Tag Archives: adulthood

5 Reasons I’m Not Ready for Motherhood

There is such a special sweetness in being able to participate in creation.

Pamela S. Nadav
So excited this baby is entering a family that already loves him or her.

Six and a half weeks. That is roughly how long before baby Hawkins Knell enters the world. That is roughly how much longer I need to ask for help tying my boots (I definitely never thought I would need to do that), wear Gabe’s L.L. Bean jacket, and gather as much wisdom from those who have gone before. I am waiting with excitement now, much more than fear, and it really became real at the baby shower my sister and family threw for me. There was no denying it: this baby is coming whether I think I’m ready or not.

  1. I don’t know what things are called. I’ve been researching all the accoutrements so many claim are Must. Have. I’m not much of a researcher (I prefer, instead, to make big decisions based on one or two facts, my gut, and the desire for definitiveness), so it is strange to find myself scrolling article after article about the latest stroller/car seat combo, the best crib ($499, Pottery Barn? I think not.), and the best bottles for a fussy baby (I don’t even know yet if I’ll have a fussy baby…) That being said, Saturday I was sitting at my baby shower, surrounded by women I love, opening gifts. It was my sister’s gift, and out came smooth wooden animals for teething. “Oh! Chew toys!” I said. Facepalm. “Catherine, they’re teething rings,” someone said, laughing, and I, too began to laugh. I also was unsure of the difference between a sling and a wrap, but I was duly informed.
  2. I only do laundry once every two-three weeks. This is perhaps the area in which I am least prepared for change. When I was single living in the city, I could stretch my wardrobe to nearly three weeks. This was done with an excessive amount of underwear and just enough bath towels. The only thing that really pushed me to do laundry was running out of gym clothes or underwear, and that was when I had a laundry machine and dryer handy in the kitchen. Now, living in New Hampshire, our washer/dryer is on the same floor as our condo, but it’s down the hallway. I can’t tell you how much I hate walking down that hallway with my laundry basket. I can’t even put my finger on it — maybe it’s fear that someone will walk by. Maybe it’s stressing about remembering to change the laundry over so I don’t annoy our neighbors. I hate it so much that usually Gabe throws in a few of my things with his wash, just to avoid my meltdown.
  3. I don’t know how to simplify my life. I love composting. I know this does not make sense, but every time I open the freezer and pop a pepper top in the Market Basket bag, or knock the tea leaves out of my steeper, I get a surge of joy. I can’t help but marvel at the cycle of life and think about how I am sending energy back into the earth in a way that is life-giving rather than wasteful. However, if you noticed, I said “every time I open the freezer.” That’s because living in a condo does not lend itself well to composting. I’ve struck a deal with my parents that I can bring my frozen scraps to their house, and I do so every time the freezer gets full and Gabe threatens to throw it all in the trash. It’s worth it to me. But it isn’t simple. It isn’t easy. There are a lot of things like that in my life right now. I don’t stock up on staples in my kitchen or snacks at my school because it takes planning, but that makes my days more difficult. I don’t pack my lunches in the evenings to streamline my mornings because that makes me feel like all I do is work or plan for work. I don’t put my reusable grocery bags in my car so I have them with me no matter what because I can’t be bothered to remember. I don’t know how we will make cloth diapers work if I work full-time and currently don’t do laundry. I don’t know how to say no to a new voice student, a coffee date, or a fun dinner out. What I know how to do is freeze my compost, recycle recycle recycle, try to shop frugally, and try to get as much fun in my week as possible. Babies don’t make life easier, they make them more complicated. Yet, I find myself hoping this baby forces me to learn how to slow down, streamline, plan. Fingers crossed.
  4. I function best with 8-9 hours of sleep. And the thing is, this is barely optional. I am not kind, I am not joyful, and I am not organized when I don’t get enough sleep. The kindness I do have some control over, but the organization? No, that is the first thing to leave my sleep-deprived mind. I don’t remember what I’ve said, the names of things, or my schedule. Nursing in the night is going to be such an interesting adventure.
  5. I’m not good at leaving my club. This is the one that is least tangible and therefore, the most interesting to me. I realized this about myself when I had my first post-college relationship. All of a sudden, I was in the “Couples Club,” when I hadn’t even known clubs existed at all. I was invited to events I’d never been invited to, I was asked out to double dates with friends who had never asked me to dinner before, and I found myself frustrated for my single-self, the woman who wouldn’t have minded being a third, fifth, or seventh wheel, but who rarely was given the option. Then, over a year ago, I entered the “Married Club.” This club was more overt. Topics of conversation include: buying a house, investing, saving for the future, who-does-what around the house. I enjoy many of these conversations, but it was not lost on me that my 25-year-old self would have no idea what to make of them. In fact, she would have thoroughly stuck her nose up at the boring details of married people. And now, I find myself leaving the “No-Children Club” for the “Mommy Club” (do I have permission to rename it the “Family Club”? “Motherhood Club”? anything but “Mommy Club”?!). These conversations are different: childcare options, diapering options, feeding options, schooling options. My “No-Children Club” self could barely stand it when people got together to discuss their parenting woes, but I see my time on the horizon, and I am afraid. I like the club I’m currently in. I’d like to stay here. Or, perhaps it’s not that. Perhaps it’s that I’d like to be in the “Family Club” and just do things differently.

