Tag Archives: growing up

We Are In Different Ponds

pond-girls-feet

I’ve been crafting her story for three weeks now. That’s the blogger in me: I see a date, a life moment, and it billows into a hurdle and my knees get cramped and my legs get heavy and my head gets cloudy and I cannot find words for days. So I lie in bed and say “Tomorrow. Tomorrow I will write you a story, or a song, or a poem, or a letter.” And tomorrow becomes next Monday and three Thursdays from now. So I had to stop. I had to write it best I could.

A friend of mine once said paper makes you honest. I hunkered down onto my couch with a pen and notebook and got honest for a short hour. Here goes.

[one]

I’ve been preparing to lose her for ten or fifteen or twenty years. Give or take. Maybe since the day she wrapped her pudgy fingers around her purple vinyl Pocahontas suitcase and marched to the end of the block. Maybe it was then that I knew she had an inclination, a tendency, an urge to push away from the safe harbor, our driveway and the little yellow house with dark green shutters, and wait for an uncertain future to gift her with adventure.

If she had been alive in 1912, she would have been a fierce Irish girl with poppies of freckles dotting the bridge of her nose and her cheekbones. She would have been a real Rose Dawson. Me, I would have been back in Ireland, peddling on the cobblestone streets. In the last century, nothing much has changed.

[two]

He asked me, last week. “You gonna cry?” He said it the way humans do when they fear the answer, the truth, because it’s not such a far shout into the void from a moment they once knew. Empathy spills over them then, hushing their vocal chords with the thick syrup of sadness. It’s all they can do not to say, “I’m sorry. I know. You’re allowed to be sad.”

“I might,” I said. “I just might.”

I did. Cry, I mean. At the end of a long, late night movie, with a dark theatre full of strangers, I praised God for thick blue plastic glasses shielding my face. Because sometimes God blesses you with silent tears, and as long as the world cannot see your eyes, you are fine. You are so very fine.

I saw her on that screen, falling like some Alice in Wonderland to her death. I saw her and I had to let her go. I couldn’t catch her.

We learn that lesson ad nausea – that you cannot save people from themselves, from their enemies, from their brokenness, from their final moments.

A story is circling the globe right now about a boy named Ryan, a boy who ran out into the street to retrieve a Frisbee and was hit by an oncoming car. He died. Ryan with his bright red hair and his big smile, he died. That story could have owned him, but I pray it doesn’t.

[three]

I gasped when I learned it. I imagined her, of course, a six or eight or ten-year-old girl, playing on the front lawns of our neighborhood, dashing into the center of the road where a stray Whiffle ball or hockey puck had settled.

She was a wild one, still is, and that story could have owned her, too.

Just before prom, her date admitted he had no intention of taking her. She and her friends scraped together enough funds and a touch of courage to ask a sweet underclassman if he would be so kind as to come with her. He did. I thank him for it. But it was then I started worrying about her – her heart & the real possibility that it would someday be tested.

I had to learn, in the way that Ryan’s parents will never learn, that she won’t always be ready – to have life gut her soul & test her faith, among other things.

[four]

She’s sleeping solitarily and soundly in the south now. And I’m not going to cry about it. And I’m not going to worry about her. Because I know that we leap before we are ready and the rest of us, the rest of the people who love her, will just have to follow her lead.

And maybe one day she’ll call – about a white dress and a ring on her left hand – or a job that she only could have dreamed about – or the little shack she’s secured downtown for herself – but for now, we are in different ponds.

That’s how she says it: “We are in different ponds.”

I wish, I always always wish, that someday God will give us the same pond to play in, but most days, I think we got that pond at a time when Barbie and basketball courts and balloon animals made their way into our days. And those are over. That pond is gone.

10 Lessons From Hopscotching Through My Early 20s

hopscotch-through-20s

They once were babies.

That thought envelopes me.

They once upon a time were diapers at the foot of their bed, thick hooded sweatshirts and elastic pants and now they’re not.

They’re in high school & college. Some are graduating in May. And since I’ve hopscotched around the East Coast enough to know that growing up is a mess, I have words for them.

