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Mischief managed: a roadmap to adulthood

When I was a toddler, I stuck a sock pin up my nose out of sheer curiosity to see what happened. I'm not sure whether I expected to be transported to a magical land or to push m&m's out of my ears, but the ensuing hours are a faded blur of my mom's panic amidst Friday evening prayers, interrupted by a podium announcement to find my dad and rush to the emergency room. 

I'd like to think of that as my first memory of a long road ahead of well-meaning mischief. I mean, who among us hasn't torn down a bathroom wall swinging on the towel rack? Have you really had a fulfilling childhood if you haven't tricked your younger brother into dressing up in costume jewelry?

As a teenager, the tactics became a little more sophisticated. I would call my best friend using a private number pretending to be the phone company with false long distance charges or team up with my teachers (they loved me, of course) to give fake punishments to boys who teased me, just long enough to watch them sweat before releasing them from the misery.

The pranks and imitations of goofy characters were a comic relief from the stereotypes imposed on me of the serious, straight-A student who never got into any trouble. I was always slightly offended when someone felt the need to tell me I don't smile enough; so in public I assumed the role that they expected me to play, and my mischief became an intimate privilege reserved for those in my personal life who allowed me the freedom to be the multi-dimensional character that I am.

Somewhere in my 20's the lines blurred, and I began shedding my authentic identity completely in response to societal pressures - the voices, both external and internal, were too loud to drone out. The injustices of the world kept me up at night (still often do). Life as an adult felt like a burden. I had forgotten how to laugh. The magic was gone. I was exhausted.

Part of the road to recovery started with an exercise, a blank paper in front of me to jot down my last memories of true, unapologetic, unrestrained happiness. The result was childhood nostalgia: pressing puris with my grandmother, chasing after ice cream trucks, throwing water balloons, writing silly poems, watching Saturday morning cartoons before my parents woke up to tell me I would need glasses if I sat too close to the tv (oops!). 

It was the mischief, which I had learned all too well to manage and fold away into some corner of my desk drawer under the research papers and corporate strategies. So, I dug it out, dusted it off and renewed my commitment to the happiness which perhaps I had taken for granted in my urgent desires to change the world. 

In between a lesson on grammar and punctuation, every so often I'll ask my students to write a letter to a mosquito or dance along to a verb rap song (sure, they roll their eyes, but they'll thank me when they're adults). I like to think now that there is always a little room to prank call someone at 5 am or make a misguided admirer squirm in his seat - who knows, you might be next on my list!