I traveled to North Carolina last weekend for some much needed time with my family. The three days and some loose change of hours were blessed and bittersweet — we all knew the time was too short, as it always is, and the circumstances, not ideal. My father– the brawly fireman that fights as fiercely as he loves — has had three surgeries in the past six weeks. My mom has taken on the role of sole caregiver, bandage changer, and keeper of the finances, the household and the sanity, leaving her, unsurprisingly, a little insane.
With the kindness of my great job, I took off a day to help out and give as much support as I could offer. The trip was full of some tears and laughs, red wine and margaritas, shopping trips and steaks shaped like hearts, all underneath the transcending beauty of the bright blue Carolina sky. I always forget just how vast and endless it feels in the south — uninterrupted by the skyscrapers and smog, quiet and subtly enticing. I spent my mornings waking up early and retreating to our back porch, drinking coffee and just staring at the horizon, gulping in the fresh air and the crispness of the day. I walked barefoot with my family pup, Suzie, feeling the dew on the grass and the gushy, gooeyness of the mud in between my toes. I tiptoed from stepping stone to stepping stone to retrieve the mail and take out the trash; all the while my dad, sore from surgery, hollered out for me to come back inside. Then at nighttime in layers of jackets — my mom’s and then my dad’s because I forgot to bring one of my own — I looked up at the same familiar stars that I used to dream under, thinking about those same shining lights in Manhattan that I’d one day be part of.
It reminded me of being a kid. And I liked it.
Nothing can quite prepare you for the truly hard parts of being an adult– leaving the home you knew and the parents who raised you on hearty meals, boat rides and unconditional, encouraging love. Or learning how to save money for a future you’re not sure you’ll actually see, while spending enough to create memories today that you’ll tell your grandchildren about 40 years from now. Or how your 20s feel so incredibly long and intolerably fast all at the same time, making you squirm somewhere in between thinking you’re getting old and that you’re too young enough to care.
It’s confusing and maddening, and yes, beautifully educational.
At the ripe ‘ole age of 24, I’m proud of the decisions I made and of the zip code I selected — but as wonderful as my little apartment and job is, I still miss my mom and dad. I still long to be taken care of like and to be void of any responsibilities, cares or concerns. When my greatest achievement was catching those fireflies and sneaking a flash light under the covers so I could write in my diary. When boys only mattered enough to hold hands in the hallway and call you for half a minute at night. When your parents seemed ageless and young, incapable of being human, but rather all-powerful superheroes who rescued you from all of the bad guys – the boogeyman, the bullies and the insecurities that wrestled your mind and mirror. When time seemed like something obsolete and fascinating, when adulthood meant turning 22 and having all of your dreams already perfect.
Once you’re actually a 20-something, you realize that nothing is perfect and that maybe, nothing will ever be exactly how you planned.
But that’s why childhood needs to be sweet. So that when you’re sitting on a bus back from JFK on a Sunday night, longing for the comfort of your dad’s arms and your mom’s laughter, you savor the life you’ve already had. You can close your eyes, even if they’re filled with tears and your heart full of prayers. You can think about those memories to keep your warm and keep your hopes high. They remind you of where you came from and how you were able to be the lady you are, living this life you worked hard to create.
So that even when times are unsure or uncertain, for when you realize how little control you honestly have over everything, for when things change and so do you, you think about those possibilities you always knew were possible. You remember those people who told you that you could if you set your mind to it.
You open your eyes to look outside to that skyline, its dazzling puzzle luring you in, once again, to take another step. To give something another try. To keep believing in the unknown, in the things that have yet to come, the people you’ve yet to meet, the experiences you haven’t felt yet.
If you believed in them when you didn’t know any better than to believe in extraordinary, imaginary things, you can believe even harder when you do know better. Because that’s when believing gets tough, that’s when it becomes worth it.
That’s how dreams become more than stars glittering above your 7-year-old head on a chilly North Carolina night. That’s how you go from being a wanderlust kid to an adult that knows the unknown isn’t as scary as it feels, it’s where all the magic actually happens.