Grow Up? Make Me!

The inner child comes out to play: Coventry Health Care employees participate in a
The inner child comes out to play: Coventry Health Care employees participate in a "recess" game led by Dave Arthur of the Delaware-based Fun Department. (The Fun Department)
By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 4, 2007

On a recent midafternoon, two park rangers take time off for a couple of cupcakes. Kristi Thiel, 30, and Lauren Gurniewicz, 27, share a table at Love Cafe -- on the corner of 15th and U streets NW. In summery clothes, they relax in the air conditioning and analyze family, friendships and the food they eat.

The adults are unapologetic about their indulgence in youthful delights.

Gurniewicz has just finished a $3 gourmet chocolate-cream cupcake. "My mom always cooked," says Gurniewicz, who grew up in the homey Midwest. "And she baked cupcakes. That's part of the appeal."

Thiel is still working on her peanut-butter-on-chocolate cupcake. "I'm going to take some home," she says.

"And to drink," Gurniewicz adds, grinning, "I had a big glass of milk!"

The Cult of Kiddie Things is all around.

Consider: The World Adult Kickball Association -- for those over 21 -- was launched over beers in Washington a few years ago by a handful of men. Today it has more than 20,000 registered members nationwide who pay $60 apiece to belong. The annual open tournament, held in June at Bull Run Park in Centreville, drew nearly 300 players.

Business Week reports that the Cartoon Network attracts higher overall ratings among adult viewers age 18 to 34 than CNN, MSNBC or any cable news channel. Disney World is the top adult vacation destination in the world. The average age of people who play video games is 33, according to the Entertainment Software Association. Cafes offer adult-size peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.

It's not enough for American adults to just be youthful anymore; now it seems many want to be kids. Culture observers are taking note of these immature instincts, using names like "kidults" and "adultescents." And cottage industries cater to their whims.

A Delaware company known as the Fun Department is paid to help corporations stage "recess" at work. Employees compete in elementary playground-type activities, such as relay racing, playing a giant version of Yahtzee and sweeping a football with a broom.

The two-year-old firm believes that child's play among co-workers "creates happy employees and supports team building, morale and motivation and fun for fun's sake," says its marketing maven, Jayla Boire. Juvenile behavior also helps companies recruit and retain talented people, she says. Companies engage in fierce competition for good employees, and "a sense of fun" is a big draw for young prospective workers.

The Fun Department uses splashy words like "funnertainment" and "funsters." "Funkillers," Boire explains, "are people who don't remember that they have a funny bone and they find it difficult to find their inner child. Our job is to 'out' the funkillers and bring them to recess."

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