Dear Twenty-Something Self: Your Dreams Aren’t Going to Come True and I’m Good With That

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Image by Yuri_B from Pixabay

I can’t go back to yesterday — because I was a different person then — Lewis Carroll

Look at you my lovely, once-upon-a-time self. 25. Newly married to your high school sweetheart, your story is just beginning. Everything is on schedule to begin your modern fairy tale. The outline has been predetermined — by you. Exhilarated, you await the fleshing out of the finer details, certain they will meet your expectations.

What you don’t realize, is the best-laid dreams of starry-eyed ingenues don’t always come true.

Life’s journey will take you through inconceivable storms. At times, you will feel stripped and shattered, certain you will never be whole again. But, I’m here to tell you — three decades later — you will weather the tempests. Your memoir will be illustrated with the colors of a sweeping saga. You will recover, replenish, and rebuild time and time again. You will forge a heart of restoration and hope.

You will be your own heroine.

Prologue

Our life’s quest was a typical middle-class narration: Vivacious college-educated woman marries a smart handsome man who adores her. They start out in a modest home, eventually settling down in an upscale neighborhood with their four children — two boys, two girls. Money never being a concern, it is her choice whether she spends her days at an office or volunteering, or perhaps, a little of both. Summers would be filled with pool parties and family vacations. All her children would be athletic, smart, and popular. Soon, they would meet their own mates, have successful careers, and provide grandchildren. The blissed-filled grandparents eventually ease into a comfortable retirement and enjoy the fruits of a fairy tale legacy.

If you haven’t guessed already, younger me, that is not how our story turns out. You might think I’m seeking to dampen your naïveté, but that is not the case. To do so would douse the sparks of our history. I’m here to highlight some of the events that will steer you to roads less traveled. Annotate some of your preconceptions. Not to have you switch course, for that would result in a different destination, but to provide you with the faith you’ll need to continue your path.

To become the woman of character you aspire to be.

Being a zebra will be limiting

In our twenties, everything was black and white — politics, faith, parenting. We were crafting our cornerstones and needed a firm foundation to build upon. They served us well — provided strong roots, made us feel secure — until they became confining. They distracted us from soothing shades of grey and the charms of nuance. I shudder when I realize how dogmatic we were, failing to recognize another’s sense of right and wrong could be just as valid.

There will come a time when society feeds like vultures on such assumptions. When those who may think differently from each other are regarded as enemies. It will grieve our soul, but we will be mindful to have practiced perspective — preserved our humanity.

We won’t be the perfect parent

Infertility issues will limit our offspring to two. Blessed with a couple of fine young lads, we will throw ourselves completely into their nurturing. Education, nutrition, sports, discipline, recreation, family time all mapped out to promote optimal growth. We oversaw with a loving, not overbearing, hand — providing just enough oversight to assist direction and encourage independence. It would be practically perfect — or so we thought.

It will take a while to acknowledge some mistakes — an unnecessarily heavy hand, a few minor (and major) misjudgments. But we will eventually comprehend we did the best we had with the resources available. It will bring us a sense of peace and a newfound insight into the caring nature of our own parents.

Our hero will die, but we will survive

The ultimate breach to the fairy tale contract, our hero dies midway through the story. The dissolving of the partnership is a long, drawn-out process. We were a team and when the hero began to falter, we picked up the slack. Our role expanded to include caretaker, nurse, and, finally, widowed head of household.

We will be proud of ourselves for enduring. For maintaining some moment of normalcy each day, even if only in a robotic function. It will take decades to fully process this forced single ownership of our sanity — cultivate our acceptance of personal sovereignty.

We will need to go to the well repeatedly

Fiercely independent, it will crush us to ask for help. After all, we are the primary caregiver, not the recipient. We will be prideful, convinced that no one else is equipped to provide quality assistance. Adding insult, this will not be a single occurrence. We will find ourselves in numerous states of injury, dipping in the well of kindness again and again until we are sure it will run dry.

