This Much I Know Is True

It’s September 2nd, 2003.

I am exactly 14 years, 10 months, and 13 days old. It’s after 11 pm on the night before I am supposed to start high school. Anxiety is coursing through my veins, though it’s not until I am well into my graduate school studies that I really understand the weight of what that means. I am in the bottom bunk of the bed I used to share with my brother, but for tonight, we are both laying horizontally, legs hanging slightly off the side of the bed. He is exactly 9 years, 3 months, and 7 days old. It’ll be years before he and I will ever have a relationship beyond basic sibling rivalry and yelling, kicking, and hitting each other. But for tonight, we silently agree: life, as we know it, is about to change. The chunky green screen Nokia cell phone that my dad left me with for the night rings, breaking up any chance at restful sleep. On the other end of the phone is my dad’s voice telling us that our baby sister was born, making her entrance into the world at 10:48 pm. We acknowledge the news and drift off into sleep, not quite grasping the significance of that night. 

There will always be events that stand as markers of time — a life before and a life after.
That night, for me, was the beginning of the after.

///

It’s September 5, 2017.

I will be 29 years old next month and my brother is 23 years old. We often reminisce about that night and how strange it was that we still remember so vividly sleeping with our legs hanging off the bed, my dads old cell phone stuck between the top bunk mattress and the rung of the bed. We retold the story three nights ago on my sister’s birthday.

Tomorrow, my sister starts high school.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a little over 14 years since my brother and I laid in that bed, wondering what it would be like to have a sibling so much younger than us. It’s hard to believe that it’s now that little baby’s turn to transition into high school, and that my brother and I are both adults — so far removed from those two little kids we were 14 years ago. It’s hard to wrap my head around the thought of that little girl that I used to watch scoot around the house, the little baby who started running long before she started crawling, the toddler who turned four the day after I moved away to college, who drew me pictures and sent them to me for me to string all around my dorm, the kindergartner who asked me to come to her Christmas party to help decorate cookies, the 8 year old who gave me a toothy grin as we stood in line in the dead of November to meet musicians she loved after her first concert ever, the now teenager who graduated 8th grade with all honors, the bright, resilient, beautiful, sassy, funny, and kind-hearted little girl that I will always call my baby sister will be a high schooler as of tomorrow morning.

///

 

There have been so many moments over the last 14 years, where I look at my sister and think, my God, this world is going to break her. Life is going to hurt her. There have been so many times where I wanted to put her in bubble wrap and protect her from all of the hard stuff. But I’ll never be able to protect her from the things she has to go through. So instead, I’ve always tried to be an echo that whispers all of the things I want her to know, with the hopes that what I tell her sticks. And that, in some ways, the lessons I share with her act as metaphorical bubble wrap in a world that will do its best to knock you over.

This list is for my baby sister. It’s a compilation of advice, wisdom, and lessons that I was told, but never really heard– things I wish I knew then, and words that I want her to carry with her these next four years.

I don’t know much about the world, but this much I know is true:

1. Please do not walk around carrying the weight of a heavy scarlet letter branded across your chest. Do not wear your skin stained with the bright red ink of apology, and the fainted whisper of, “I’m sorry” rolling off your lips so effortlessly. Know that the things you should apologize for are the things that you are genuinely sorry about — like accidentally cutting someone off in the lunch line, or knocking someone’s book off their desk, or unknowingly taking someone’s seat. You do not need to apologize for the way your hair falls in front of your face, or how loud you laugh when something is really funny, or how you choose to get over something or someone that hurt you. You do not ever need to take a hammer in one hand and a chisel in the other and carve away bits and pieces of yourself to fit into the mold of what the world around you is expecting you to be.

2. I hate to quote Bieber, but he hit the nail on the head when he sang the line, “You should go and love yourself.” There are going to be days when you feel ugly. There will be days when you decide you want to chop off all the hair you have, or style it a different way. For me, it was deciding to get a perm when I was 15, and years later, getting a bob hair cut. [Note: please do not ever get a perm. Or a bob.] There are going to be days where you won’t leave the house without painting a full face of makeup on. There will be days when the clothes that you liked just yesterday won’t fit the way they used to. And there will be people, myself included, that will tell you you are beautiful. That will tell you that you are smart, and funny, and kind, and caring. But people will never love you any more than you love yourself. It’s a hard truth that I still grapple with at my age. You can fill your closet with the cutest clothes, and your makeup bag with everything under the sun in Sephora, and you can fill your time with friends, but none of that stuff will ever fill you in the same way that self-love fills you. Bring self-love with you wherever you go. Or, as Mariah Fenton Gladis says, Arrive Already Loved. I promise you it will carry you further than any makeup pallete or pair of ripped jeans ever will.