While I wonder if these things will make motherhood more difficult, I do not lose heart. I know many mothers who could tell me they weren’t ready, either (but really, what does “ready” even mean?). Just like laughing at my ignorance about teething toys and slings, I am beginning to look at this upcoming change with a sense of humor: Isn’t it funny that I am here, doing this thing? Hopefully my baby doesn’t care about clean clothes, either. 

[P. S. I should also say that Gabe made me promise to write a post called “5 Reasons I’m Ready for Motherhood” to even this out. I appreciate the balance he brings to my life.]

 

 

30 Years Strong

Yesterday, I turned thirty.

I woke up, got ready for work, kissed my husband goodbye, and headed down the highway. I thought: What music fits today? And, oddly enough, it was Taylor Swift on shuffle. The girl who sang “I’m feeling twenty-two!” is who I wanted to listen to on the day I turned thirty.

I stopped at Bagel World, got a marble rye bagel with olive cream cheese, and ate it at my desk before students arrived. I drank a cup of strong coffee. I remembered birthdays past — some lovely, some less-than-so. I remembered it was also my cousin’s birthday; I’d been born on his tenth birthday three hundred miles away, and now we are each starting a new decade.

I remembered going to a wedding on my 25th and sitting with friends from church at a round table with a white table cloth. Having my name called from the dance floor. Standing in front of a room full of mostly strangers as they sang “Happy Birthday.” Feeling remembered. Feeling embarrassed. Feeling cared for. Feeling like twenty-five was unimaginably old.

When I walked through the lunchroom yesterday, the high schoolers sang “Happy Birthday” (they will always remember because I share a birthday with one of their comrades), and then after school, my international students brought me a surprise birthday cake to make our meeting celebratory. Their bashful faces as they presented it to me reminded me how young and shy they still are.

Coffee with my mom.

Tea with my sister.

Then the drive home to my husband who somehow always knows how to make a day special. We had dinner in the cozy candle-lit upstairs of a restaurant we’d been to, but never upstairs.

“This is perfect,” I said. “We’re at a place we know we like, but a new part of it so it feels like my birthday.”

There were flowers from a friend on the table, texts and phone calls from people I love. Singing voicemails and messages of encouragement.

A beautiful typewriter that I wish I could be using right now to write this blog.

All of this is not to show that I had the most amazing day (even though it was amazing).

Mostly, it is to remind myself that turning thirty is a beautiful accomplishment. Many of the people I most love and admire are thirty or have been at one point. With age comes wisdom (if done correctly), and yesterday I felt more excitement about the year ahead than I did sadness at the years behind. That is saying a lot.

[first day of thirty]

I started writing online in 2012, after a birthday that left me particularly sad and confused and unsure. I was certainly happy to leave twenty-two behind, but there was so much that I couldn’t anticipate about the year to come. So, I sat down on my parents’ couch with a French press of coffee and started this blog (or the early manifestation of it).