Like the miracle at Cana, our community wine never depletes and we are inebriated with gratitude. We develop empathy — foster humility. We acquire debts we have no chance to repay and are awestruck by their joy in giving.

Villains will serve a purpose

We will encounter more than our expected share of villainy. After all, every fairy tale needs a counterbalance of dastardly deeds to keep us engaged. Some will be overt and others will be wolves in sheep’s clothing, but all will catch us off guard and cause us to briefly doubt our judgment.

Much to the scoundrels’ dismay, however, each conflict will bestow a gift. These endowments will cause us to develop skills or discover hidden kernels of truth within ourselves. We will garner discernment — be wiser when the next challenge arises.

Our children will write their own stories

Regrettably, we were somewhat judgmental of others’ styles of parenting. If they didn’t align with ours, we surmised these offspring would be spoiled or — gasp! — unproductive members of society. Gradually, we began to appreciate the true nature of a child — of a human — will come to be no matter the influence. They will bloom in their own time and be beautiful.

As much as we tried, we could not prevent our sons from suffering, enduring hardship, or making mistakes and living with the consequences. We could only strive to provide a safe haven and a strong moral compass to chart their own paths. Like us, they have prevailed and grown sturdy, strong. Watching them navigate their courses will be our greatest accomplishment.

Epilogue

Picking up the pieces will be a never-ending process. Initially, our defenses will want to cover our wounds, camouflage our scars. But those shrouds are too difficult to maintain and we will never able to fully rest within our story if we continue to try.

And so, we will come to embrace our imperfections — honor our unique broken history. Like the Japanese art of Kintsugi, we will highlight our fractures with gold, delighting in our resilience. Our modern fairy tale may have an unforeseen conclusion, but it will end happily ever after all the same.

 

Welcome Back: A Bitch’n Look at Growing up in a Far Out Time

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Image by Karen Arnold from Pixabay

70s Mashup – Revamp

When I was a young child, we moved from our little house on the prairie to what my parents dubbed the “wild kingdom” of Ohio. My best friend, Rhoda, lived next door and had migrated from the streets of San Francisco. She had hair of gold, like her mother. That girl got what was happening in our South Fork neighborhood. She knew why McMillon and his wife were at odds with the Partridge family. She understood why the Waltons disapproved of Alice’s courtship of Eddie’s father and explained to me what made Mork and Mindy such an odd couple. Chillin’ in our saddleback Dittos and rainbow knee socks, we would have long hart to harts about our cute neighbor, James, age 15. We’d puff candy cigarettes, sip Shasta and listen to WKRP in Cincinnati all afternoon, delighted in the dream he’d think we were hot stuff.

 
Laverne and Shirley were our classmates. Something always happened whenever we got together. Phyllis was the chick who thought she had the lowdown on everything. In the dark shadows of our homeroom, Room 222, she first laid down the groove about the facts of life. Our funky friend, Maude, lived with her nanny and our professor, Dr. Quincy. Maude claimed to have the skinny on love, American style. She insisted Phyllis should get her mouth washed out with soap for spreading such a load of phooey. “Get real!” Donny and Marie chimed in, “That’s totally bogus!”

 
For P.E., we learned Kung Fu from Mr. Kojak. We had yearly assemblies where Trapper John, M.D. informed us what to do in a medical emergency. Police Captain Barney Miller explained how we should duck and cover should S.W.A.T. ever show up at our school. Our principal, Ms. Mary Tyler Moore, would do anything she could to make our dreams come true. “C’mon! Get happy!” she would chant to us. That schoolhouse rocked!

 
Occasionally, Rhoda would come and knock on our door. We’d hop on our banana seat Schwinns and ride to hang with the McCloud twins, Starsky and Hutch. Those boys were making their way the only way they knew how always setting their course for adventure. They would try to get us to play “the newlywed game.” We read enough Teen magazine to realize they were just trying to catch a peek of our hee haws.

