Happily For Now

For the volunteer group I’m part of, we recently had the group of young, budding writers create their own fairytales. As expected, the boys’ stories were ripe with fights between worlds and superheroes rescuing the day, while the girls wrote about princesses, friendships, celebrities, and falling in love.

As I’m going around to the kids, supervising and encouraging them to keep going when they get stuck, a sweet little girl in pigtails and polka-dots looked up at me and said, “Lindsay, I’m done! Look!” She had almost filled a full page in her composition notebook and because we usually encourage them to write a few pages, I told her I wanted to read it when it was finished. She replied by saying, “But, I ended it with ‘And they lived happily ever after.’ There isn’t anything else! That’s the end!

Out of reflex and without hesitation, I bent down to her level and asked: “But what happens after they get married?” She blushed and answered: “They are happy! They have babies! That’s it!” Not willing to let another one be fooled by the delusions of forever-and-ever marital bliss, I sweetly challenged the 10 year old: “But don’t you think it is more like a beginning, not an ending? They just got married! Think of all the things they have left to do now.”

She looked at me funny and then smiled, “Well, I guess they have a party after they get married and then they have children and then those have children.” Hoping I made a little progress, I told her she should write at least five more sentences before it was time to read to the class. Looking like something was brewing upstairs, she nodded excitedly and continued to scribble. I walked around to the different tables, reading over stories, and answering questions, as all the volunteers and I attempted to keep control of 15 children who had far more energy than we do on a Friday afternoon. As I was supervising, the girl would come up and show me her progress, sentence-by-sentence. Each time I’d push her to write a little more and off she would go to squeeze in some more lines. When it was finally time to share their fairytales, she volunteered to go third and her story sounded like every other Disney-designed plot line, except for her last sentence:

“…and they all lived happily ever after, for now.”

Clapping for her and sharing unspoken sentiments, the other female volunteers and I exchanged knowing looks – this gal had it right: in today’s time, forever seems a tad suffocating and far-fetched. Doesn’t it?

But forever-and-ever-and-always as a child isn’t that scary; it is more comforting. After all, the stories we hear and the make believe we play all end when the prince drops to one knee, lovingly begs us to spend the rest of our life with him, and we say “I do.” We conclude happily ever after when we make a vow to another person, tying us to them in what we think (and hope) will be an everlasting partnership. But if we think about it – the wedding is just the start of the next segment of our lives, a chapter (or maybe the rest of the story) we’ll share with someone else. It isn’t a conclusion, it is an introductory sentence.

So why aren’t there fairytales about marriage?

About the reality of promising our loyalty and life to another person forever more? It is indeed a vast commitment that carries more weight than we understand until (or if) we get there. Why don’t we teach our children and our teenagers about what it really means to be an active, giving, and loving participant in a relationship? What it means to be a partner and what we should expect out of man? I have yet needed to be rescued from my “awful single existence” by a man in a tight-white getup, giddy-upping his way toward me – but I’ve dated some pretty incredible men. They aren’t always dreamy and they don’t come with a fortune or titles, but it has been the reality of who they are that’s turned me on the most.

I’m no expert in relationships – if I was, would I be writing this blog? – but I’ve learned a valuable lesson in the last few years that’s made me want to be less of a princess-in-waiting and more of a lady in transition: stop thinking in terms of forever and take people, especially men, as they are. Not all women but quite a few, never lose the rose-colored glasses we were handed as little girls playing house and wearing plastic sparkly crowns.

But the truth is, no man will be perfect and unless you’re Kate Middleton, he won’t be a prince either. Even when we wear the lace wedding gown and sport a diamond on our left hand, there is no promise that they will be standing next to us all of our dying days. We aren’t princesses and guys don’t hold a magical solution or power to free us from our unhappiness or our lonely nights. They are added additions that if we’re lucky, will develop our character and add a few interesting plots in our own story. They don’t make us and they aren’t the only part of our existence, and our lives don’t end if we decide to marry a special one.

They come and go, and one will come and stay, maybe forever, maybe for several years, and maybe just for a night. Regardless, the advice to take is from little Miss Polka Dot: enjoy what you have and be happy that he makes you happily ever after…

…for now.

A Sweet Longing

The last week or so, I’ve been feeling a little homesick.

While this may break my mother’s heart (I apologize in advance, Mama), I don’t miss home all that often. I’ve come to find that home is where you make it and who you make it with, so really, right now, my home is inNew York, in the company of my friends, and in the lights of the city.