3. You will never feel good having shallow people in your life. Gossip might be funny and drama might feed your little teenage soul, but none of those things will crawl into your bed at night and tell you that you are loved, that you are a good person, and that you are deserving of having good people in your life, no matter how much hate and vitriol those people spew from their mouths. Do not allow yourself to be dictated by conversations surrounded by gossip. Do not let yourself feed into the friendships that sit around scrolling through social media mocking selfies-gone-wrong, or outfits that don’t match. You, my dear, sweet sister, are not made for anything shallow. You are made to be deep. So, look for the friendships that add depth into your life. Look for the kind of people who ask you how you are and really mean it. Look for the people who cheer you on, who cry when you cry, and who laugh when you laugh. Look for those people who tell you when you’re wrong without shaming you for being wrong. Look for the kind of people who know what kind of day you are having just by the sound of your voice, and who know what kind of ice cream you want just by the look on your face. Look for the people who make you feel good, and loved, and seen — the ones you can be wholly and fully yourself around.

4. Never believe a boy when he tells you that he will leave his girlfriend for you. You are strong, but you are not strong enough to turn a bad boy into a good boy. You are worth more than someone’s second option. You are worth more than someone who is willing to leave one good thing and get the next good thing that fell in his lap. There will one day be a boy that stumbles into your life without any strings attached [just let me know ahead of time when this happens so I can schedule a panic attack], and he will respect you and only have eyes for you. Wait for him.

5. There is not one single class in the next four years that will teach you how to say goodbye, though I wish that was a pre-requisite for adolescence. People will come into your life and leave silently in the night. Others will stay for a season, and lucky for you, some will stay for the long haul. But, there is no way of telling who will stay. Goodbyes are painful, and heartbreaking, and devastating, but, like most things, they’re inevitable and unavoidable. There aren’t enough eloquent words to talk about how much it hurts closing the door on some relationships and how much it stings to see friendships fading away, or how hard it is to have your heart broken. But if there is an upside to having to say goodbye to the people that leave, it’s the comfort in knowing that at one time, that person loved you and you loved them right back. And sometimes love doesn’t last forever. Sometimes love just isn’t enough.

6. There is still something very sacred about face-to-face interactions, though your generation grew up on technology. But, no matter how advanced we get in this technologically driven world, please pick up the phone not only to text, or to tweet, or to Snap, or to Instagram a selfie. Please pick up the phone to hear a voice on the other end of the line. Make plans to meet people face to face. Have conversations — the hard ones about deep things, about your dreams and goals and hopes for life — in person. When I was your age, my friends and I always ran to the beach late at night and sat on the swings dreaming about what our lives would turn out to be like. All these years later, I don’t think those conversations would have such a permanent place in my heart or such a profound meaning if they were had in a group chat over text. Please unplug from time to time. Put your phone down. Turn it off. Leave it home.

7. You do not need to have it all figured out. Repeat after me: I do not need to have everything all figured out. There are some people who know at a young age what kind of career they want for themselves, and then there are other people just trying to figure out what it is that they like. Please don’t worry if you don’t know what college you want to go to or what kind of career you want to pursue. Figure out what moves you. Figure out what ignites a spark in your soul. Figure out what your heart is passionate about. And once you do, all that career and future planning will fall into place.

8. Write things down, whether it be a diary, or a gratitude journal, or just a short sentence or blurb of the days events. Ten years from now, you are not going to remember specifically what you are feeling or why. But, it’s nice to be able to reflect on the things you experienced and the way you felt and say to yourself, I made it through that even when I thought I never would. 

9. Slow down. Life goes by fast enough. One day, I am 14 years old and getting news of my little sister being born, and in the blink of an eye, that same sister is 14 years old awaiting her first day of high school. Adults will tell you all the time to pay attention, to take things in, to never miss a beat, to never take for granted the time you have here. Well-meaning adults told me that a million times when I was your age. Back then, it all sounded a lot like noise. Today, in retrospect, it sounds a lot like advice I wish I would have heeded at a young age. The truth is life does happen in the blink of an eye without you even trying, so don’t try so hard to rush this growing up thing. Life does that all on its own.

