My Dad: The (Cancer) Fighter

Last April, after too many phone calls from my mom at the hospital, I decided I needed a few days off of work and a few days at home. My father had three surgeries since that February and though my parents never said it was serious, something told me to go to North Carolina.

 Just go home.

When my mom picked me up from the airport, my father wasn’t with her. She was coy about the reasons why, just saying that the incision from his appendix surgery was deep and painful, and that riding on bumpy Southern roads was difficult for him. I wanted to pry for more details. I wanted her to come clean.

I wanted her to tell me what was really going on.

But she didn’t divulge and I didn’t press, instead I tried not to look at her as we drove the two hours back to Asheville from Charlotte, her blue eyes glowing in the traffic and car headlights. They looked sad and tired, and though I told myself it had just been a stressful few months for her – with the medical billing, hospital trips and all – I knew it must be more than that. My mama doesn’t lose her spunk for any ole’ reason, it has to be something major.

My dad was awake when we made it back home, but he didn’t greet me with a big glass of red wine, like he usually does. He wasn’t playing his music from the satellite radio that he’s explained how it works about a million times to me. He wasn’t asking my mom to dance in the kitchen, in their matching Kmart slippers, kissing her in the same way I imagined he has since they first met in 1985. He couldn’t hide his smile – that one that’s just for me, just for his little – and only – girl, just for his daughter that broke his heart by moving 800 miles away to New York City. But I could tell he was uncomfortable and exhausted, distraught and full of thoughts he wasn’t sharing.

Again, I didn’t ask too many questions, I just curled up in the corner of his chair on his side, like I always have and laid my head on his shoulder, careful not to touch the gnarly stiches I was afraid of brushing up against. He smelled like Old Spice and soap, and I let out the first big exhale since February when my mom called to say my dad’s appendix had burst and he was going into the ER.

Should I come home? I can catch a flight tonight? I asked, holed up in a conference room at work, trying my best not to think the very worst.

No, no. It’s not a serious surgery, she said. I’ll tell you if you need to come back, don’t worry sweetie, she said.

Two weeks later, I called my mom while walking Lucy, our morning ritual, and her voice was frantic: Your dad’s stitches came undone during his sleep last night, we’re at the hospital getting staples instead.

Mom, do I need to come home? Is he okay? What’s going on? The hospital again? I asked, stopping in the middle of the street as Lucy looked up at me confused. My mom reassured me that all was well and I should just keep my phone on.

Two weeks later, I called after work and asked about their day and my mom so casually said, Oh, your dad had another surgery today. No big deal, sweetie. Everything is fine. Don’t worry!

Mom, why did you never want me to come home when dad went to the hospital all those times? I don’t understand, I asked that night after dad went to sleep well before we did, something that almost never happens. What’s going on, mom? Again, she refused to divulge anything, and I dropped the issue, reminding myself that if something was wrong, they surely wouldn’t keep it from me.

Forever, anyway.

The next day we went for a long walk as a family and then to the Lucky Otter, one of my parents’ favorite watering holes. We sipped on margaritas and we all ignored the awkward tension between all of us, the big secret that no one wanted to say, but needed to be said. We made small talk and I tried my best to stay positive, just waiting for the shoe to drop and smash the conversation. I watched my dad give my mom the look to reassure her and she gave her encouraging smile, a quick nod of the head, and a huge gulp of her drink. My dad sat his down and said words I still hear crystal clear:

You know when I had that last surgery, Linds? He started. I kept eye contact. Well, when my appendix burst, they tested the organs around, just to make sure everything was fine and unaffected. And they found cancer. I had some of my colon removed and I find out in three weeks if it’s gone completely. They caught it early, so it’s probably going to be fine. I didn’t want to add stress to your life or worry you before I needed to. You’re an adult, you should know, but I wanted to protect you.

I thought I might burst into tears, and they started to fill my eyes (just as they are right now as I type this) and in front of all of the people at this restaurant, I walked over and sat in my dad’s lap and hugged him. And I did cry. He did too. But mostly, I just felt relieved. Relieved to know the truth. Relieved that his surgery went okay. Relieved that I would know his diagnosis in just a few weeks.

