The midlife crisis. It’s a cliche. It’s about aging, fear of death, existential dread, regret. It’s a reliable way to make light of something we all feel just beneath the surface as we reach that “certain age” (which is different for everyone).
I have a theory. I’m not a scientist or a mental health professional, but I think the midlife crisis has something to do with toys — how we get rid of them, how we replace them and what happens when we don’t.
Let me explain.
Growing Up Doesn’t Mean Giving Up Your Toys
When I turned 10, things started changing. I was headed into middle school, and that meant no more kid stuff. I looked around my bedroom, decorated in pink and lavender, shelves filled with unicorns. But as I looked down the barrel of 6th grade, I knew something had to give.
One by one, my unicorns were boxed and put away in the garage. In their place I proudly displayed centerfolds from Tiger Beat Magazine (Michael J. Fox was my favorite). A few years later, in high school, I would become obsessed with fighter jets. Down came Tiger Beat and up went F16 models and posters of hair bands.
This process happened again and again as I got older — transitioning from high school to college, then graduating from college. Each time, I put away old toys and replaced them with new ones that felt more appropriate to my new station in life.
But then it all stopped.
Midlife Crisis Ahead
In my late twenties, eager to migrate from twenty-something living standards to my grownup thirties, I put away my toys again. Only this time, they didn’t get replaced.
As I finished grad school and landed my first high-stakes job, life got more and more hectic. I put the few toys I had left on the shelf and life went on without them. Eventually, there were no more toys at all.
Toys become hard to justify at a certain point. First of all, we don’t have time for them anymore. Right? Life becomes a series of appointments and obligations. Work hours start to bleed into “regular life,” and we get rewarding feedback from bosses and co-workers who notice that we’re emailing after work hours. For those of you with families, I don’t understand how you survive it.
When I was at my worst, when I did have free time, toys didn’t enter into the equation at all anymore at all. It was a midlife crisis waiting to happen.
Adults Still Need Fun?
When we’re babies, toys teach us motor skills, hand-eye coordination and basic concepts like object permanence and cause and effect. Like the other animals on this planet, we played to learn.
As we grow, toys spark our imaginations, introduce us to new ideas and encourage creativity. And I’m not just talking about toys that Amazon can deliver to your doorstep. Toys can be anything from an empty paper towel roll to a leaf.
When we’re adults, toys continue to teach us and help our brains to grow. My mother’s toys have always been fabric-related. She loves to make quilts or embroidery with unique color combinations and patterns. Toys can be gardens, dune buggies, camping gear, book clubs or sex toys. (And empty paper towel rolls and leaves are still good too.)
A lot of adults do engage in hobbies and activities. But many more of us don’t. What we end up doing with our spare time doesn’t engage us like toys once did. When we stop playing, we stop growing. It’s as true for us grownups as it is for children — and just as devastating.
Don’t Let Anyone Choose Your Toys For You
When we stop growing, we feel uncomfortable so we numb ourselves. Or we engage in socially acceptable fun and stop asking ourselves what we WANT to do for fun. We wouldn’t want to do anything weird and outside of the norm,
so we follow along.
So much of our lives seem to be chosen for us — or based on choices we made long ago that can’t be easily undone. We start believing that this is just the way it is. Everything we do, every second of the day, has a purpose — an objective. From the time we wake up until the time we go to sleep. We’re checking things off of a never-ending to-do list.
If this isn’t the way you want to live anymore, you can change it. It’ll feel strange — like you’re breaking the rules. You’ll
feel self-indulgent, but it’ll make you a better wife, husband, mom, dad, employee or friend.
It’s time for some new toys.
(I have a few paper towel rolls I can share if you want?)