For seven years, I’ve been thinking, processing, expressing, sharing, and writing in this space that holds so much of me. There have been times when I’ve looked back and cringed at what I wrote. I’ve even toyed with deleting old posts that feel outdated, not me, or just plain silly to preserve my self-respect. I haven’t let myself, though. To write, you need to be honest.

So, what will I do with my first full day of Thirty?

clean my car
do laundry (but I did help with a load…)
worry about finances
think about what to name the baby
stress about the right stroller
wonder how I’ll write when I have an infant

Instead, I will make stock out of a chicken we roasted this week and vegetable scraps.

I will clean my desk off, rearrange it, and write a blog post about thirty and all the joy that is to come.

I will go for a ride in the car with my husband.

I will watch an episode of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

I will enjoy a day of rest, companionship, and anticipation of what is to come.


Expectations

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I’m standing in front of a tent full of people. I’ve finished my glass of white wine, my cowboy boots are cutting into my ankles, and my lace dress feels just a bit too sweaty to be beautiful. I unfold the crumpled paper, look out at these faces, some I know, some I do not, and I begin to read.

Joe, I have known Ashley a long time.

It feels a lot like singing, this performance, in the way that time moves so swiftly I don’t quite notice it’s passing. I read all the words. I look up once in awhile, smile at the appropriate times, slow down when I feel like I’m rushing. But I’m not really aware of what I’m doing or how I’m doing it. It might be that everyone’s looking at me but hardly anyone knows my name. It might be the heat of June. It could be stage fright. It’s probably all three.

I know what I talked about only because I wrote it down. I painted a picture of when we were little girls, playing Little House on the Prairie and baking together, playing Manhunt on summer nights. I talked about loyalty and love — only briefly — because they are things I don’t feel fully equipped to address. How can anyone wax wise on ideas of lifelong and commitment and trust?

Suddenly, I am done. I smile again, she is crying, and we hug. I hug Joe, too, and sit down quickly. I feel embarrassed, surprised, that I have just given my first maid-of-honor speech, and I’m not even sure how it went.

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I knew in the back of my mind that one day, I would be a maid-of-honor. I thought that perhaps I would have to give a speech, tell a story, celebrate two lives becoming one. I knew all of this, and yet I was surprised.

~     ~     ~

I sit across from him and I think: I don’t know you. I don’t know anything about you.

It’s hard to give someone a shot when you compare him to someone you’ve known for awhile, or, at least, someone you thought you knew, and who now colors your interactions with but I wanted someone like this, and this. 

Things never end up the way you expect.

~     ~     ~

We sit in a restaurant, and the waitress gives us free watermelon sangrias. Someone’s mistake has become our blessing. Susie looks at me and says, “A good omen!”, and we toast to the beginning of our new lives in a city busier than my little hometown of 26 years. Who knows what lies ahead? So we toast and smile and hope.

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We pose for a picture — two high school friends who accidentally followed each other into adulthood. The caption? “2015-2016…bring it!” Even as we’re smiling, I am aware that much lies ahead. Every year is unknown. Bad things happen. Students cry. I get frustrated with myself for everything that I lack, and as I’m smiling for this photo in late August, a little bit of fear creeps in and settles in my stomach.

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It’s December in two days. We want to get a Christmas tree, but we’re not sure how to get it home. The convertible is not conducive to carrying trees, so we’re pretty sure we’ll be trekking it two miles. I can picture cars whizzing past us, shaking their heads with pity at those poor girls in L.L. Bean boots dragging a tree halfway across the city. Worse things have happened. I climb the winding stairs to the third floor apartment, open the door, see the perfect place for a tiny tree in the living room.

I drink tea and hang Christmas lights around the windows in my room. I am at the same time content and longing, happy with a tinge of sadness. I burn a cedar candle because we haven’t gotten the tree yet and I want that fresh smell. I wonder what to get my mother for Christmas, and I think about last Christmas and how much I stressed over a gift that didn’t end up mattering. I think of two books that sit on a shelf — haphazardly, I’m sure, or perhaps on the floor — and I wonder how many things will end up differently than I expect a year from now.

What will Christmas 2016 look like?

Will I look back and think, Praise God?