Relieved I was still able give my dad a big bear hug, as we’ve always called them.

And by some miracle of the best kind, his cancer is still gone today. He goes every three months for testing (I hold my breath all day long on those days) and he’s had other issues since then too, but he’s mostly at the end of a very long road of recovery. One that’s tested my mother’s patience, my father’s courage and my strength.

One that’s changed our family.

My father has always been this brave, resilient man in my eyes – someone that’s capable of absolutely anything, and who always encourages me to take risks. He’s lived a big, full and exciting life, and more than that, he’s let love guide him every step of the way. A true romantic, a funny guy and a tormentor – he’s had my heart my entire life, and frankly, it’ll take quite a man to ever compare to him.

And though ‘cancer’ is a very scary word, one that I didn’t fully understand until it affected me directly – my dad fought it. He refused to let it bring him down. He wouldn’t let it define him. A little over a year later, he’s riding his bike. He’s looking forward to swimming at our lake house this summer, his stitches cleared by the doctors and only a scar left to remind him. He’s planning a big trip with my mom next year – their 29th year of marriage. And he’s sending me letters every few weeks and leaving me funny voicemails nearly everyday.

He may seem more human now to me – instead of a superhero. But I treasure him more. I value his advice, his words and just being able to hear his voice. I think about him more often and I miss him more than before. And though I didn’t think it was possible, I’m a bigger daddy’s girl at 25 than I probably was at 12.

On Father’s Day and every day, I’m thankful for the wonderful, incredible and loving man that I’m lucky enough to call dad. I can’t wait to introduce him to the man I’ll marry, call him when I get that book deal (and yes dad, buy you a new boat when I do), and watch him hold my future children.

Thanks for teaching me to never, ever give up. And dad – thank you for never giving up either. I love you from NYC and back, and I’ll always be your butterfly.

Burgers and beers with dad in NYC, 2013

Burgers and beers with dad in NYC, 2013

My first half-marathon in October 2013

My first half-marathon in October 2013

Labor Day weekend, 2013

Labor Day weekend, 2013

Dad's attempt at the selfie.

Dad’s attempt at the selfie.

First trip to NYC!

First trip to NYC!

First photo at home together

First photo at home together

Hamming it with daddy at 2

Hamming it with daddy at 2

Right after the big news at the Lucky Otter. Cheers to life!

Right after the big news at the Lucky Otter. Cheers to life!

Christmas in NYC, 2013

Christmas in NYC, 2013

"Holding" my bottle at 1 week old.

“Holding” my bottle at 1 week old.

 

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She Will Be Loved

When Maroon 5’s “She Will Be Loved” first started spamming the radio, I was dating Mr. Faithful, my high school boyfriend. I loved the words and I soaked them all in, paying special attention to the “beauty queen of only 17” which was true at the time, and of course, “drove for miles and miles and ended up at your door,” which I dreamed of in many fantastic romantic clichés.

I imagined then that Mr. Faithful was the end-all-be-all for me, the love of all loves, the last man (and only man) I’d ever invite into my bed and into my heart. I instantly sent the song to him and he played it for me a few times while we drove the rolling country roads, and even when we made love in the way only a 17 and 18 year old can. Sweetly, naively and awkwardly.

I hadn’t thought about him or those premature stages of teenage love affairs in a long time, but on my way to a date recently, that song came on my Pandora. And suddenly, it all came flooding back:

Back to when I got drunk off cheap wine coolers and sweet hand-written words on notebook paper. Back to when I could spend hours cuddling in his backyard on a trampoline, talking about the future like we knew what was coming and where we were headed. Back to when flowers were picked from gardens and corsages were given at prom and graduation. Back to when dating a football player seemed so sexy and so important, back to when I watched the lights bounce off of the lake, dreaming about when I’d see lights bounce off of buildings in the Big Apple I’d only visited once.

Back to when I was unaware of what those lyrics really meant, or what they would mean, or how intensely I would feel everything in the years to come. How fleeting and innocent young love is, and yet, how final the end would feel in a few years. How much that girl who always knew there was a life ahead of her beyond the mountains, just waiting.