10. You were beautiful long before he ever told you so. This goes back to #4. There is going to be a day that, [if I had it my way, this day would come later rather than sooner] you become enamored by a boy. You will fall for his charm, you will fall for the way he says your name. You will fall for the way his eyes glisten in the sun, and the way he talks about the things he wants from his life. Your heart will flutter the first time he calls you beautiful. Your heart will sing the first time you fall in love. But if that boy hurts you, if that boy stops being the sun in your sky, if that boy stops being the one who makes you feel like you are the center of the universe, please remember: you were beautiful long before he ever told you so. And you will love again.

11. Ask for help. If you find yourself unable to fall asleep at night, covered in sweat and crippling fear, ask for help. If you have trouble getting out of bed, or have little motivation for the things you once loved, ask for help. If you need a little extra support, some encouragement, or for someone to listen to you and actually hear you, ask for help.

12. You are going to feel like everything is the end of the world. I promise you it’s not. Friends are going to betray you. And the proverbial knife they are going to stab you in the back with will sting more so than if a boy rejects you. You are going to feel like you aren’t good enough — like nothing you do is of importance. There are going to be days you will want to throw in the towel — days where you’ve had enough. You are going to feel like the smallest cut or scrape is a deep wound. I promise you that these things pass. The world keeps on moving. The things that sting so much now will be the things that have very little significance in the future. Life doesn’t stop here.

13. Piggy-backing off of #12. Listen to the song. “It’s Only Life” by Kate Voegele. Live by those lyrics. After all, it really is only life.

14. Your voice matters. Your voice matters. Your voice matters. Saying it three times for emphasis. You have a voice. You have opinions. You have thoughts. All of those matter. Do not ever allow yourself to be silenced by the people in this world that are too insecure to hear the opinion of a 14 year old. Do not let anyone tell you that your opinion doesn’t matter, or that you are too young to care, too young to have choices, too young to be heard. If you believe in something fiercely, no matter how much the world around you is telling you that you are wrong, speak up.

15. Know that it’s okay to be at home on a Friday night watching Netflix in a dimly lit bedroom. There might be nights that this makes you feel like there is something catastrophically wrong with you. You’re going to wonder why there are parties going on and football games to attend, but you’re in your room on a Friday night indulging in your latest binge TV show. You’re going to feel that uncomfortable pang in your stomach that urges you to change. Change what your Friday routine is. Change what you believe in. Change the way you spend your free time. Change to fit in with what everyone considers normal. It is okay to spend your Friday nights alone. It is okay to say no to parties if there will be people doing things you are not comfortable with. It’s okay to not fit in with whatever normal happens to be.

16. Know that today, right now, as you are, you are full. You are not full when a boy likes you. You are not full if the popular girls choose you to be a part of them. You are not full if you wear what’s trendy, or if you perfect the winged eye liner look. You are not full if you join the right clubs or if you make high honors. Exactly as you are, exactly as you stand, you are full. The rest is just secondary.

17. Do not leave your friends for a boy. And subsequently, do not stick around waiting for friends who will choose a boy over you. Women need women. Having a group of solid girlfriends that don’t bend or break when a boy steals one of your hearts is so, so important. After all, who’s going to be left standing there when you want to talk about that boy?

18. Grades are not the only important thing about high school, but please, please, care about your grades. Study hard. Do your homework. Ask for extra help if you need it. Apply for National Honor Society if that’s what you want to do. But more than just academics, have fun. Join clubs that are appealing to you. Find out what interests you. Go to football games. Go to dances. Do things you never thought you would. You have four years to figure out what feeds your soul. All of that starts now.

19. Respect your body. I know, I know. Here we go again with the anti-nudes soap box that I will forever stand on. You have one body. One. It is yours. Respect it, nourish it, feed it. There is not one single person on this planet that is deserving of access to your body through Snapchat [or text message]. Trust me when I say you can’t ever get that back.

20. Be kind, always. I could write you a paragraph about how kindness always wins, but I know that it’s sometimes hard to believe with the way the world is today. Sometimes, bullies win. They do. And while there are so many things I wish I could change about this world for you, I still know deep in my heart that having a heart that is kind and loving and compassionate will always trump hate. Always.

