Dec 10, 2010

Damn Old People vs. Neotony

I have always loved “colorful” words. When I was a child, I called big words or rare words “foo-foo” words. You see, my love affair with words started very early on. I was the youngest in my family and running after my brother and sister, screaming, “wait for me” in every aspect possible. So as I struggled to keep up and be taken seriously, I looked to language to help me. I knew that words and correct phrases could aid me in communicating and getting my point across; but even more, these “foo-foo” words made me sound like a “real big kid.”

So here is a true “big-kid” “foo-foo” word:

Neotony—Pronounced (Knee-ot-Knee)

It is a 50-cent adjective for describing someone. Literally defined as “the retention of childlike attributes in adulthood.” Decoded: it means to be youthful-minded.

Now, neotony is a funny thing. It needs to be balanced. For some people the idea of neotony is laid on too thick. They have retained too many childlike attributes and carried only those attributes to their adulthood. For that we cannot call these people neotenous, instead we call them Immature Idiots (yes, that is a technical term).

The opposite is true for people without any traces of neotony. For those people who have not retained any childlike attributes in adulthood, we affectionately call them Grouchy, Crotchety or Uptight.

Moral is, you can’t have too much and you can’t have too little. The amount is different for everyone. Some need just a dash and some need a heavy-handed spoonful.

The problem is that even when you know how much you need, it’s difficult to maintain this easy-going, understanding, childlike mentality.

I think a lot of times the elderly people get this bad reputation. They logically seem like the ones who would have the most difficult time being neotenous. They are the furthest from youth right? So, it would be easy to blame it on the older generation. However, I just can’t stake the claims there, because I have a grandpop who is the definition of neotony.

Hi, I’m not available to take your call leave me a message,” It was my Grandpop’s answering machine. I didn’t leave a message; I decided to call his cell phone. (That’s right, my 83-year-old grandfather has a cell phone). He answered.

“Hello Lan.”

“Hi Pop, I was going to stop by, where are you?” I could hear the wind through the phone and I knew he was in the car headed somewhere.

“I’m going to Coatesville to see Wanda.” Wanda is his new girlfriend who he drives 45 minutes to see, about three times a week.

“Oh, OK Pop, no big deal. I was just stopping by to talk, I had some trouble at work today—BEEP BEEP,” I was cut off by the sounds of his horn.

“God damn old people, get off the road if you’re afraid to drive,” my grandfather yells at the passing car.

I laugh out loud into the phone. “Damn old people driving too slow again Pop?”

“ Yeah! It’s a disgrace. I’m no spring chicken, but I don’t act like an old person and I sure as hell don’t drive like one.”

My grandpop is right. Regardless of age, if you act too old or too young, then you live your life like you’re too old or too young. You see neotony doesn’t have an age. It’s a state of mind.

Generally, this trait of remembering and identifying with youth is scarce among adults. We have too many responsibilities, bills and obligations from the REAL WORLD to take the time to be youthful again. We’re always moving forward, not backwards.

So, for people to be neotenous all through the year, it is rare. I think it’s something that has to be worked on every day, so it can become a way of life. (I think my grandfather has mastered this).

But at Christmas time, (or whatever holiday you celebrate) the joy of the season releases magic into the air that intoxicates all who allow it. Even the most rigid of adults can be found standing in awe at a Holiday light display. We are overcome with the wonder of the season. So, we struggle to wrap and hide gifts to keep the fa├žade of Santa Claus alive for the next generation of believers. We smile at the sound of sleigh bells on the radio station as it tracks Santa Claus, and we curl up on the couch to partake in the yearly showing of Frosty the Snowman.

We do this because at the holiday’s it’s easy to remember just how damn wonderful it was to be a kid.

Then there is the FLIP SIDE:

Although the holidays bring out the kid in many of us… the holidays also brings out the true Grinch’s that walk among us. Everyone is always recognizing the happiness, joy and good tidings of the season. But what about all the people whose miserable attitudes are extra apparent, as they shed a dark cloud over the holiday cheer. We all have those “token people” in our families or groups of friends. Those people who just seem to suck the joy right out of the neotenous moments in life.

My mother has a sign that reads:

“You pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family”

At Christmas time, those people we wouldn’t necessarily “pick,” sit beside us at the dinner table. They are people that we are related to and we can’t, for the life of us, figure out how we were cut from the same cloth. People we wouldn’t necessarily be friends with; but whom we are forced to celebrate the season with.

So as you deflect these “Lemon Relative’s” (See previous blog about Lemons ) remember that neotony doesn’t have an age. As you master the art of deflecting a grumpy, uptight relative, keep in mind that just because someone looks “old,” they may not be driving through life like an “old person”. Neotony doesn’t discriminate and those of us who are successful in our “mature, responsible, outlook; coupled with a side of neotony,” need to stick together!


Christmas is a time to be joyous… but with the extra joy surrounding us, it is easier to point out the old-minded-stick-in-the-mud relatives. Their un-neotenous ways are glaringly obvious. So just like we do with the Lemon People… AVOID, AVOID, AVOID!

Remember… if you don’t want to drive through life like an “old person,” don’t act like one! To stay young minded, you need to remember being young. So, enjoy the season and take the opportunities to act like a kid again!