How that girl had no idea that this girl was always somewhere inside of her, waiting to fly, waiting to leap, waiting for that big opportunity, that big love to happen. How that girl had no idea just how much this girl would be loved…

…She would be loved by men who crossed oceans and took redeyes to arrive on the doorstep of her Harlem apartment with tulips, chocolate cake and a flood of kisses. She would be loved by men who made her homemade Valentine’s Day cards using the old-school paint program and drop off an orchid off at her office – along with a coffee, just like she liked it. She would be loved by men who walked a mile in 6-inch snow to the closest grocery store to buy the staples, including her favorite orange juice, with extra pulp.

She would be loved by men who left notes hidden inside picture frames that hung on her wall in her second New York apartment, and long after the relationship ended and the flame died down, they would ask her to open that picture and find words of encouragement buried inside of it, unknowingly, for years. She would be loved by men who make her homemade gnocchi and ask her to dance in the kitchen, barefoot and underage-tipsy, kissing the top of her head and whispering things in her ear she would never reveal to anyone, not even this blog. She would be loved by so many men that would see her sad smile, who would stand outside in the rain with her, who would care for her even when she preferred someone else.

And somewhere in between all of those men, that girl would also learn to love her own broken smile. And she’d learn how to heal it. She would watch the storm coming in as she ran miles and miles in Central Park and she’d let the rain fall, washing away her mascara, the sweat and her frustrations. She would love someone when they didn’t love her back. She would learn to love herself, even when she didn’t quite like the person she was.

She would be loved by the men, sure, just as promised. But she would also be loved by strangers and friends, mentors and travel mates. By a white fluff that would capture her heart from a pet store in the West Village. By her parents, more and more, with every passing year.

That girl just didn’t know all the love that was coming her way. Not at 15, not at 20, and really, not even at 25. Because that girl has been loved… and will be again. In a way that this girl –that girl – can’t even begin to believe yet.

28 Things My Parents Taught Me About Love

Twenty-eight years ago in Asheville, North Carolina, a woman with flowers in her hair married a man with so much love in his heart, he couldn’t keep it to himself. Only four months prior, they went hiking for their very first date and that man wrapped his arms around that woman – and she just knew.

Two years later, they had me.

I don’t know the first time I realized that my parents were in love. Sure, they had fights like everyone else, but what I remember the most from my childhood is seeing my father leave notes by the coffee maker in the mornings before he went to work. Or my mom leaving notes in his fireman gear – complete with a lipstick print to seal the message. My dad almost always had fresh flowers for my mom (a dozen for her, and a single rose for me because I was jealous). They would dance in our living room after dinner and when I was off in never-never land, playing make believe, I could hear the laughter of their beautiful reality from the living room.

While I’ve never doubted that my parents loved each other, I’ve also witnessed just how hard marriage can be. Through sickness and in health, when times are hard and when they’re good, with youth and then with age, with distance apart and too much time together, with a full house and then an empty one. It’s because of my mom and dad that I believe in both the magic of love and the difficulty of it – it’s not always romantic and idealistic, it’s also, well, work.

But at the end of the day, they pick each other.

Again and again, over and over, because they meant what they said at that altar. And though the NYC foodie in me is rolling her eyes that for their anniversary they’re going to Red Lobster and eating a chocolate cake (the first one my dad has ever made in his life) afterwards, I secretly think it’s actually kind of adorable.

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So, this one is for you, Captain Tigar and first mate Kim. Thank you for teaching me to not settle for anything less than a match that’s as perfect, crazy and wonderful for me, as you are for each other. You’re the reason I’m able to write about love with such sincere hope in my words, and I will be very lucky to have a love like yours.

Here’s what you’ve taught me about love, marriage and all that jazz:

1- Love starts as a feeling and grows into a choice you make every single day.

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2- Love isn’t about your wedding day, it’s about your marriage. (My parents’ wedding cost about $500, my mom’s — very, vey 80s — wedding dress was only $40… and they’re photos were $50 – and I treasure them so much.)

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3- Couples who have adventures together, stay together. (Even if the adventure is remodeling a house, painting a deck or having themed-dinner nights at home…)

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4- Never go to bed without saying “I love you.” You can go to bed angrier than a rattlesnake (as my mom would say) but make sure you (grudgingly) say those three little words before you do.