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The Battle Between Quality & Quantity

If I close my eyes tight enough, I can see back to that August night nearly nine years ago, when I sat with a group of my closest friends, hoping that the silence and our tear-filled eyes would keep us there in that very moment.

We found out then that heavy hearts just don’t beat quietly, and when the silence broke, we did everything we could to bottle up all the last words that we said. Carrie Underwood was playing on repeat in the background, drowned out by the sound of desperate voices clinging onto our youth.

And she says, ‘I don’t want this night to end, why does it have to end?’

We talked about all the ways we would keep in touch. We would write letters, send cards, mail each other care packages. We would have our own version of what the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants had. We calculated the miles between all of our colleges and mapped out the road trips we’d take. We made plans for all the weekends we’d see each other, and all the holiday’s we’d come back to this spot. Our plan was fool proof. Nothing would change.

They’ve been dreading this moment all summer long; the night before, life goes on.

We made promises and plans for the future. After college, we’d get apartments together. We would travel together. We were going to take on the world together. We promised that no one would ever love as deeply or laugh as fiercely or feel as close. We promised that despite the miles, and schools, and states, and new friends — nothing would change the fact that we had history on our side.

They take one last drive around town and man, it already looks different. He bangs the wheel and says, ‘life ain’t fair. And this growing up stuff, man I don’t know; I just don’t want to let you go.”

At 18 years old, the promise of forever felt real.

The best way to describe where I am today is somewhere stuck in the space between moving on and nostalgia.

The years following college graduation and really settling into adulthood are strange in a number of ways. You suddenly get sucked into the vortex of what real life is about. You went from being on the very same page as all of the people in your life, to occupying the same space, yet somehow living in different time zones.

You realize that living out your dreams of squeezing 6 friends into a studio apartment in Manhattan sounded so much more romantic when you were 18. Truth be told, when you’re 18 years old and looking towards the future, it’s so hard to see beyond those four years of college. It’s hard to imagine life when your friends – especially the ones who were so much a part of your existence, are not your priority.

The truth is, we blindly made those promises to each other nine years ago.

We never could have anticipated what was to come. We didn’t have a crystal ball that told us what it was like to turn 22, and then 25, and then 27, and how things would evolve during that time. We somehow had blinders on to the real world. We thought that growing old together would be the same as growing up together, but with more freedom than our parents granted us as kids.

The reality is this: you look around and you’re suddenly real adults, and you’re not sure when that happened. You scroll through your Facebook feed past several engagement photoshoots. People your age are announcing pregnancies — planned pregnancies. They’re buying houses and learning how to garden and choosing curtain patterns. You start really understanding the importance of a 401K, healthcare plans, and the seriousness of keeping a good credit score.

Your life becomes a routine. You wake up, go to work, make a living, go home, sleep, wake up, and do it all over again. If you’re lucky, after rent and utilities, student loan payments, and credit card bills, you’ll have enough money at the end of the week to get together with your friends. And if you’re really lucky, getting together with your friends can be more than just half price appetizers at Applebees. But if you’re anything like me, you’re tired (because my God, adulting is exhausting). Canceled plans are like Christmas morning, and days spent sitting on your friends couches are the only kind of hanging out you have the energy for.

Life is no longer solely about socializing. It’s about savings accounts and deadlines and job interviews and trying to figure it all out. It’s about toying with the idea of marriage, or maybe putting yourself out there and finding a boyfriend, or maybe trying to make this whole thing work alone. It’s saying yes to being in (A LOT of) weddings, and deciding if you’re going stag, or bringing a plus one. It’s going to showers – both baby and bridal, and trying to muster up the energy to cook healthy meals, do your laundry, and stay up late enough to watch prime time television.

You suddenly become the center of your life, while your friendships are soft-focused in the background.

And when you look into that lens, you see the few people who stand out. These people are your soulmates. These are the elastic friendships that make their way around all the growing up stuff. These are the people you carry with you above the rest into adulthood. They’re the ones who bend with you, who stretch with you — the ones whose lives still flow with your own. And there’s nothing wrong with the rest of the people who sat in that same circle nine years ago — nothing either of you did to cause a rift. But there is a tangible difference between your friends and your soulmates — and the difference lies in the elasticity of their friendships. There is a deep-rooted and profound appreciation for these people.