  1. Find someone who steadies you when you’re stressed about the rent check, your electric bill, the things you did wrong at work, the credit card payment you swore you scheduled but really, believe me, didn’t.
  2. Hold them close & treat them right & tell them over & over that you are thankful & appreciative & lucky & blessed. You will need them, and you won’t ever know when.
  3. Make decisions to carry you through today & tomorrow & next month, but know that six months from now could look a lot less like you expected. Don’t let your upsets keep you from finding something better.
  4. Work hard. Work when you have to but even when you don’t. Be responsive. Be attentive. Be respectful. Be the kind of employee who does what’s right – not what looks good. Be lazy on Sunday when the football game comes on but on Monday morning, be ready.
  5. Chin up & smile. You are a learner. In everything you do, you’ll learn. Over & over you’ll think that life is about messing up & making the same mistakes but one day you’ll wake up and stop making them. One day you’ll appreciate all the criticism because you grew.
  6. Learn how to dress appropriately. There are outfits for Friday night & outfits for Casual Friday & outfits for important meetings & outfits for every other day. Be conservative. Pay attention. Learn to accessorize.
  7. Stretch yourself. Throw a dart at your target and promise yourself you won’t let fear or anxiety or lack of resources or lack of knowledge stop you. Do things that frighten you because you’ll land somewhere new & better.
  8. When you’re unhappy, change something. Your hair. Your outlook. Your routine. Find a place in your heart for new people. Find a place in your schedule for old friends. Find the root of your unhappiness & crush it.
  9. Be a mentor. Teach people. Help people. Figure out what fulfills you and run like the wind toward it.
  10. Give & give & give. Give your time & your knowledge & your heart & your love & your resources. Give people the kind of friendship that makes them feel grateful. Focus on the relationships & the efforts that make your heart soar. It’s time.

You know, she’s got to fly.

[part one]

In the damp Sunday mornings when the neighbors are asleep, I sit on the deck + watch children race by in rubber flip flops and cotton shorts and make a list of all the things I want for you.

It is the kind of list you make when you love someone before they exist.

It is the kind of list you make when you spend half your life holding your breath for fear she might someday know heartbreak so real it quiets her sun and blankets her smile.

It is the kind of list you stumble over in wedding vows.

It’s in those moments, where you are sleeping soundly in some other part of the country, that I find myself happy.

That is the hardest part of living in a house you’re not ready to call home. It is not the loneliness of dinner for one or breakfast on the ash-covered fold-up chair. It is not crossword puzzles on Friday nights or bathrooms that don’t clean themselves.

It is the fear of all the things you can’t know. It is holding everyone and everything you’ve ever loved in a chain around your neck and begging it not to strain you, beginning to trust that not all bad things happen while you are somewhere else.

It is the honesty of a life well lived without you.

It is the happening of all the things on the list you make on a damp Sunday morning, and the knowing that none of those things ever happened because you dreamed them between spoonfuls of Golden Grahams but because the person they were dreamed for wanted them too.

The person they were dreamed for wanted them, too.

 

[part two]

For days, I’ve been failing to find the right words to say something simple: it hurts when everyone you’ve ever loved is somewhere you can’t picture them and you don’t know if they’re where you expect them to be in that moment, that year.

You have whole lives picked out for them, lining them up in crisp rows like ruby red pumps and dirty green Chucks. You want them to know the heat of the driveway beneath their feet. You want them to smell the salt from the ocean and the sweat from their labor. You want them to taste homemade applesauce with a dash of cinnamon.

But you don’t know if they’ll get that. And you cannot swerve their car into the right lane with just enough time to exit this next dangerous path. You have to let them miss the turn or catapult into a gridlock. You have to let them mess up, knowing it won’t be a mistake because they’ll land somewhere altogether unexpected.

You won’t have seen it coming.

You won’t have approved it on your checklist for their future moments. Squashed between graduating college and getting married, they’ll move halfway across the world to a town you’ve never seen, so it’ll become impossible to imagine their back hunched over the kitchen sink, head ducked in concentration when they scrub that same saucepan you always used for grilled cheese.

You won’t know whether they like it there, whether they’re standing in their bathtub wishing the walls weren’t so grimy because they just want to fall against them and sob for a tomorrow that resembles yesterday.

