Don’t grow all the way up, it’s a trap!

by Robin Abcarian

The other night, after a long family dinner, my 13-year-old niece disappeared into our downstairs closet and soon reemerged with a box of toys I’d saved from my daughter Chloe’s childhood. Chloe, who is now 31, was surprisingly happy.

“I want that,” she said, reaching for a Furby. “That one too,” she said, looking at a wooden Keith Haring dog that was once part of a red-and-yellow pull toy.

Was my grown-up, nurse practitioner daughter doing that thing called “kidulting”?

This portmanteau of “kid” and “adult” refers to grown-ups who try to recapture the fun and innocence of childhood by surrounding themselves with the trappings of their youth — playing dodgeball, skateboarding, riding e-scooters, watching “SpongeBob SquarePants,” wearing footie pajamas or collecting Hello Kitty-branded anything.

The New York Times recently described kidulting as “decades old,” but claims it has gained traction recently with the success of the “Barbie” movie, and Mattel’s subsequent announcement that no fewer than 13 films based on its toys are currently in development. In 2021, a surprisingly large percentage of parents — 58% — told the Toy Association (formerly the Toy Manufacturers of America) that they have bought toys for themselves in the past year. Hasbro, by the way, recently announced it will reintroduce the Furby.

“The pandemic helped fuel (kidulting) as more adults turned to the comforts of childhood as a form of self-care,” declared the New York Times.

As someone who put away a distressingly large number of grilled cheese sandwiches during the COVID-19 shutdown, that resonates with me. And heaven knows, we could all really use some of those childhood comforts right about now.

“You face the big bad world, and it’s terrifying,” said the writer and artist Christopher Noxon, who coined the term “rejuvenile” nearly 20 years ago to describe the phenomenon. His 2006 book “Rejuvenile: Kickball, Cartoons, Cupcakes, and the Reinvention of the American Grown-up” launched a spate of stories and talk-show discussions about adults who don’t want to grow up, at least not all the way. Who can blame them?

“It’s hard to imagine adults in previous eras so unashamedly indulging their inner children,” Noxon wrote. “But these are not the adults of twenty years ago. They constitute a new breed … identified by a determination to remain playful, energetic and flexible in the face of adult responsibilities.”

I can’t imagine my grandmother roller skating, or even riding a bicycle. My own parents, hip as they were, were not about to go boogie boarding or play dodgeball with their children. They had us young, they grew up fast, they entered the world of adulthood so much earlier than we did. They didn’t really have the luxury of catering to their inner child, which perhaps explains the pervasive midlife crises and soaring divorce rates of their generation.

American corporate interests have glommed onto the idea that there is a way to combine products for kids with the childhood nostalgia of adults.

It’s no coincidence that Noxon’s book led to his stint as a business consultant, advising corporations that make things like snack foods on how to broaden their market appeal to include adults.

The “playful” tech bro culture of Silicon Valley, where getting rich too young can lead to delusions of grandeur, probably represents both the high and low points of the trend.

The disgraced cryptocurrency “genius” Sam Bankman-Fried, for example, actually enchanted venture capitalists by acting like an adolescent during serious meetings. Journalist Zeke Faux, who profiled Bankman-Fried for Bloomberg, told NPR, “When Sequoia, the venture capital firm, found out that Sam had been playing ‘League of Legends’ while pitching them, their reaction was just like, ‘Oh, my God, we love this guy. How do we give him hundreds of millions of more dollars?’ ”

They are undoubtedly less enchanted these days.

In my life, I am surrounded by adults whose joie de vivre is enviable. I would describe them as rejuveniles in the most positive sense. They have all the trappings of adulthood — jobs, kids, deadlines, mortgages — but have retained so much of their childhood joy.

My friend Kevin has sought to recapture the free spirit of his youth with a VW camper for his frequent surf trips. My friend Steve has parlayed his childhood passion for comic books, toys and sci-fi into a successful career as a 3-D character designer whose signature character is a retro-styled pencil-wielding robot.

And nearly two weeks ago, my daughter, Chloe, exchanged marriage vows with her charming and playful soulmate, Anton, in Pasadena. Anton wore custom, formal clown shoes with his Charlie Chaplin-inspired wedding suit.

You might wonder: Are custom clown shoes really appropriate for a wedding?

A rejuvenile wouldn’t think twice.

Robin Abcarian is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.