There is more planning that goes into seeing your friends. Hanging out with them is no longer natural. We don’t just pick up our phones, send a text, and meet at the swings on the beach. It takes an invitation sent out a month in advance. It takes planning, and effort, and the hope that when that plan comes up, you’re not exhausted from the week before. It takes, ‘okay, you bring the veggie platter, you bring the salad, you bring the cheese and crackers, and I’ll bring the dessert.’

Your soulmates are the ones you can talk to all day or not at all. They’re the ones who require no real plans when you get together. They can come home once every other month and you see them for a half hour for coffee or Chic Fil A, and conversation is effortless. They’re the ones whose house you run to after work each Thursday to watch your favorite Shonda Rhimes shows. They’re the ones who you can call up and say, “hey, I’m going to Target, wanna come?” and they’d be on their way within seconds.

Your relationship with your soulmates are effortless.

Their couch is your couch. They are the family that takes you in when there’s a pending snow storm, so you don’t get snowed in alone. They’re the ones who never have to ask what’s new, because their daily phone calls to and from work are exactly how they know what’s new. They’re the ones who know how you feel at any given point. They’re the ones that really get you through this whole life thing.

And don’t get me wrong, accepting this is much harder than it sounds. It’s hard to fully accept that life can’t be like what it was like when we were 18 and full of wonder. Life just can’t be about funneling beers and shaking off our hangovers the next morning with pork roll egg and cheeses on the beach. Life can’t be about the big and bold plans to live together and take over the world.

I’m inching closer to accepting that this is the way it is — that this whole growing up thing is about relinquishing the preconceived notions I had when I was younger. All of those promises and wishes that we made nine years ago were genuine and real then, but they aren’t timeless. They can’t stay true.

The truth is I can’t be all the things.

That’s the part I’m struggling with the most. I want to believe that I can close my eyes and go back to that night in 2007 when we promised that nothing would change. That, no matter what, we would still be everything to each other.

It’s hard to admit that I can’t be everything to everyone, though I desperately wish I could. I want to be your friend, but I want to be the best friend. I want to be the person that shows up at your door step with a tub of ice cream, 90s romcoms, and a box of tissues when you’ve had your heart broken. I want to be the one who shows up, unannounced, with a car full of girlfriends, a bottle of champagne, and reservations for a girls night out when there’s something to celebrate. I want to be your girlfriend, but I want to be the best girlfriend. I want to find your favorite childhood memories, and spend a weekend recreating all of them for you. I want to be the one who shows up with all of the things you need. I want to be the best sister, best daughter, best writer, best counselor, best employee, best person.

I want to be all the things to everyone, but I just can’t be.

So, I guess that’s where I’m at these days — still stuck somewhere in between growing up and nostalgia. I’m learning to slowly loosen the grip on the idea that I can be everything to everyone.

And maybe this is a harsh lesson that we all need to learn. That we don’t need to apologize to our younger selves for making promises that we didn’t all keep. We were so, so young. We had no idea how life would unravel. All we saw was the immediate future. We saw the freedom of life outside of our hometown. We could have never anticipated that the future was more than just having fun with your friends.

On any given day, after shedding the excess layers of fat, I’m realizing that this is perhaps what we all need: people who show up, people who sit with us, head on our shoulders, and hear the noise in our silence. We need people who make life effortless — who make friendship effortless. We need people who see through us, who gets us, who grows with us.

Maybe all we need is someone who shows up and says, “I will be here on the days that you need me and the days that you don’t. I’ll sit with you through the tough stuff and dance with you through the fun stuff. We can stay in on a Saturday with too much sushi in front of us, or we can book a road trip to the Poconos for a weekend. We can talk all day, or we can say nothing at all. But I promise you’ll never doubt this. You don’t have to be all the things to everyone; you just have to be all the things to some and that will be enough.”

Today, this is all I need. Quality over quantity. People who make this growing up thing easy– because as we all know, going at this life thing is hard enough as it is without the people who make the ride effortless.

