Stickers and the Inner Child

Neither my inner ninja nor my inner child has an interest in stickers. Yes, I have a relationship with my inner child close enough to know his preferences in play things. I find that spending a little quality time with my inner child to be very rewarding. I recommend it, as do four out of five leading pop psychologists (including Oprah and Dr. Phil). Careful though. Pop psychologists can over-schedule you and your inner child, leading to stress, which is a gateway to ice cream, which is a gateway to drugs. According to them you’re supposed to listen to your inner child, and also respect him, feed him, nurture him, free him, and give him a 529 account.

That’s too much. Lavishing that much attention on your inner child can turn him into an inner brat, especially if he’s an only inner child. (Everyone knows that inner children who have siblings are less spoiled. Plus, they entertain each other!) To avoid problems I keep my inner child on a short leash and I don’t see him much. “Quality” not “quantity” is what the other pop psychologist recommends. I listen to him. He’s the smart one. He’s neither Oprah nor Dr. Phil. He also doesn’t chew Trident, which is a gateway to drugs.

Occasionally, and with great reluctance, my inner ninja looks after my inner child. I think he’s teaching him rope climbing now, which I have no patience for anyway (sweaty palms). I confess that much of the rest of the time I’m just not paying attention to him. He gets lost in the shuffle of adult life. Some grown-up activities are simply not appropriate for inner children, like taxes, gutter cleaning, and colonoscopies. Even though I may not be the most attentive parent to my inner child I still think he likes me. I give him ice cream. But not drugs.

When my inner child is around he can be good for a laugh, though he also can be crude and immodest. So I try to keep him in check in polite company. Among rude company he gets to romp about, make jokes, and pass gas. Still I rarely let him curse. And before long he’s sent back to his room so I can attend to all the critically important adult things around the house like changing batteries and swatting moths. Hey, I’m busy!

But I’m not nearly as busy or stressed out as adults who have inner teens. Those unruly inner hooligans can wreck your inner peace or ruin a perfectly good relationship or career with their partying and challenging of authority. And how they walk with pants that low I’ll never understand. Not for me, thank you. I keep my inner child young with facial creams, strings, sealing wax, and other fancy stuff. And my leash grip remains tight. Hike up those pants mister!

One of the best ways I’ve found to keep my inner child out of my inner hair is to set up a play date with one of my real (outer) children. Sometimes I invite a mix of inner and outer children over to play. On the invitations I call these “innie-outies,” which sounds like navel contortion but involves way more juice boxes. (I’ve heard that co-ed Sadie Hawkins day innie-outie sock hops are a hoot. But they’re a gateway to drugs.) Other times I only invite outer kids but some inner ones sneak in with the outer kids’ parents. Usually the crashers are the gossipy or boring types that want to hang out with the adults. Inner children can be more trouble than you’d think.

The best thing about an innie-outie is that my inner child gets to see what the real kids are into. There are all sorts of things to try: dolls, stuffed animals, toy cars, crayons, markers, paints, assorted trinkets, and an infinite variety of molded plastic and brightly colored baubles with flashing lights and loud music. As a parent I try not to pass judgment on the toys my children find interesting. They can play with whatever they like so long as it isn’t dangerous, like knives or some politicians, or corrupting, like beer or Britney Spears. I may not care for a toy but if my kid likes it, so be it.

My inner child can be discerning though. He’s a little engineer and prefers blocks and construction-oriented toys. He’s confused by most other toys and is really upset by stickers. He says, “Show me a good sticker and I’ll show you a lousy piece of tape with inferior adhesive and/or an impractically small band-aid.” I try to explain that they aren’t meant to be used as fasteners or to dress wounds. He just looks at me blankly and says, “So what good are they?” Um. Well. You just peal them and stick them, usually to your parents’ antique furniture. Fun! He can’t believe how dumb I am. He points out that stickers already come pre-stuck to something. “Instead of buying stickers why don’t you just apply glue to your cash instead. It’s a way bigger surface area, and the paper is vastly stronger. And you don’t even have to leave the house.” He’s a special kid.

Nevertheless, young children love stickers. If you look at it logically the reason is clear: they’re magic. In fact, my recent clinical trial proved scientifically that, if administered responsibly to toddlers, stickers produce pure joy with no side effects. This study was based on the following observation, which is quite repeatable. Every time you see a toddler in the throes of a tantrum you will not find her clutching any stickers. Conversely, if you see a toddler with stickers, she is not flipping out, unless her dad didn’t bring enough stickers or the right stickers or he crumpled the stickers or used them as a tissue, fastener, or band-aid. But in that case it isn’t the toddler’s fault. The dad is to blame because he didn’t do it right. Stickers are magic. They are! ARE!!!

So my inner child doesn’t care for stickers. But my outer kids have love affairs with stickers. There’s no sign of letting up. They’re still working out how to buy and trade stickers on the little kid commodities market for maximum profit and influence. Sometimes they give them away, gaining power and sway. Other times they hoard them like precious jewels, which, oddly, also wins power and sway. (The inconsistencies of child politics are bewildering.) We probably have thousands of pristine, mint condition pages of untouched stickers in our house. We also have hundreds of stickers applied to our furniture. And here is where I must differ with my inner child. That adhesive is plenty strong! I think he should re-examine his views on stickers.

And indeed he may have. The other day I couldn’t find my inner child or he couldn’t find me. We somehow got separated. I experienced a deep, inner loss. Finally, I located him in the basement playroom with my kids. My younger child was applying her 73rd sticker to her torso. Meanwhile, my older child was singing a silly and endearing tune with a preposterous number of key changes. With each phrase she applied another sticker to my inner child’s arm, gradually moving up toward his face. He laughed as each sticker was applied. I’m not sure if it was the tickle of the sticker application or the absurdity of the song that was so funny to him. When the song concluded with the planting of a sticker on my inner child’s nose they both roared with laughter. I just watched and marveled at the simple pleasure of stickers. Then I thought, “It’s time I gave my inner child a longer leash.”

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