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5- Perfection is for sissies. It’s the hard times in your marriage that make you so thankful for the really amazing times. If it was always perfect, you’d take it for granted.

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6- Remind each other. That you love one another. That they’re a wonderful person, father, mother, employee, boss lady, dancer, bruncher, maker-of-the-best-spicy-chicken-ever…

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7- You only have to put one foot in front of other. You might roll out of bed and hate the person you’re laying next to, but tomorrow you might think they’re spectacular. Take it one day at a time, one step after the other.

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8- Always stay friends… with benefits. Your spouse should be your very best friend, your favorite companion, and yes, the love of your life. But don’t marry someone you wouldn’t want to be friends with if you were so wildly attracted to them.

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9- Your marriage comes first. Even before your children. Because without taking time to nurture your love, it will wither like anything else that needs sun to flourish.

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10- Take time apart. For the majority of their marriage, my dad was gone three-days a week for 24-hours. Though that’s not typical, because they were separated, they got to miss one another and look forward to when they were together again.

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11- Be a united front. I could never win at the “go talk to your mother, go talk to your father” game because they were almost always on the exact same page about raising me. As I grew up, I realized they made a pretty solid team (even if I never got that pony that I really wanted. Hpmh.)

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12- You got to keep that flame burning. (I can’t really type anything more on this because eww, my parents!)

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13- Give one another space to grow. I’ve never believed there’s an “ideal” time to get married – you just get married when you meet the person you want to share your life with, regardless if it’s 20, 30 or 45 when you find them. Whenever you do, realize they’re not going to always be who they are right now and make sure they have space to change. And that they give you some room, too.

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14- Forgive quickly. It’s normal (and healthy!) to fight with your spouse, but holding grudges is elementary.

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15- Don’t take gender roles seriously. In my family, my dad always cooked and both of my parents worked. If my mom wanted (and could have afforded) to stay home, that would have been cool too. Or if my dad wanted to. You have to let each other do what you’re good at and not force one another into stereotypes.

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16- Support one another. My dad is notorious for picking up hobbies, becoming obsessed with them, and moving on to something else. Even so, when he picks up a new-something-or-another, my mom is there cheering for him, whatever it is. And he returns the favor for her as she has moved from accounting to astrology to real estate to…

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17- Marry someone who makes you laugh. Even if both of you are laughing at something no one else finds funny. Actually — especially if both of you are laughing at something no one else finds funny.

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18- Dream together. When I was ten, my parents bought this run-down lake house that they’ve refinished for the last 15 years into a gorgeous home. It was their dream to have a second place and together, they achieved it. (And I’m insanely jealous of their ‘We’re just drinking margaritas on the porch in the sun, honey, how’s work?’ text messages…)

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19- You can’t change the other person, but you can love them. Sure, my dad has made my mom a little braver and my mom has given my NJ-raised dad a Southern accents, but they’re still themselves. If you don’t like who someone is when you marry them, you won’t like who they are five or 28 years later either.

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20- There will be sickness and there will be health. My dad has had lots of health issues the past ten years, resulting in my mom taking on a lot more responsibility than she used to have. Though it definitely hasn’t been easy for her, when I ask her how she gets through it, she just says: “He’d do it for me if it was the other way around.”

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21- Everything is going to sag one day. It’s okay. Just more skin to cuddle.

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22- Develop good couple friendships. My parents have always had couple friends that they go on double-dates with or vacation together. And now, that all of us kids have flown the coop – they’re having even more fun together.

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23- You are an example to your children. Take it seriously.

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24- Let them surprise you. Even if it’s just with a chocolate cake.

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25- Don’t parent them. Sure, you want to take care of one another, but that doesn’t mean you baby them. You’re partners and lovers and friends, but not parent and child.

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26- Admit when your wrong. And sometimes, even if you’re right, for the sake of peace and love and making up, just say you’re sorry. It’s easier that way.

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27- It won’t always be equal. Someone will do more housework, someone will do more with the kids, someone will spend more money, someone will make more money. It’s not always going to be 50/50, but that’s what keeps it interesting.

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28- Kiss every single day. No matter what.