Everything You Say Is Gonna Matter, Everything You Do Is Gonna Add Up

I used to envy my friends who grew up with brothers and sisters close in age. I used to go on and on about how lonely it was to be seemingly sibling-less growing up, despite having both a younger brother and sister. My brother is six years younger than me and my sister is 15 years younger than me — both age differences were a bit too much as a kid to ever fully appreciate having what could have been a built-in best friend from the start.

The thing is, even at a young age, I always felt compelled to grab onto the people around me and keep them in my company. I craved conversation. I craved connection. I suppose I realized then how fleeting moments are. How quickly people come and go. Truth be told, I never wanted to be alone.

I say that loosely today because I’ve never really ever been alone. 

My mom was a stay-at-home mom who, for lack of a better word, babysat a few of the neighborhood girls after school. My fondest childhood memories involved those girls and the time we spent together every day after school.

Over time, the girls became the sisters I never had (until, of course, my sister came boppin’ along when I was a freshman in high school). Long before cell phones and social media and the need to measure our own worth by the number of likes or favorites or retweets came crashing into our lives, it was always just me and these girls. Playing and fighting and laughing and dreaming. Face-to-face. We spent hours riding bikes around our neighborhood, taunting the boys that lived houses away from me. We’d set up neighborhood-wide games of manhunt. We laid outside and counted stars. We knew nothing of the future, but we hung onto each other. When we laughed, it was never without tears. When we fought, we kicked and we screamed and we yelled. And when we loved, when we were there for each other in the midst of divorces, threats of divorce, familial discord, and broken homes, we loved hard. We were always present. Always right there with each other.

That was my childhood. In all its glory. It was beautiful and full and connected. It’s hard to believe how long it’s been since I’ve tasted the innocence of what a childhood was. Of the simplest form of fun and happiness. Of face-to-face interactions, getting dirty and muddy and being fully present because we had no other choice but to be.

– – –

I remember the 3rd of July the summer before I turned 21 vividly. The air was hot and sticky, but typical for that time of year on the Jersey Shore. I went with three of my girlfriends to the annual fireworks held a few towns over — a tradition we claimed as our own since we were in high school. Following the fireworks, we packed ourselves up and headed back to one of my friends dads houses. We had a girls night planned: pool, hot tub, and beer.

At 20, we were in the beginning stages of transition. We saw how quickly the world turns. How fast we went from high school seniors to college juniors. We spent that summer, and the summers following, trying to latch onto scraps of our childhood while still trudging through murky water trying to get to that light at the end of the tunnel that was college. While it seemed that summer break for most college students was defined by long days spent at the beach and nights spent funneling beers, ours were never like that. We all took summer classes, interned, worked full-time. We learned early on how difficult it would be to keep up with each other as adults.

But we tried. And we appreciated those fragments where the real world just stops and time seems to be standing still and we get these good, long, full moments with our friends.

It was the summer I realized how small I really was against the tide of love. I was in the crux of loving and hating that green eyed boy whose shallow love was enough to turn me into the boy-obsessed-girl I swore I’d never be. It was his eyes that reeled me in — I melted into those emerald greens every time he looked my way. I was infatuated and consumed and I swore he saw me.  It wasn’t until years later that I realized those eyes never saw me the way I thought they did. At least not in the way I needed them to.

But I swore he was it. He was the one that would save me from every monster masked as a hero. 

I became the person who, wherever she went, had her phone perched right next to her. Keep in mind this was before I got caught in the vortex of smart phones. At the time, I had the Verizon TV phone, and to me, it was the coolest thing next to the T-Mobile sidekick that I never got to claim as my own.

On that 3rd of July night in the middle of the summer of 2009, I sat in the hot tub with three of my childhood friends, beer in hand, eyes glued to my phone sitting on the ledge. Two of my other friends were on their phones as well. Somewhere in the middle of perhaps one too many beers, and I suppose an awkward silence that filled the air, but went by unnoticed at least by me, my friend who didn’t have her phone on her yelled at us. And I know she’s probably reading this right now laughing or rolling her eyes or swearing up and down that it didn’t play out that way. But I swear it did. “Can you guys get off of your phones? I just wanted to spend a night with my friends and you’re glued to the screens. We never get to spend much time together, and now that we’re here, you’re not really even here.”

And maybe those weren’t her exact words. But they were close. And she was mad. And for a long time we looked back on that night and teased her for it. We teased her for being bossy and overbearing and getting mad when all we wanted to do was stay connected with the boys on the other ends of our phone.