Will I focus on the smell of fresh-cut trees, the laughter of roommates floating in from the living room, the joyful way we ate breakfast on the back porch in the sunlight?

Or will I feel heavy with the weight of the unknown? Or, perhaps, the now-known but not-wanted?

Sometimes you are maid-of-honor at a childhood friend’s wedding. Sometimes you stop talking to someone you love. Sometimes, you sit across from a man and give him a chance.

Nothing ever turns out exactly the way you expect.

Six at Heart

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When I was five years old, my father told me I had until I was six to move out. I think we were in the kitchen, and my mother must not have been there because she never would have let me believe that. As it was, though, I spent the next few months awaiting January 11th, a date which used to mean joy and pancakes and a few gifts at dinner. Now it was the first day of living on my own.

I don’t remember being very afraid. A little, probably, because I couldn’t drive, but what I remember most was the planning. If I had to be on my own, I’d do it in style.  I emptied my ballerina bank on my bedroom floor and counted the coins and few dollar bills, somewhere around nineteen dollars. Okay, that should get me pretty far. I had my journey all laid out: first, I would walk down the street to the Calabros’ house. They were kind and would understand. After resting up there for the night, I’d walk a few towns over to where my mom’s friend lived. She lived alone and surely she’d take me in for a little while. From there, I would use the phone to call my grandfather, and I had no doubt he would rescue me from my wandering. I’m not sure why I didn’t call him from the neighbors’ house. Part of me thinks my five-year-old self wanted at least a bite-sized adventure.

I don’t remember the night before my birthday, but the next morning is engraved in my memory. I got up, got dressed, and packed my backpack with my favorite outfits and my toothbrush. I tucked the nineteen-ish dollars in the front pocket and headed down the stairs. I said goodbye to my parents and I walked down the street.

My dad came after me, laughing.

“Catherine! Catherine, come back!” he said, catching up to me right before I reached the Calabros’.

I was confused – hadn’t he been saying I had to leave? It was January 11th, I was sure, and I’d made all these plans…

It’s a story my parents still like to tell, my mother with a little more embarrassment than my father, but with a good laugh, anyway.

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Twenty years later, and I’m in those same few months, awaiting a big move. My Dad learned his lesson pretty well that first time, and he’s never even tried to kick me out since. He’ll tease occasionally – “How can I miss you if you never leave?” is one of his favorites – but I know that moments around the dinner table and evenings of Jeopardy are times he would never trade for twenty long years of empty-nesting.

But I’m twenty-six, and the time has come to be out on my own. I won’t lie that it’s a bit later than I expected, that it’s taken longer for me to get my feet under me. The strange thing is, though, that I sometimes feel as shocked as that little girl.

What? I need to move out? Are you sure?

I mean, I’m pretty little.

I am getting better at holding two emotions in tandem, and this is one time where that skill is vital. There are times when my mom is talking to me, and I have no idea what she’s saying because I’m so preoccupied with September first. With renting a U-Haul and getting the day off and finding a gym membership. I am so excited for this move that I daydream while driving about not driving and being able to walk to a coffee shop or to get a good beer. I imagine having friends over for wine and cheese and crusty bread, and there are times when I can’t wait.

And then, there is the morning I woke up and the birds were singing. I took my coffee out to the herb garden and sat by the pond and thought this is what I’ll be missing – this morning sun and the sound of the breeze through the birch tree. What am I thinking, leaving?

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I wrote an essay my senior year of college about graduating. I wrote about how I didn’t know where I would live: would I move to Cambridge as Kayla and I dreamed? Or would I go home to my parents, pay back my student loans, settle in? I desperately wanted to move away, but the truth was I knew if I went home, I’d never want to leave. I knew the longer I stayed, the harder it would be to pack that car and say goodbye.

That was four years ago. Year after year, things have not lined up, people have not shown up, and I’ve chosen home. But this year, suddenly, my eyes lit up with talk of an apartment. Was it possible that I might get to live with two of my favorite people? I held my breath while decisions were made, and then they were made. Then we found a place. Then we signed the lease. Then, it was real, I wrote the check, and we started talking about couches and parking permits and laundry.