But nothing really replaces your mom. Or your dad. Or the smellNorth Carolinaeludes with the arrival of summer. Or the quiet that comes from an old country road where the only noise prohibited is the sweet melody of song birds in the morning. And no matter how many years I’m away from NC or how many friends I make or how many roots I try to plant  in the pavement, holidays are tough away from the place you always spent them.

They say the mark of a successful parent is when they raise their child to be a mature, functioning, self-sufficient, and happy adult who can handle life without them. I’d say my parents have achieved this feat and I would think that all great parents want their children to turn into capable adults who create an existence that brings them joy, prosperity, and love, of course – but part of growing up is moving on.

If you’re the product of a very happy home with a supportive, loving family, and a community that encouraged success and bigger things than what sweet littleCarolinacan offer – the process of moving on means letting go of where you were to establish where you are. And it isn’t easy. I love my background but I’m confident my future has just as much possibility, if not more. But making that possibility feel just right is a process in itself.

I do consider myself an adult and I am completely independent of my parents for all of my financial needs and wants. I don’t depend on them for anything more than a daily phone call and to be there should I want to spend an outrageous amount of money flying south for a weekend. But there are times, like when I miss them that I feel like I’m less of an adult.

Maybe it is a misconception on my part to think that longing to see your family makes you more of a child and less of a grown-up, but when you travel away from home, as children should – when do you stop missing where you come from? Or not really where, but who?

I think part of the appeal of a relationship or the desire to one day get married comes from the hunger for a home. Especially if you came from a healthy and happy home – why would you not want to design the same foundation? And maybe we think by finding that sense of security or making plans for the future, we’ll stop missing what we had to leave behind to get to where we wanted to be. Maybe we think that sadness that surprises us from time-to-time will stop coming around. Maybe we think by finding love, the love of our childhood home won’t be something we wish we could capture and carry around with us, should a day ever be nothing but doom-and-gloom.

I’m not there yet, so I can’t argue effectively, but I know that nothing compares to my mother’s embrace or the smell of her perfume that lingers on you after. Or my father’s infectious laugher that burns his face and fills in the lines of his wrinkled cheeks. You can’t capture the same smells of bacon and eggs in the morning paired with instant-coffee, or the sound of the washing machine constantly running while my dog scratches at my bedroom door.

And not being able to see your parents on Easter or Mother’s Day or Father’s Day – because it isn’t sensible to fork over $300 in such a short period of time, just sucks. Or knowing the baby cousins you left will only see you once or twice a year, meaning you won’t watch them grow, is sad. Or that you only get to hug your family for a week at a time, maybe twice or three times a year, hurts.

There really is no place like home, no matter how sweet your new one is.

It’s the Little Things

My apartment smells like cardboard and glass cleaner. I’ve been sneezing for the last twenty minutes and if I squint my eyes and look intently, I think I can see my floor. I can’t tell if my throw-away pile or my climbing mound of packed boxes is higher, and I really never noticed how white my walls were until right about now, sitting and wondering if this room was always this big, or if it somehow grew in the last few hours.

I’m moving to a different part of New York and I couldn’t be less prepared. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve moved in my life and unlike other things, it never gets easier. In fact, I’d like to think it gets harder because I continuously accumulate more and more stuff. But like an evening following a stressful day and cooking in a tiny kitchen – I prefer to pack alone.

So, with a discovered airplane bottle of Grey Goose in the back of my fridge and orange juice, a green masque from the dead sea (thanks Mr. P), and the Best of the 80’s with some Sean Kingston and Adele mixed in (no judging of my musical eclecticness) – I started pulling apart and piecing together the contents of my tiny studio.

Admittedly, I’ve only given my apartment a thorough and heavy-duty cleaning once or twice in the entire time I’ve lived here. As my life become increasingly fuller and I found myself distracted from my address, I let things sit around and I forgot my in-the-moment organizing habits. I collect antique cigar boxes for decoration and occasionally for storage, and such a collection usually leads to random discoveries as well as many searches that leave me empty-handed. In a rush and without a conscious thought, I’ve tucked away things for safe-keeping and then kept myself away from them for months.

But maybe that’s the fun with boxes anyways, you open them and never know quite what you’ll find. Luckily for me, the surprise has never been a cockroach in an empty wooden container, but some findings I found yesterday were almost as scary.

Or at least, when I first saw them, I thought they’d be.

