—became a “Fun Lunch” for them, where it was hilarious to eat hot dogs with hummus, or chips dipped in Branston pickle chutney with sponge pudding for dessert. I learned that my friend Briony calls it “Cowboy Breakfast” when there’s nothing left in the cupboards and so anything goes. I like that.
I started to do it in my “other,” non-nannying life. Give stuff names. Adults (me) get so bogged down with simply getting through a day that we (I) forget to use the fancy coffee and heat the milk, dismissing it as a waste of time or effort. We (I) think there are more “important” things to be doing.
We eat at our desks, and make notes on tomorrow’s presentation while walking to after-work beers we don’t taste because we need to rush home for [insert excuse here]. Christmas is a source of stress because there’s so much to do, and I don’t know anybody who hasn’t experienced what it’s like to be going on vacation just as she’s coming down with a cold, because it’s her body’s first chance to slow down all year.
We’re so busy living we forget about being alive.
To a kid, literally nothing is more important than arranging their sausages and mashed potatoes into two eyes and a smiley mouth. If they’re gonna eat, they’re gonna make it art. Everything is art for them.
A child will sit in the car and tell you in exquisitely painful detail for the whole journey exactly what they are going to do at Grandma’s house, planning out how specifically to allocate their enthusiasm, puzzled as to why you’re not as thrilled about doing “Gardening Time” as they are. And we encourage it, don’t we? Talk them through all the books they can read when the nice lady gives them a haircut, or how if they behave well at the dentist they can watch TV for a whole hour when they get home: their choice. Everything is an occasion, and it’s fun for us to make it that way for them. We’ve gotta do it for ourselves, too.
When everything is an occasion, the ordinary becomes extraordinary.
Every moment counts.
The only meaning life has is that which we assign to it; the only special moments are those which we declare so. Celebrate your everyday. Make Monday “have what you want from the bakery day” and 4 p.m. on Wednesday afternoons “sexy texts to somebody cute” time—that makes it a different kind of hump day (get it?! Hump? Like SEX?!Oh, fine. Nevermind). I challenge you to decide which is your favorite. It will probably be the bakery, to be honest, because text messages don’t taste like sugared heaven, but both equal a good time.
Divide the days and weeks and months into things to be looked forward to, anticipated, rewarded. First of the month? Yay, pancakes for dinner! The night before a big family event? Ooooh, time for your bathroom ritual! You don’t have to give it a silly name, but fuck: it does add to the appreciation of it.
Make things matter to you, like kids make things matter to them—even if it’s just “Fishsticks Friday” or a “Board Game Bonanza” evening. Find the reason to celebrate. Fudge the excuse to party. Have moments that mean something. Buy the Easter napkins or the Valentine’s roses or the “just because” cupcakes. And above all: slow down enough to appreciate them. The world won’t end if you do.
In your darkest moments it will feel like it’s your job to keep the world on its axis, but I can assure you with 200 percent certainty (because that’s how I used to feel, too): she’ll keep turning even if you take a moment to be silly as sin.
She won’t, truth be told, even notice you’re missing.
on slowing the fuck down
- On Sale
- Oct 9, 2018
- Page Count
- 208 pages
- Running Press