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This Valentine’s Day, write a self-love letter to yourself and it’ll be published (anonymous or not) on Confessions of a Love Addict! And you enter yourself to win a prize pack of beauty products and a Home Goods gift card! Learn more here. Submit here.

The Good Stuff

I was splashing, spinning in spiraling circles, watching the waves appear and feeling the pulse of the water around me. The mud underneath my feet crawled in between my toes, and sunk slightly the longer I kept myself planted, looking out into the blue skies of Carolina. The summer sun beat down on my freckled cheeks and I ignored my mother’s calling to come in for a ham and cheese sandwich and another round of sunscreen.

I ignored her, smug with my 13-year-old confidence, sure I knew everything, sure I didn’t need another layer to protect me from this August day. Instead, I’d spend my time here in this lake, dreaming about all the good stuff.

About that faithful day when I would ditch my cutoff jeans and messy braids for a more sophisticated lifestyle. About the time when I would pack my bags just as soon as I grabbed that degree, and head to that city I loved so much. The good stuff would be when I landed somewhere on that island, whose pictures decorated every room I’ve ever had, that island where dreams, magazines and handsome boys are made of. Where that good stuff is — those things and people and experiences and adventures I could picture in my head while laying underneath the endless web of stars or in that Georgia clay mud, wondering when I’d ever get there. When my words would be available for the world to read, when I’d write more than teen advice columns for the local paper, when I’d make a name for myself in that glistening, beautiful and unforgiving city. That’s where all the good stuff was, if I could just make it happen.

The good stuff was out there waiting and I was stuck in its anticipation, too young to have it, too bold to forget it.

I had similar thoughts this past week, as I found myself in the same place, looking at the same view, feeling miles away and like nothing had changed all at the same time. Except now, I trade ham and cheese for a rum and a coke, and I carefully reapply sunscreen, wanting less-leather like skin as I age, instead of working on my temporary tan. I didn’t flail around or spend every second submerged until I was pruny. Instead, I sprawled out on a float we’ve had for ten years, planted my sunglasses and let myself float.

And though I’m nearly 12 years older, and I do in fact have an address in the city where the good stuff is — I found myself staring up at the blue and white, daydreaming about the better stuff. The great stuff I haven’t had yet.

Like a man who needs no prodding or reminder to be captivated by me. Or one that is more of a possibility, and less emotionally unavailable. Or at least one that I can stand past a handful of dates. I thought about the good stuff out there, somewhere — like an apartment all on my own with the pup, where I can come and go as I please, do as I feel and never have to keep up a cleaning schedule or figure out who owes me what for electricity. The good stuff where I don’t have to look at the prices on the menu before I look at ingredients, or when I can invest in a wardrobe that is more about quality than quantity. The good stuff where my bylines appear in publications I highly admire, the good stuff when I figure out what exactly I want to do with my life and which way I want to go. The good stuff where travel is less of something to work toward and more something I do because the mood strikes and the money magically appears. The good stuff where I put on a white dress and feel that sense of peace, and yes, thrill, that there actually is someone out there worth waiting for. And dating to find. The good stuff where that smiling, cooing baby on the train is mine.

I have found such good stuff in my life, things that I wouldn’t trade, but more often than not, I find myself continuously forgetting how good it really is.

Until I look away from the sky and into what’s happening – my parents, married 28 years and dancing without any music at all on the boat, with chipped paint. And a motor that doesn’t always work. Or running through a country trail with my 50-something mother who is trying her best to keep up with me and we run straight through a pack of young, beautiful deer that stare right at us before leaping away. Or while fishing with my father, who wants nothing more than to spend time with me, a rainbow stretches the length of the lake, reminding me to never give up on that precious little thing called hope. Or watching my dog overcome her fear of water and jump into the lake, freeing herself from her city roots and embracing parts of nature she’s never seen. Or when I see a dear friend I haven’t actually spoken to in years strikes up conversation and we pick up right where we left off. Or sitting in my childhood bedroom of the lake house, remembering the first kisses, the first encounters, the first sips of terribly sweet wine coolers, I first discovered in this place.