I have 25 days until I load the U-Haul and head forty-five minutes south and a world away. That’s 25 mornings to brew coffee and drink it while honeybees pollinate tall purple flowers and a hummingbird dips its beak into hollyhocks. And 25 nights to lie in my girlhood bedroom and remember all the dreams I’ve had. I’ll get to sort through them, sift out the ones I want to keep, and push the rest off on a flaming dory into the dark sea.

On September first, I’ll wake early and start loading the car. I’ll probably be manic because change can make me that way, I’ll forget to eat, and I’ll drink too much coffee. We’ll move quickly past each other, joke as much as possible, and begin to imagine a different life.

I’ll head for the car, take out my keys, and look behind me, a little part of me hoping to see my Dad running after me.

The Commencement Address I Didn’t Give

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Today as I sat at my students’ high school graduation, I thought: I hope I never have to give a commencement address.

It doesn’t matter how engaging the speaker, how moving his or her message. Really, what we want to see is that student’s name called, watch her walk across the stage, get the diploma, move her tassel to the left, and throw her cap in the air.

We want to witness that smile that can’t be stopped because the work is done. Finally.

Only so much wisdom can be digested in moments of anticipation.

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This was the fifth graduation I’ve been a part of — whether as a student or as a faculty member — and I remembered my own high school graduation. Eight years ago.

I remember singing a song that was entirely inappropriate for a graduation because I’d been asked to sing and I didn’t have a lot of repertoire.

No one wants to hear “Pur di cesti, o bocca bella” when their children receive their diplomas.

And I have yet to see a flattering mid-singing photograph.

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I remember the strangest things about that day. I remember being so happy, driving my bug with the top down. I remember crunching a row of baby turtles on my way to school and crying because I couldn’t believe I’d been so careless.

I remember hardly believing high school was over and I remember being terrified of what September would bring.

I remember eating a celebratory lunch at Striper’s restaurant and overlooking the river.

But mostly, I remember feeling very grown up.

~     ~     ~

I don’t think I will ever be asked to give a commencement address. I’m more of the pep-talk teacher, the one who encourages in one-on-one conversations.

But if I did give one?

If I did try in ten minutes to bestow some sort of wisdom on young minds which couldn’t bear to handle one more ounce of wisdom?

I’d probably say the following:

Chill out. Please.

I know you think you are grown up. And you are, sort of. But not really. And by the way, I haven’t met many people who feel it and are.

I know you feel sexy in those five-inch heels, but trust me, you look far more elegant in flats and confidence.

People tell you “don’t have any regrets.” I tried that — I tried living in a place of denial, in a place that said, “I did everything right and I wouldn’t change a moment.” This place does not really exist. You will have regrets. It’s about what you do with that regret that matters.

You are full of ideas and dreams and expectations. (I still am. I hope I always am.) But wait. You might study music and never sing at the MET. You might get your dream job and loathe your existence. It might end up that college isn’t the road you should take. Don’t be embarrassed that you were wrong. Embrace the second chance.

Do not be surprised when you learn the same lesson twice. Or three times. Do not think you are dumb or naive. Sometimes it takes more than one experience to hammer in a new idea, a fresh lesson in growth. Let yourself be imperfect, but don’t let yourself stay exactly the same imperfect.

And this one might be the most important:

Choose without knowing the future. Take action without waiting for lightning. Make the best possible decision with the knowledge you have, and when you look back, give yourself grace. Do not chastise your past self for making the best possible choice with limited sight. This will paralyze you.

~     ~     ~

In May of 2016, I will walk across the stage and receive my Master’s diploma. There will be a commencement address. I will try to listen. I will strain forward or sit back with the ease of taking it in.

But my mind will be filled with life — my past, my future — and most likely, I will be feeling exactly the way my seniors did today: excited, a little afraid, but mostly hopeful.

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Old Wheels Bite the Dust

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What do you do when you’ve had something since  you were sixteen and it’s breaking?

What do you do when you realize a little too much of yourself is tied to a thing?

What do you do when you realize that maybe there is more weight to a thing and its memories than there is freedom?

I drove for months with a window that wouldn’t go up in my car. It wasn’t bad in the summer – often the top was down anyway, so who cares?