Unknowingly, we all attach emotion and sentiments to objects. It is why we started having “ex-boxes” in high school, to keep us from lingering over a lost love. Or the reason why as children, we grow attached to a blanket, a teddy bear, or a doll and carry it around to give us the comfort a sippie cup or bottle simply can’t. It’s why the engagement ring is something so many lust after – the symbolic meaning that you’re taken, that someone wants to love you forever, that someone gave you such an expensive, beautiful, or historical thing that tells the world you’re to-be-wed.

But as time passes, our attachment to things changes. Or maybe, it just lessens.

As I was going through my jewelry, safely placing in padded pouches the ones that meant the most to me, I came across a necklace Mr. Faithful gave me, nearly a decade ago. Still in good condition and still the same mini spec of a diamond it was then, it glistened in the light of my lamp and I just smiled. When we first broke up, I couldn’t look at it,  but by the time college was over, I found myself wearing it without even thinking of him. When I packed up my pajamas, I came across a pair I threw on the night my mother and I had to rush my father to the hospital when he was ill. After a night from hell, spent worrying and pacing, and attempting to get some sleep on uncomfortable waiting room chairs, I almost threw away the cotton pants out of disdain. Once my dad recovered and returned to the same adoring man I always knew, the pants stopped being so difficult to wear, and eventually, I grew quite fond of them and even took them with me to New York.

I stumbled across all sorts of things, frames that have seen a cascade of photos, from boyfriends and friends to family and pets, year after year as new friends, men, or experiences changed. Outfits I bought for a specific purpose, ones I bought with the intent to be ripped off of me, sweaters I bought for the first day of school that somehow still fit, and jeans that will no longer fit, no matter how much weight I lose or miles I run.

I came across dresses I wore frequently when I very first moved, but now can’t bear the thought of wearing in public, much less in Manhattan. Books that I read while riding the subway to my internship or laying in the Great Lawn in Central Park or the quad at my college. Notebooks from interviews I can barely remember conducting and quotes from sources I can’t picture in my head anymore. Shoes with a half-way broken heel I meant to get fixed and a skirt I loved that ripped at the seam and I swore I would learn to sew for the simple fact I badly needed to wear the skirt again (that’s still on the bucket list of skills to master). Notes from Mr. Idea I saved because they meant something to me, the pennies I found in my window seal of this apartment, and to-do lists I never finished.

All of these things, in significant or insignificant ways, meant something to me at one point. Some words in books I read or places I went while wearing specific shoes, or people I met while sporting a tight number – changed my life. But it wasn’t the book or the shoes or the dress that made an impact, those are just reminders of the experience. And while those memories stay with us, the emotion we attach to objects that really didn’t matter too much to begin with, fade away. We pack them up in boxes to donate or to sell. We decide to give some things a second chance and we forget how good we looked in shorts and tights. We stop seeing items as things that hold meaning and see them for what they are: just things.

And like us, they will go on to someone else. Someone who picks it up at the library or bookstore when we donate books, or someone at a consignment shop who sees potential in an old scarf we couldn’t see. Not just stuff, either, transforms in the hands for a new person – my apartment will gain a different inhabitant in a few weeks. They will make this space their own, they will bring their own meaningful things, and set up shop differently than I did, and in a manner diverse from the dozen or more people who have called this place their home before me. In a brownstone that’s nearly 100 years old, there is no telling how many residents have made a home in the very place I’m sitting as I type this blog, in 2011 at an antique desk, someone else has sat, too.

But things don’t need emotion, really. Nor do apartments. They just need people to use them, to fill them up with life, to give them a purpose, and then to let them go. Onto to the next person or the next use or maybe put an end to their functionality. Even then, trash often turns into Earth that molds into something new decades later – but I digress.

The point is, the cycle continues. People come and go, and so do things – but won’t people always continue to collect things? Collect memories attached to those things? And then let them go as easily as they came? Of course. It is the little things that matter, but keep in mind, the little things will always change.

Baby, Talk is(n’t) Cheap

Some become uncomfortable when others talk religion. Or politics. Or the birds-and-the-bees. These conversations rarely make me lose my train of thought and though others may not agree, I don’t sway my opinion to match what’s considered acceptable by whoever’s standards I’m discussing such topics with.

However, while money talks louder than sex, I’d much rather review every sexual encounter I’ve ever had than talk about cash flow.

For whatever reason, finances freak me the [insert foul word] the out. I come from a family that never struggled to make ends meet and my parents managed our assets smartly and strategically, giving me mostly anything I wanted – minus the pony in the backyard when I was six, but who remembers that? I’ve always been taught to value the dollar and that it is something that comes with hard work. Applying that mentality from the get-go, I started my own baby-sitting “business” at 13, after taking classes at the Red Cross for CPR and childcare, and my dad printed business cards for me, un-cleverly titled, “Lindsay’s Baby-Sitting.”