There might always be better things ahead of us than before us. There might be moments and days to come that we can never prepare for, never wish hard enough for to create. There might be stuff that seems so incredible we can’t wait to see it or feel it or touch it or make it real. But if you’re always looking for what’s better, if you’re always searching for what’s next or what will be or could be or should be, you’ll lose what you’re supposed to be enjoying.

You’ll miss out on all the good stuff.

Because the good stuff happens every second of every day in surprising and ordinary ways. And you can only really savor it if you stop looking ahead, and start looking around you. Start realizing when all the good stuff you’re looking for is already pretty great. And more importantly, already happening.

Believing in the Unknown

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.

We Were Just Beginning

In the home I grew up in, the love flows just as steadily as the wine. My dad still looks across the living room at my mom (who is pulling up the corner of her cheeks while talking about her fantasy face lift) and says, “Honey, you’re beautiful. You don’t need that.” In this house that’s a few right turns off of the main road that leads into town, my dog thinks I’m a better person than I really am. In this place, where my room is almost empty, minus some books and bedding, is frozen back in time when I loved playing tennis and hung up pictures of the city I wanted to call home.

And those photos are now sights I could see anytime I wanted. They are only a train ride away and some are views I see each and everyday. I made it to New York and I survived it – or as my friend E says, it let me stay. There is no secret to “making it” in Manhattan, it kicks out those who don’t belong pretty quickly.

But when I’m back in North Carolina, when my pace slows down, when I sit around talking astrology and dreams with my mom, when my dad brings me a heating pad and pillow to curl up with because my stomach hurts, when I walk out of the kitchen and return to find all of my dishes put away, I’m reminded of the place that grew me. The people who loved me enough to let me chase that brilliant ambition that is now my reality. The sense of longing that I used to feel while lying in this bed, looking out at the fog sweeping the mountaintops is gone – and in its place, I feel peace.

I feel this sweet surrender inside of my heart that for the first time, maybe ever, I’m just content. The journals I filled with wishes and hopes, are now subway stops and memories. The stories I used to store in a shoebox are now archived on WordPress and countless other publications I still can’t believe I’ve been lucky enough to write for. Those magazine clippings of inspirational quotes and couples snuggling on the couch are now my own sayings and my own snapshots of the men I’ve loved.

Really, there was nothing this Christmas that I wanted or needed other than to hop a flight back to where the wildflowers grow, the sound of silence echoes pleasantly from hill-to-hill, and sweet tea is within driving distance. And thanks to this blog and all of the wonderful people I’ve met in New York, being a single gal for the holidays feels more natural to me than bringing home a love that wasn’t meant to last.

Sitting around with a group of my friends tonight at the annual Christmas potluck while I’m in town, I thought about where we were: single and striving, learning and loving, letting go and being brave enough to hold on, chasing dreams and their origins, starting all over again and putting together pieces, realizing we’re finally adults and wondering what that really means. Looking at their faces and hearing their stories that while we may have different zip codes, sound scarily similar, munching on sausage balls I pretended had zero calories, I thought about how we all worry about what the future holds.

There is so much more life ahead of us than what we’ve experienced. There is room to reach so many more goals. Chances to love someone more than we’ve ever loved before. Opportunities to see the world and to reveal a world inside ourselves we never knew. Experiences that will test and try us as much as they teach and taunt us. Mortgages and babies who will call us “Mom”, Christmases that will one day mean more to us than seeing our old friends and feeling fancy cooking our family the Eggs Florentine we discovered in the city. Lifelong friendships that only become stronger with age and men who think we’re radiant despite our age.

It’s hard, I think, as a 20-something to see an existence outside of the current one. We’re busy coming and going, figuring out what we want and how to get it, dating and mating, relating and playing, attempting to save money and determining how much we need to put into our 401ks when really, 45 seems old, never mind 65 when we actually see the account. Everything seems so far away, so not-something-I-need-to-think-about right now, something that I’ll address later when I’m ready, later when I’m older, when I’m settled, when I have it all together. We can’t see our children’s faces or truly believe deep into our bones that yes, one day, one man, will be different and it all won’t be so complicated. We can’t see that house or the playground behind it, the successful career that we worked so hard to achieve at its very peak, we can’t see the impressions we leave on others or imagine our beautiful, youthful friends with wrinkles around their eyes.