But then it started to rain.

We had a week of straight rain. Of me running out of grad class with a towel and garbage bag to frantically cover the gaping hole (it only sort of worked). The rain came in, no matter how hard I tried to cover it. I was pretty resourceful, though, I think.

Then it got chilly, and the morning commutes got less and less comfortable.

For weeks my students laughed at me.

“Magistra, why do you have a towel on your car?”

Ummmm…

My neighbor jokingly yelled at me to “get that fixed already!” I told him it was too expensive, that I couldn’t sink another thousand dollars in a ten-year-old car that was falling apart.

“I’m just looking out for you,” he said, smiling.

“If you were really looking out for me, you’d buy me a new window!” (To which he shook his head because we’ve had many years of back-and-forth.)

I was determined to get one more summer out of that cream colored bug. I was determined, actually, never to buy a new car. I was determined to hold on to my sixteen-year-old self that cried when she got home and saw this thing that she never dreamed of having. This material thing that had brought so much joy to her life and her friends’ lives, too.

But the truth is, I am a very different person than I was at sixteen.

I got a letter from a college friend yesterday — a kindred spirit — and she told me how there are so many versions of herself she’s not sure which one to be. And I thought, Yes, that’s exactly right.

When I was sixteen, I was angry. I was afraid. I was sure that I’d never get into college and I was sure that I didn’t deserve whatever love I received.

But I also loved to laugh. I loved going to the diner for pie after performing in our high school shows. I loved walking to the library with my best friend and reading books, teeheeing in the stacks when we came across Portnoy’s Complaint. I was a better baker and cook than I am now, with the time and desire to perfect.

I wrote more in high school than I do now.

I got in a bad car accident and, after being spared, realized that God must, indeed, have work for me to do.

What a frightening thought.

I took trips to Maine in the summer — two teenage girls (I can’t believe we were allowed to do this!) cruised up the highway with the wind in our hair, spent the weekend on the ocean eating seafood and kayaking, shopping in Freeport, feeling the freedom of adulthood that lay just over the way.

All this to say: adulthood is here.

I handed over the keys of this bizarrely dear friend.

I walked away with a new car that has already begun to stand for everything that is new and hopeful.

And I said goodbye to the parts of me that need to go — in the shape of a cream colored convertible bug.

Goodbye, Buglette. It’s been real.

photo 2[And Auntie, don’t worry. I kept the orange flower you gave me.]

[P.S. My 8th graders, on seeing my new car: “It’s not quite as Magistra as your other car…”]

Dating in College?!

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“What’s dating like in college?”

My senior girls looked earnestly at me over their lunches. There’s no denying that having five guys in your year at school doesn’t play in your favor.

“Not so great,” I said, and regretted it immediately.

I scolded myself because I knew the door I’d just opened wouldn’t be closed easily. They wanted to know why – their eyes crestfallen, their hopes dashed by one sentence.

I prefaced everything with: “Well, you know things didn’t end well for me, so my opinions are skewed – I’m sure if I married someone I dated in college, I would have a very different view.”

But as I think about it now, hours later, I wonder if this is true. Because even if I had married someone I dated in college, that wouldn’t change the fact that the whole thing was quite awkward and oddly polarizing and much more work than I ever thought it should be.

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I told them I went to a small Christian college.

I told them I loved it there, but that there was a strange social construct around dating. That you don’t date, actually, but you have a boyfriend. That going on dates wasn’t really something you did. You either were in a relationship or you were starkly single.

That some girls could have guy friends, but lots couldn’t.

That I was never once asked out on a date, but somehow found myself “dating” two boys over my four years.

That there was pressure from people immediately.

That I didn’t know any better.

That there is such a thing as a good relationship. And a bad relationship. And somewhere in between.

That even though I praise God for sparing me from a terrible choice, it doesn’t change the fact that I had been wooed (or wooed myself) into thinking it was the right choice.

I told them all this over lunch, in the senior lounge, them leaning across the table.

They’ve been waiting four years to date, college beckoning to them, claiming to be full-to-bursting with attractive, single, emotionally mature young men.