At 15, off the books and under the table, I earned an hourly wage at a privately owned hotel as a maid. My first day on the job, the head maid escorted me around the premises and I shadowed her cleaning skills and how to tuck the corners of the bedspread carefully. However, when we pulled off the sheets in the first room to discover whipped cream and strawberries, my virginal-self was a bit distracted during the rest of her lessons. Come to find out, it wouldn’t be the craziest thing I discovered at that job.

During high school and college, I worked at grocery and retail stores, restaurants, and daycares. On the side, I freelanced articles for next-to-nothing pay and for eight months, I wrote a weekly column for $10 a pop about worldly issues affecting local teens. I started a non-profit and I became a marketing machine of what I considered my greatest potential – my words. I was using MySpace to network before social networking was ever a topic of discussion. And through all of these odd jobs and while I developed an entrepreneurial spirit, I never stopped worrying about my mini un-wealth. It wasn’t – and maybe still isn’t – something I feel at ease talking about and while I believe in the freedom of speech, for me, that’s a talk that isn’t cheap.

To combat my woes, I’ve always been a saver and never one to really accept financial favors from anyone. After a certain age, it would churn my stomach to ask my parents for cash and I felt a sense of guilt that they were supporting me during school, while so many of my friends were already independent of their families. Men have often paid for my dinners and I almost always allow them to, but once I’m in a relationship, I feel more of a need to go 50/50. Mr. Possibility‘s bonus is more than my annual salary and while he can afford to cover me for every outing we take, I always make an effort to add in my literal two cents frequently. Because I’ve placed my savings where I can keep track of them, I know where I can spend money and where I can’t.

Even so, for years and even at points to this day, I’ve lost sleep stressing if I was making the right decisions with my income. Am I saving enough? Should I start investing? Am I getting the best deal? Do I really need that or can it wait? Have I gone out for drinks too often this week? Should I not get coffee this morning? Should I book that ticket or can I afford it?

And who the hell thought I was capable of maintaining my own financial stability when my idea of managing my money is logging onto BankofAmerica.com?

It took until I was truly on my own, without any financial support from mom and dad, paying my own bills and student loans, having only my name on a lease, and depending only on myself to eat, drink, and be merrily-with-money, that I started to relax. Within the first three weeks of moving many moons ago, I bought a plane ticket, transitioned myself into a new apartment where I had to fork over $1,600 for a deposit and first month’s rent, plus fed myself, and bought an unlimited Metro. I watched the stockpile of money I had been building for over six years quickly disassemble and realized that money was meant to be spent, not continuously counted and admired. I had not gone into banking because I couldn’t stand the thought of it – I had picked a career that no one pursues for the monetary pay-off, but almost all are satisfied with the print-out.

If the last few years attest to anything, it is that much of what we consider permanent is not as sturdy as we view it. Stocks and companies crash, bailouts aren’t always the best choice, and the lap of luxury we’d all like to lay in may never be an actual option. Their is no secret remedy to dismissing the fear of losing it all because no matter how much we make, how much we spend, or how much we save – there is no guarantee that what have today will be there tomorrow. Though I find myself mature with my finances and for the most part, I always make smart decisions – I’ve discovered the key to managing money is learning that to get, you have to give. Not just in charitable donations (as you should) but by enjoying your life instead of preparing for what could come or what may be inevitable.

I’m not to the point of frivilous spending or unplanned trips to exotic places, but if I want that Kate Spade bag or a pair of shoes half-off at Bloomingdales, I remember I’ve worked this hard and treating myself won’t destroy my accounts. Even so, if you ask me about it, I’ll won’t reveal my purchase. I’m just not one to spend and tell.

Could I Be Happy?

Last night, as I was picking up groceries that make up my diet – orange juice, humus, grapes, bananas, Greek yogurt, and dark chocolate – I was forced to wait in a ridiculously long line. The grocery store by my current apartment is new and attracts customers from dozens of blocks away, and therefore, is always crowded. I usually don’t mind – it gives me the opportunity to eavesdrop and people watch.