 
Those were happy days with our friends and family. I was the oldest of three girls with five brothers. My mother, a true wonder of a woman, always wanted more kids. “No. No!” my dad would bellow. “This is it! Eight is enough for this mod squad!” We would all laugh in unison at his attempt to be hip.

 
It wasn’t always good times, though. Our friend, Chico, and the man next door feuded with Mr. Sanford and his son, Logan. “Run!” we exclaimed the day we saw Logan walk out of his house, carrying a loaded Baretta. He wanted all of us, especially Chico, to move away. After he fired the firearm into the air, the gun smoke lofted behind him like a white shadow. The whole gang booked out of there faster than Evil Kenevil.

 
We got inside as quickly as we could. “Wait ‘til your father gets home,” my mother counseled. “He’ll know what to do.” Later that night, my father explained that Logan had been involved in something called Operation Petticoat during the Korean War. The experience had left him a bit “mashed in the head,” as my dad put it. “Best to keep our playtime all in the family yard,” he declared.

 
During summer sleepovers, we would get freaked out telling tales about a mysterious man from Atlantis. At night, a gallery of fish would lure unsuspecting humans to his fantasy island. Our Saturday nights came alive when we ventured out with the Dukes of Hazzard Street. That didn’t sit well with our mutual friend, Beverly. “Hillbillies!” she would call the boys. “I’d much rather go with the Jeffersons or Bob Newhart. Now he’s an incredible hulk!”

 
I have fond memories of life at 2367 Columbo Lane. I wouldn’t trade those days for anything, not even six million dollars. Man, we sure did enjoy our childhood! We approached life one day at a time. We developed roots. We lived our lives based on the words of my father, Charlie: “Angels,” he would call us, “You can be whatever you want to be: rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief — it’s all up to you.” Those were the days!


This piece contains 80+ television show titles and theme song lyrics.

Did you catch them all?

Where Have All The Good Malls Gone?

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I was raised a middle-class valley girl. Like, back in the day when you said “Omigod!” complete with mandatory high-pitched inflection, instead of the current, and grody to the max, “OMG!”

My first job was at the mall, selling baked goods and frozen yogurt to assorted mall rats. Amidst the aromas of chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin, I traded cookies for records with the rad Wherehouse Music dudes and fended off advances from the gross Florsheim shoe sellers. I received awesome advice from the silver-haired manager of See’s Candies. She used to bring me mint truffles and Bordeaux chocolates. It was totally cool.

This is when it was actually called “The Mall” — not the “Fashion Center” or “Place” or “Square.” When the Mall of America was assembled like a Smithsonian Institution of shopping no other establishment seemed to be allowed to use that moniker.

What-ever.

Instead another breed of mall has arisen — the ambiance more carnival than commercial. Kiosks are the new tents where hucksters promote their magic potions and gadgetry. Hair extensions, convertible purses, and cell phone cases blanket the marketplace. Pretzels, popcorn, and corn dogs fill the food court with county fair atmosphere. Bungee jumping outside one entrance. Two-story carousel at the other. I try to avoid it as much as possible, but the day came when I couldn’t any longer.

I needed a new purse.

After discovering that my desired purchase — a black leather evening bag — was an excluded item on my Macy’s coupon (along with most of the store’s desired inventory); I made the foolhardy decision to enter the main drag.

My plan of attack for the midway was derived from battle skills developed after years of cruising Los Angeles freeways.

  • Change lanes often and COMMIT. Any hesitation is opportunity lost and ten minutes added to your commute.
  • Speed whenever you are able. Sig Alerts happen randomly and often. Cover as much ground as you can before you need to slam on the brakes.
  • EYE CONTACT IS A SIGN OF WEAKNESS.

I stepped into the bazaar and the ballyhoo began.

“Miss, Miss — do you have a moment?”

“Ma’am — are you happy with your current cell phone plan?”

“Try this!” “Smell this!” “Feel this!”

“Pardon me, Madame.”

He made eye contact. I was hooked.

