By COREY LEVITAN
Social experiments are kind of my forte. I’ve done lots of questionable things for Men’s Health—like, for example, spending an entire day covered from head to toe in lube—all loosely in the name of journalism.
So when my 5-year-old daughter recently started hanging out with the kids in our neighborhood, I decided to join her. But there was a catch: I wanted to be one of them.
For one week, I was the only 9-year-old boy on the block wearing arch supports. It wasn’t too hard to hang out with children all week because they’re on summer vacation from school, and I’m on a 5-year vacation from a full-time job.
I told the kids—10 of them total, aged 5 to 12—what I planned, and to let their parents know, lest any authorities be alerted. To my surprise, the kids weren’t just cool with my experiment—they were as psyched as I was.
Knowing all the secrets to life this time would make redoing childhood fun. I would have confidence, stand up for myself, and, for the first time, be tall for a 9-year-old.
Closure would soon be mine. So I bought a scooter and hit the streets.
But as it turns out, I was the one taken to school. Those 10 little kids taught me seven valuable rules for being a grown-ass man.
1. Use your imagination.
The group accepted me as a 9-year-old boy so readily because most of their day is spent in various levels of fantasy.
“I’m Kylo Ren!” announced 6-year-old Mark, slicing in the air with a non-existent light saber. “I challenge you to a duel!”
So I became Luke Skywalker, and duel I did. And, as the street became the innards of the Death Star, it occurred to me how dormant this part of my brain had been—and how stupid that was.
2. Take more chances.
Because my daughter was now my younger sister, I tried something I never would have dreamed of as her overprotective father: I stood her perilously on the front of my scooter.
We wobbled at first, but soon achieved perfect balance. The look of total awe and communion on her face when she turned around was foreign to me. I want to see it all the time.
3. Sing loud and proud, even if you suck.
Claire, 9, and Bella, 7, were bored one morning and staged a show in which they demanded that every kid star, one at a time.
Claire busted out a pink hula hoop and a badly shattered Samsung Galaxy. Each of us had to dance with the hula hoop and sing along with whatever song she blasted. Mine was Demi Lovato’s “Give Your Heart a Break,” which I didn’t know.
But I hula-sang along anyway, and delivered what was apparently the best performance my audience had ever seen or heard.
Kids haven’t been beaten down by life yet, told they can’t sing or dance because they’re bad at it. They do what they do only because it’s fun. We should, too.
4. Ignore physical differences.
The coolest thing about young kids is that they aren’t racist. Not even a little.
Here are the only two criteria they use when deciding whether or not to hang out with you: Are you a good person? Are you fun?
I knew this going in, but I didn’t realize how guilty I was of noticing differences until a neighbor stepped outside to check her mail. One of her arms was five times the size of the other, which puzzled me. What condition could she possibly be suffering from?
I was transfixed, until one of my new friends snapped me out of my daze.
“It’s not polite to stare,” said 12-year-old Emma, the group’s very correct leader.
5. Be less judgmental.
Billy, 6, came whipping down the street on his bicycle into the intersection, without looking up to see Bella’s dad driving her home from day camp. Brakes slammed and tempers blew.
Later, I knocked on Bella’s dad’s door to commiserate. I told him I had the same experience with Billy, and that something might be wrong with him.
“It’s not nice to talk about other people when they’re not here,” Bella interrupted, overhearing from behind the door. “And I thought you were supposed to be 9.”
6. Be nice for no reason.
Claire handed me a present one afternoon: a jar she filled with gravel and water in art class. She told me she wanted me to have it because “I don’t know.”
When’s the last time someone gave you a present whose reason and timing weren’t both dictated by Hallmark?
7. Forget the future.
When you’re young, the future is only tomorrow, and who will be outside playing. When you think about it, that’s all that’s guaranteed in life anyway.
So grab your scooter and have a good time before you’re inevitably trampled to death. Probably by Billy.