Curving around the escalator, I noticed a good-looking man in front of me. He looked early to mid-30’s, was well-dressed and groomed, and had a simple basket full of good food and good beer. Not really inclined to say much of anything to anyone, when he looked back and shared a grin with me, I returned one, and then took my eyes in a different direction. A few moments later, as I casually looked his way again – a family had appeared. His arm was around a lanky young boy in soccer clothes, and a pretty curly-haired blonde in boots was laughing with a little girl whose face mirrored her’s.

The children had been in the bakery, picking out the one sweet treat they are allowed to have with their mom, and when they returned – so did the light in the man’s face. As the kids were somehow entertaining themselves with a display of sugar cookies (seeing who could reach the top), the man leaned over and kissed the side of his wife’s face, and as she probably has since they met, she warmly laughed, and looked into his eyes. They were about the same height but she looked tiny next to him and their body language was so easy and so loving, I noticed the others behind me watching them too.

As any child would do, the brother and sister duo returned, begging for cookies on top of their goody from the bakery. The man automatically dismissed their pleas but mom chimed in by teasing, “But Dad, they are peanut butter. Your favorite.” Blushing at what seemed like an inside joke, he agreed they were his top pick, and allowed the kids to have them – under the condition that they couldn’t have eat any tonight. At 8 p.m., I thought that was a smart decision on his part, having baby-sitted and mistakenly given sugar way too late. Excited, the siblings returned to pick out the best dozen, and mom teased again asking, “But I want one tonight, can I have one tonight?” Dad wrapped his arms around her waist, squeezed her hand, and in a sweet-and-sexy tone promised, “Oh yes, you can have one tonight.

I had zoned in so deeply to their conversation and watching the family interact, that I hadn’t noticed my arm had fallen asleep holding a heavy basket, or that I was next in line. Minutes later after selecting debit and thanking a cashier that didn’t say anything to me, I walked the two blocks back to my packed-up apartment and for the first time, in a long time, I felt sad.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m really happy with my life. My weeks are spent writing articles and blogs, attending events and happy hours, trying new foods and neighborhoods, and spending time with friends I love and a Mr. Possibility I adore. Soon, I’ll be able to run in Central Park and this summer is filled with trips I’m counting down to, and within a few weeks, I’ll move into a new place on this island. My life is constantly in transition, I have more freedom than I know what to do with, and much of the beauty of my 20s is that they are unplanned, unknown, and uninhibited.

I’ve spent 203 posts – or 203 days – reaching this point of content. Of being ale to feel secure in my single shoes, of not feeling like a man is the end-all-be-all to my existence, of not feeling incomplete without admiration from the opposite sex. I’ve developed a security in myself and should Mr. Possibility and his many possibilities walk away tomorrow, I would be upset, but I would be fine. His presence isn’t the most important component of my life, it’s just a bright one. I’m no longer defined by a man and I don’t feel this incredibly intoxicating urge to be in a relationship or to be reminded of how wonderful I am by a guy. I think I’m pretty great without someone telling me, as I should – I’ve worked hard and loved long to get to where I am.

So why did I feel sad after witnessing a healthy, engaging, and adjusted family? Why did it leave a poor taste in my mouth and make me feel like my life was hollow – filled with boozing and blasé brunching? Even though I know I’m nowhere close to wanting or being prepared for marriage and children, why did I instantly want both of those responsibility-ridden things in that moment?

Well, because I want them. One day, that is. And while I can push at the American dream and work as hard as I can to raise myself up from my heelstraps, move to the city I always knew I belonged in, and go on countless amazing and awful dates – I cannot control success in love. Or in creating a family.

And maybe that’s what is the hardest about being single – the lack of control. Even if you do all of the right things, find a peace inside yourself, and love the life you lead – if you want children and you want to get married one day, you want it. It isn’t something you can or you should change, it is just part of who you are – encoded in a DNA that few understand. And if we observe the world around us, the women who have found it and the women who have not, we realize which category we’d like to end up in. Sure, happiness isn’t defined by if you get Cartier or if you are able to produce offspring, and there are splendors a career can give that nothing else can match -but for me, and the life I hope to have, I don’t want to kiss or be kissed goodnight by my byline forever.

The question is – if I’m not among the lucky who finds someone they can tolerate and agree to share a bed and bathroom sink with until death parts us, or if I can’t carry a baby or afford to adopt or if my eggs becoming infertile by the time I become ready for that chapter – then what?

Can I still be happy? As satisfied and blessed I feel to be where I am today – miles and miles away from needing to even worry or think about such things – I can’t answer that question. I’d like to think I could find happiness anywhere with anything – but I also know that I wouldn’t want to do it without anyone. I’d rather have a someone and few little somethings.