But before we know it – or so I’m told anyway – one day, we’ll wake up and our realities will be different. The ways we find peace will be new. Our intentions humble, our pace slower, the things that make us happy, simpler. We’ll look back on these days, where we roamed wild and free, dabbling in this while dabbling in that, fretting over being a size 6, crying over a guy who we won’t remember in the long run, drinking more champagne and coffee than what’s healthy while soaking up sun, and wonder why we took it for granted. We’ll look back and remember all of those Christmases – from being children to having our own, and be amazed at how much things change, how much we change, how much the world continues to change before we’ve caught up to it.

And we’ll wonder how we didn’t see that then, sitting around that table with our friends, talking about how old we feel at the ripe age of mid-twenties, that really, we were just beginning.

I’m a Feelin’ Old

My first business was babies.

I became a Red Cross Certified Baby Sitter around the age of 12, my dad whipped up some pink business cards cleverly titled “Lindsay’s Baby-Sitting” with our home number and a totally original slogan: safe, reliable childcare, and I was off to make my first hard-earned cashed. To ease me into the role that would pay a whopping $7 an hour, I practiced with my the children of my godparents: two twin boys.

I grew up with this duo — they had incomparable energy, and while I remember them always being very kind, they also always seemed extremely loud. My parents joked then (and still do now) that it was good practice for me to care for twin boys (I went on to babysit another pair of matching dudes a few years later), since the twin-generation hits me on both sides. And since my cousins are already finished birthing and have only had girls, it’s up to me to bring in the men.

Of course, the girly-girl is destined to have a house full of little guys running around. Fate’s funny.

Anyway – my very first babysitting gig was taking care of K and C, who wanted to play hide-and-seek in the dark and watch action flicks, resulting in one of the worse headaches of my life and snoring on the car ride home because they wore me out so badly. My mom found it humorous (so did my godmother) but I was nervous: what if I was a bad babysitting? Where would my boomin’ business go? My worrying pre-teen self anxiously awaited my next opportunity to care for the boys so I could prove myself as fun and responsible.

A few weeks later, I stayed in with them and they actually managed to fall asleep rather early. I munched on brownies and watched television, proud of my accomplishment and praying they didn’t wake up before their parents got home. The next few years would follow in this manner, I’d babysit and sometimes feel great about it, sometimes be exhausted, sometimes love the idea of kids, sometimes decide (at 15, no less) that I’d never have children. I guess not too much has changed — I’ll admit I still feel a little unwanted and unworthy of baby-love if I smile at some tot on the train and they burst into tears. What is it about that sound that rips my heart to shreds?

I hadn’t thought about children in the context of my own life for a while now, until Facebook popped up yesterday morning with some interesting news. One of those twin boys – the first child I ever babysat for – is engaged. He’s several years younger than me and he’s going to be gettin’ hitched before I figure out how to make a long-term relationship work. I’ve blogged for nearly a year, and doubt I’ve actually learned much of anything other than the fact that all courtships are different and must be treated as such.

Sensibility tells me that he’s in college, that he’s been with the broad for years, that he’s in the South, that his parents were married young, that he’s happy with a little home and a little church, and I’m still searching for so much more than that. I’m confident I’m nowhere close to meeting the man I’ll marry or even wanting to marry – but it’s so odd to think that the kid I babysat for has found true love before I have.

Talk about making a gal feel old.

Alright, fine – I’m not old. I know that much. I have more than enough time, and I’ve recently sincerely relaxed after realizing so many women have babies well over 35 and are fine. I don’t feel pressure to pair up, I don’t crave white lace as much as I desire my Friday night out with the girls, and if Mr. P is any indication of New York men, I think I’m going to search for transplants like me, instead. I’m happy -actually I’m quite smitten – with how my life is right now. I feel blessed to have this much success and love surrounding me constantly, and if I could capture these years in a ViewMaster to click-through in years to come, I’m sure I’d be a very joyous middle-aged woman.

But in a little girl voice, just like the one I had before I was old enough to drive, yet competent enough to care for twins, I have to whine about one thing immaturely (but rightfully so!): Hey Southerners! Stop getting married so young! It’s scaring me into becoming a Northerner, and I know ya’ll don’t want that, now!