And I said, “The thing is, girls, you’ve been waiting four years to date, but when you get to college, you realize they’re all the same boys.”

They’re all the same boys.

And yes, there are winners. There are awesome young men who know what they want and will treat you well.

But they’re just a few months removed from high school. Just like you.

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When I was sure I’d bruised their hopeful hearts forever, I tried to make things look less bleak. I told them about my dating experience since college – how I’ve been on dates and not felt pressured (Is he the one? Who cares?! I’m in my twenties and I’m figuring out who I am and who I want to be with! It’s a first date, darn it!). I told them it’s been a lot better, that I’ve filled my coffer with story after story – some good, some bad, most hilarious – and that even if their dating lives in college aren’t all they thought they would be, there’s hope.

I did not go into detail (trying to keep some boundaries), but I wish I could’ve told them how dating in college seems to be more about who you think you’re supposed to be instead of who you are. At least it was that way for me. I might have told them that I’m happier than ever, and regardless of what my future dating brings, I know I am a better person for giving it a try.

They’re sure to at least have good tales to tell me when they visit in the summer.

I should’ve told them to start a blog about it.

 

[Dating for Dummies photo: ZacVTA]

[Czech Couple photo: Ard Hesselink]

[Seville Couple photo: BMP]

My Life’s Sister Ship

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Do you ever wake up and wonder: How the heck did I get here?

As though it weren’t necessarily a series of steps, a string of choices, but rather a falling-into the life you seem to be living.

As though you have had no agency at all and have merely shown up to the party, hoping to get some free chips and maybe a half-decent conversation.

And it doesn’t seem to matter how many good things are in your life, how many moments are beautiful or poignant or meaningful, because still you wonder what if?

I try so hard not to live in a dream world, but that is exactly what I do. I’ve created so many different plot lines to this one little life that they’re hard to keep track of. As each experience ends, each door closes, I watch a plot line drop off like an untethered dory, drifting further and further away but somehow, no less dear.

IMG_0301Like the time I thought I would be a big-shot editor at a publishing house in Boston.

Or the time I thought I would marry a boy down the street and we would buy a house in my hometown and walk the kids to school every day.

Or the time I thought I would teach English in South America, discovering another culture all on my own and overcoming my fear of living far away.

Or the time I was sure I was supposed to move to Europe, maybe get my Master’s in Christianity and the Arts (this one’s still tantalizing, I have to admit), and get some challenging and amazing job that combined everything I loved into some sort of mythical dream.

Or the time I would get paid to write, and somehow the ideas would flow endlessly from me. It was always effortless, as though I were a pool of creativity, knowledge, and wisdom.

Or the time I would teach voice lessons from the comfort of my home. I would make music with friends, perform in operas, and live the life of an artist.

Or, if we go way back, the time when I thought I’d live on a farm with no electricity (yes, no electricity…or running water.).

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The first winter I was out of college, I discovered the Swedish poet, Tomas Transtromer. Winner of the Nobel Prize in 2011, he’s what I would call a winter poet: a little narrative, a touch of melancholy, along the lines of Seamus Heaney. The poem that made me buy the book was “The Blue House,” and some wouldn’t even call it a poem. Prose poem is the term, I suppose, since he doesn’t use line breaks, but it does the work.

It wasn’t until the last paragraph that I began to understand what was happening, what the point was of all this description of some imagined house. On and on he goes about joy and death, painting a house without brushes, a child who “too early abandoned the task of being a child.” It wasn’t until the last paragraph that I realized what Transtromer was really experiencing:

Both joy and sorrow swell in the magnifying glass of the dew. We don’t really know it, but we sense it: there is a sister ship to our life which takes a totally different route. While the sun burns behind the islands.

And there it was, the way I have felt my entire life — all the what-ifs and maybes and if-onlys rolled up into one simple sentence. There is a sister ship to our life which takes a totally different route. You can stand on the deck of your life’s ship and watch as the life you could have led sails away, perhaps less real but all the more provocative.

This path we take (or find ourselves on) is a string of choices. It’s also a matter of opportunities and missed opportunities. It’s luck and blessing and shoot that’s terrible. It’s the real-life route while we still sometimes cling to the ghosts of those other ships.

