- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 26, 2006

Bruce Levine is a 41-year-old Fairfax lawyer who has superhero figurines among the files on his desk. Juliann Andreen, 49, is a legislative assistant to Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican. On weekends, she often can be found swooshing down a ramp at a skateboard park.

Author Christopher Noxon knows just how Mr. Levine and Ms. Andreen feel. Mr. Noxon, 37, met his wife playing in an adult kickball league. Last year, he looked at his life — complete with three children and a minivan — but didn’t feel like a “grown-up.”

Turns out, a lot of adults feel the same way. Mr. Noxon recently wrote a book, “Rejuvenile: Kickball, Cartoons, Cupcakes, and the Reinvention of the American Grown-up,” chronicling how all things young are fun again.

Consider:

mMore than 1,000 adults play in the D.C. Kickball League — just one of several leagues around town.

The Cartoon Network has bigger ratings among viewers ages 18 to 34 than CNN.

The Entertainment Software Association says the average age of video game players is 29, up from 18 in 1990.

Half of the 200,000 daily visitors to Walt Disney World are adults traveling without children.

Cereality, a chain of three restaurants with only breakfast cereal on the menu (slogan: “Where it is always Saturday morning”), is about to be franchised nationwide.

It would be too easy to criticize adults spending time on childish pursuits as frivolous or immature. Of course, there are creepy extremes — in fiction, “The 40 Year-Old Virgin”; in reality, pop star Michael Jackson.

However, the majority of adults eating cotton candy or wearing SpongeBob socks do, indeed, spend most of their days being extremely adultlike. Being a “rejuvenile” is not an all-or-nothing situation.

“We’re all doing grown-up stuff we have to do,” says Mr. Noxon, who lives in Los Angeles. “But [kid’s stuff] can take you back to a part of your childhood you enjoyed. Some of those things are silly, but they are also a lot of fun. Going back to that wondrous place can be useful in an adult world.”

Rejuvenile pursuits have gained steam over the last decade or so, in part because our definition of adult has changed somewhat, says Jeffrey Arnett, professor of developmental psychology at Clark University in Massachusetts and author of the book “Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road From the Late Teens Through the Twenties.”

A generation or two ago, adulthood was marked more by events such as marriage, graduation or military service. Now, the line is a little more fuzzy — as well as movable.

“Over the last half-century, people are becoming adults later,” Mr. Arnett says. “Emerging adults are not in a great hurry to reach adulthood. Sure, there is stability and money there, but it also looks boring.”

When you do get to adulthood, it’s a lot less boring if you find things that made you happy as a child. Ms. Andreen, who took up skateboarding at 39 to keep up with her then-teenage children, says skateboarding “is when I feel free.”

“I could do it with my kids without trying to be one of my kids,” says Ms. Andreen, who has brought her board to Capitol Hill when the Senate is in recess. “I intend to be a skateboarding grandma.”

Barb Odanaka, 43, is the founder of the International Society of Skateboarding Moms. Growing up in Southern California, Ms. Odanaka spent lots of time skateboarding, but shelved it for more adult activities, such as work and starting a family.

After her son was born 10 years ago, Ms. Odanaka, who lives in Laguna Beach, Calif., suffered from postpartum depression. Her therapist told her to find something that gave her joy, and to do it for 10 minutes a day. So she hopped back on a board.

“It was like I was 10 years old again,” she says during a recent visit to the Mighty Mama Skate-o-Rama event at Wakefield Skate Park in Annandale. The event drew a few dozen women in their 30s and 40s.

Rediscovering skateboarding helped Ms. Odanaka make her next career move: children’s book author. The title of the picture book? “Skateboard Mom.”

For Mr. Levine, there was never a return to his love of comic books. It always has been there — through law school, marriage and the birth of his three children. A room in his Reston home holds about 10,000 comics.

“I just never lost interest,” Mr. Levine says. “I have been a comic book collector pretty much since I could read. Like any kid, I was intrigued by the thought of what would you do if you had superpowers?”

Mr. Levine is trying to turn his passion into business. In addition to his law practice, he is part of a company called Silent Devil Productions. Silent Devil and Mr. Levine are working on a downloadable comic book, as well as a comic and movie called “Bubba the Redneck Werewolf.”

“In a perfect world, comics would be a full-time business,” Mr. Levine says.

Mr. Levine and Mr. Noxon both say the best part of having children is getting to appreciate their favorite childhood things more often. Mr. Noxon watches the trippy “H.R. Pufnstuf” tapes from the 1970s with his children, ages 6, 4 and 1. Mr. Levine sometimes takes his 11-, 8- and 5-year-old children to comic book shows. They also love to play video games and watch movies together.

“I was excited to have kids so they could do this stuff with me,” Mr. Levine says. “Most of the [media] that comes out today, is a little more sophisticated. It is easy for adults to love kids’ stuff.”

That explains the long-running appeal of “The Simpsons,” for instance. Or take “SpongeBob SquarePants,” which was created in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Nickelodeon executives have said that after September 11, both adults and children were attracted to a character so utterly optimistic — and so childlike.

So it seems that discovering one’s inner child is a sign of the times. Grab a milkshake, your Hello Kitty lunchbox and your Game Boy. It is a trend that could be around a while.

“Being a rejuvenile is becoming more socially acceptable,” Mr. Noxon says. “A lot of people who used to be stigmatized as eccentric, today are celebrated as iconoclastic or hip. If you are into anime or Super Soaker squirt guns, you can get away with it. That can be your mark of relevance. Thirty years ago, that kind of behavior was shunned.”

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