“My, darrrrhling,” he said. (What mastermind proposed that a syrupy, gypsyesque accent would seduce suburban women to open their outlet wallets?) “You are gorgeous!” His viscous vocabulary oozed like honey. “You must be from Europe.” (Gag me!) “Your outfit — it is so French!” (Evidently, bedazzled fleece had debuted at Paris Fashion Week.)

The mastermind was indeed inspired — I was mesmerized.

“Who? Me? No. This old thing? Why thank you!” Unbelievable! I let him guide me to his salon chair and begin his spiel. “Your complexion needs nothing! But your under-eye area could use some rejuvenation. Let me show you our cosmeceuticals.” He daubed his petroleum-jelly potion on my saddle-bag eyelids.

I hoped he’d ignore my botched eyebrows. I had them “shaped” a few days before. The brow expert had taken cuticle scissors and snipped a notch in the middle of each brow to create more “personality.” I looked like the surprise emoji.

“Beautiful! Let me show you the difference!” He tore off a bit of toilet paper and adhered it to my tacky eye. “See how refreshed it looks!” Stunned by the use of this product at the complete opposite end of its conventional target, I no longer had any idea what he was trying to communicate. I half expected Rosanne Rosannadanna to call me out. He waved his glossy brochure in front of my tissued face and explained their current promotion. Ordinarily the price of a month’s groceries, but — for today only — the cost of an exorbitant dinner. The dollar signs snapped me out of my Svengali state and I bolted for the nearest lane. Merge complete, I proceeded.

Gaining speed, I dashed past the radio-controlled cars, veered away from the knock-off cologne atomizers, and … alert, alert, stroller ahead! Mall gridlock.

The closest carny barker seized the opportunity. “Charming lady, I see you are tired. Here, sit a moment and let me dee-mon-strate the wonders of our Dead Sea min-er-al products.” Repossessed, I obliged.

This time it wasn’t the slick snake charmer pitching, but his lovely assistant. She grasped my wrist and deftly twisted. I was ensnared in the sideshow version of a headlock. Their products are designed to remove all impurities, she explained as her clutch tightened. Now convinced that the under wrist is a bastion of epidermal pollution, I was enthralled. She applied her mineral speckled cream in a circular motion; the illusion began. “See how all your contaminants are extracted?” She asked as small, charcoal grey globules began to appear. “Imagine how it could detoxify your face.” I used to rub Elmer’s glue in my hands as a child and achieve the same results. Apparently, I was way ahead of my time in the cosmeceuticals game.

I snapped out of my spell and began looking for the nearest on-ramp back into traffic. Sensing this, the manager reappeared and began his play to save the sale, a.k.a. the Sympathy Song and Dance. “I know you are struggling,” he cooed. (My bedazzled fleece had migrated from Parisian runway to thrift store, it seemed.) “Let me give you my employee discount.” The lovely assistant finally released her kung-fu grip, presumably so I could take advantage of his magnanimous offer, and I seized my opportunity.

Once back into the flow, I covered my greased eye with my glue-cleansed wrist, certain they were both beacons flashing “Sucker!” to every dealer on this side of the midway. I told myself I was striking a starlet hiding-from-paparazzi pose, but in reality I looked like an accused felon leaving the courthouse. My peripheral vision hindered, I reeled through the midway like someone who spent way too much time in the beer garden.

Abandoning all hope of finding a purse, I caught the calliope melody of the monster carousel and let the tune guide my wobbly progression. The stagger I had acquired soon developed into a pronounced lurch. Traffic parted for me as I appeared to be a carrier of some long-lost contagion. My emoji eyebrows only heightened the perception. Unclean! Unclean! The warning was silently transmitted to all patrons in my path.

I reached a bench and slumped down, narrowly missing a toddler gnawing on his pretzel bites. Staring at the Gap Kids-clad child, I pondered what will be his shopping community. Will it be valley, or carny, or some new society? Perhaps it will be a hub of vending machines devoid of all human contact. A wave of chocolate-chip nostalgia descended and then it hit me — the food court was on the opposite end.

Bummer.


Originally published in @HumanParts @Medium.com