You’ll want to ask if they’re OK, if they get by, if the rent is too high or their eyes are too tired, but you won’t because you have to let them fly.

They’ll tell you, you know.

They’ll tell you if it gets too bad.

You whisper that mantra in the moments when you fear the worst, when you stop with your cup of tea halfway to your parted lips and eke out an “oh” so hollow it reflects the newspaper clipping telling of a girl who didn’t know when to say she wasn’t OK.

You’ll hope you always taught her it was OK to say she wasn’t OK, that you would much rather spend your last dime on a plane ticket for a weekend working things out than a little black dress and a pair of black pumps and a black umbrella and a dozen red roses that always did make her eyes brighter in the rain.

You’ll have to let her fly. You know she’s got to fly.

You're A Failure

I wanted to tell you how 2012 looked for me, but can’t begin.

Instead, I will tell you six things made my cry this year: a book, a phone conversation about my late grandmother, graduation, the five minutes after my family left me in my apartment, my broken printer, and a funeral.

I’d be lying if I said there were only six things. But, truthfully, I cannot count the ones that made me laugh. As badly as we’ve got down on hands and knees and thought it’d be nice to just stay there on that itchy, sort-of stained cheap carpeting, we’ve really dug our own holes because we (well, me) don’t know six little things that made us laugh.

I read this piece, A Literary Flyover by Roxane Gay, that reminded me how distorted our views are. It’s about how this notion that writers? Well, all the great ones are sitting in cafés in Brooklyn sipping lukewarm tea and counting the number of people who walk by in red hats or cream-colored mittens or holding an iPhone so intently they walk straight into a taxicab.

Or something like that.

Don’t we kind of do that with our own lives?

You’re a failure because you don’t have an iPad or a Samsung Galaxy S III or six pairs of TOMS shoes. You’re a failure because you didn’t wash your dishes right after dinner and now the rice is stuck to the pan so you’re soaking it and it’ll probably soak overnight and maybe until tomorrow night when you stick your hand in there and it’s cold and mushy and gross but you’ve got to clean it.

You’re a failure because your clothes are sitting in the dryer for two days. And you haven’t opened those bills yet, even though you had time to empty the mailbox. You’re a failure because you came home and didn’t spend enough time with your friends. You wasted all night reading essays about being alive instead of actually getting up and doing jumping jacks or step aerobics or Zumba (or anything else that would be classified as Doing Something That Makes You More Alive).

You’re a failure because you don’t remember how to do Soulja Boy even though you haven’t heard that song in four years. And you can’t beat your twelve-year-old cousin in Wii Tennis. And your sister got a Christmas bonus at her minimum wage job. And your hair’s not straight but it’s not really curly—could you make up your mind for the love of all things holy?

You’re a failure because you slept in the sweatpants you had on all day. And your book’s in the bed with you all night—not the nightstand. And you didn’t turn off your alarm so it went off on Saturday. And you accidentally took Benadryl because you didn’t know it’d make you drowsy.

You’re a failure because you keep touching your face and making it break out—even though your mother told you not to how many times? And you probably should’ve ironed that shirt before you put it on but it’s too late now, you’re running late. You’re a failure because you don’t know all the words to any movie and you can’t insert yourself in those family discussions about the Walking Dead episode last weekend.

You’re a failure because you Googled whether to use who or whom in that email and then they replied with six or seven glaring typos and no punctuation. You’re a failure because you spelled somebody’s Twitter handle wrong when you mentioned them.

But you’re not. Not even close. Because you’re human. And humans, we’re pretty freaking awesome at a multitude of things: like unabashedly loving stuff and making our own scarf organizers and writing letters to strangers and making friends via Twitter and kissing someone because we really really want to (and don’t feel bad about it).

We’re also pretty freaking fallible. And I forget that. You forget that. We let ourselves climb into our beds exhausted and over-stimulated and dwelling on all the failures we’ve committed already and those we’ve yet to commit.

And it’s not fair.

Can I tell you a secret? I have failed at all those things and a couple thousand more. If there is anything I want for 2013, it is for us to stop counting and just keep churning onward. Because life, like I said, was freaking hard this year. Cut yourself some slack.