How many are there?

For me, quite a few, of varying possibility and varying audacity.

The ship I’m on is beautiful and challenging and surprising. But those ghost ships can stay even more magical and enticing for the very fact that they’re unknowable, beckoning to me from the horizon.

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Dare to Surprise

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There was a boy in high school who stood out. For both good and bad, for his height, his clothes, his penetrating gaze when he talked to you, his arrogance. I noticed him early in September freshman year, and immediately I knew that I didn’t trust him. It wasn’t that I didn’t like him, but that I knew every time he would choose the wrong thing. That he didn’t know how not to let someone down in his laziness and youth.

For four years, our paths crossed occasionally, a mutual friend, a witty conversation, an awkward comment as we passed. I watched as he made reckless decisions, hurting young girls who saw only the handsome prince and not the boy. I had my hackles up because I knew exactly what he was like. No one had to tell me that I wasn’t the only he made feel like a million dollars, that I (along with everyone he talked to) was the only person in the room. No one had to tell me that his confidence in his charm was a very part of that charm. Even as I allowed myself to laugh because I like a quick tongue and an educated joke, I knew that I could never truly be myself.

That’s the thing about early assumptions: you almost always think they’re wrong. You second-guess yourself. You remind yourself that you are critical, that you expect too much of people, that you put people in a pretty little box with a label (“Fake,” “Selfish,” “Socially Awkward,” “Immature”) and set the box on the shelf in your closet, never bothering to open it and rethink that decision you made so many years ago.

And because you know your tendencies, you force yourself to rethink it. You figuratively slap your own arrogance in the face, and you dare them to surprise you.

Surprise me, I whisper, when I begin to trust.

[For once, don’t promise the big grand thing and forget in your rashness you ever said anything.]

Surprise me, I hope when I let someone begin to love me or someone else I care for.

[For once, choose the best for the one you claim to love most. For once, refuse your own selfishness.]

Surprise me, I dare, even as I watch again and again as they continue not to.

[For once, make your word count for something.]

What I’m really asking for is this:

Prove me wrong. Please. In this one instance, I want so badly to be wrong.

I guess what I’m realizing is that sometimes you’ll never be surprised. Sometimes, that immature fourteen-year-old-freshman-self wasn’t as dumb or judgmental as you claim, and really, here is a young man who’s grown up to be just a taller, more successful, equally-self-centered gentleman with a penchant for desiring goodness but without the will-power to get it.

The same laughing blue eyes, the same way of leaning towards you with an intensity that – for just a moment – feels like yes.

There are some people who live up to their reputations.

There are some people who, after years and years of chances, will never surprise you.

And you can love them from a distance, but that is all you can do.

With Five You Get…?

I had this recurring dream growing up: I’d open the linen closet in our hallway, and magically there was a third floor in our house. The stairs were thin (because even in a dream I was logical – that closet was small!) and when we got to the top, there were two more bedrooms. We didn’t have to share rooms anymore! Here was an attic-y third floor that none of us knew about! It was amazing.

I had this dream numerous times, always imagining my own space, my own way of doing things.

Sharing a room wasn’t horrible at all. Sure, my sister and I had our ups and downs. We have different degrees of cleanliness, different ideas of what it means to be neat. My books took over. Her clothes took over. And neither of us cared much for a vacuum. But it wasn’t terrible.

Still, I dreamed.

She’s had her own place since August, and my brother just got an apartment. He moved in this weekend, loaded the back of the truck with his bed, bureau, clothes, snowboard. He was excited. So excited. There’s something exhilarating about heading out, embarking on a new adventure. Like my sister, he isn’t hundreds of miles away, but when he comes home from work, his home will look a little different. When I come home, there will be one less body, one less sibling with whom to enjoy a warm dinner and a glass of wine.

We made trips to the truck in the freezing cold, and I remembered that recurring dream.

My littlest brother is now cleaning out their room, rearranging furniture, making it his own. His music is playing loudly because neither of us likes to do work without music, and I am remembering a dream.

Our linen closet is only our linen closet, but we’re spreading out, just a little.

It doesn’t feel quite as nice as I’d Imagined.