Little did I know then what all of that would really mean. Little did I know that trying so hard to connect really disconnected us from what was literally sitting right in front of us.

Oh, and by the way, my little Verizon TV phone fell in the hot tub that night. It took a plunge right into the warm water and sunk to its death. And I guess that’s why karma is a thing, right?

– – –

It saddens and scares me that my sister will never have what I had. At 11 years old, her idea of spending a Friday night with her friends is sitting in front of her computer and having a group video chat with them. She’ll never know communication beyond the three inches of her iPhone. She’ll never know the excitement of coming home to a letter from a pen pal — a friend who moved away but still kept in touch via letter writing. I’m afraid she’ll never have the same affinity for deep, intellectually stimulating conversations as I do. I’m afraid that an argument between she and one of her friends will always be as a result of words that didn’t go over well in text. I’m afraid she’ll never be able to look someone square in the face and tell them what she feels.

Part of me wants to raise up the white flag, throw in the towel, and accept that this is it. We are a social-media-technologically-driven-world. You are never really ever running errands alone, because your head is in your phone having a conversation with someone about last nights date. When you’re riding the train to work, the person next to you is scrolling through his Facebook feed. Awkward silences in elevators often result in everyone pulling out their phones and pretending to be in the midst of a juicy conversation with someone.

But I just can’t bring myself to give up just yet. I want more than that. I want more than text messages and Facebook wall posts and favorites on a picture. I want to be present. Real conversations. Real Kodak moments that aren’t up for others to judge whether or not they like them. I want to be connected — really connected.

When I’m sitting in the middle of a coffee shop catching up with a friend, I am already planning the rest of the day out in my head. Did I submit that paper on time yet? Did I apply for graduation? Did I make sure I turned my hair straightener off before I left my house? When does my car need to go to the shop? And if I’m not going a mile a minute in my head, I’m scrolling through my phone. Answering people I left hanging. Sifting through e-mails making sure I didn’t miss anything. Casually checking my Instagram feed that’s usually inundated with engagement rings and feeble attempts at “Food Porn.”

I don’t want it to be like that. I don’t ever want to be sitting face-to-face with someone and miss the point.

There is still something so romantic, so beautiful, almost sacred, about real conversations. And I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to ever get so caught up in my life that I forget how much more to life there is beyond a text conversation. Because the truth is: life exists in the details. Love exists in the details. Connection exists in the details.  

It’s in the smile that lights up the restaurant the second you walk in and meet up with a friend whom you haven’t seen in months. In the face-to-face conversations about the tough stuff — heartache and loss and love and careers and life-altering decisions. It’s in being there. Being present. Eyes up, ears open. It’s in falling in love with the sound of his voice, or his crooked smile, or the way he can’t keep from grinning when he sees you. It’s waiting by the phone for his call because even though you just left his house, you need to hear his voice. And that voice is what matters. Not a text. Not lifeless words through a screen. But tone and warmth and I’m falling in love with yous whispered in the middle of the night.

And you just can’t get that through a screen.

“Conversation is so much more than words: a conversation is eyes, the smile, the silences between words.” -Annika Thor

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘I Had A Dream’ by Kelly Clarkson.

And This Growing Up Stuff, Man I Don’t Know.

 

I got together with an old friend the other night — a friend with whom I keep in touch with often and see as frequently as both of our busy schedules allow. It was a spur-of-the-moment get together, as they usually are. We made ourselves cozy in the corner of an eclectic little cafe a couple blocks from the beach only a few towns over from our hometown and caught up over dinner.

Conversation surrounded the future — my upcoming graduation, new jobs, interviews, vacation plans, and year-long goals. We talked about her taking a new job position — her dream job. My heart was so full knowing that after all this time, she’s finally getting the opportunity that she deserves and has worked so hard for, but it was also a little heavy knowing that she was leaving her job — the job that kept her in this area, even after she moved out of town a few months ago.

It dawned on me then that no longer could I text her last minute, knowing she was in the area because of work and ask to grab a coffee or a drink. Dinner dates would have to be specifically planned out ahead of time. Girls nights with our circle of friends will be marked on our calendars as something to look forward to in the upcoming weeks.

And that’s when it hit me. This right here, this is really growing up.

The thought was profoundly heavy.

Suddenly, everything felt a little foreign. I looked around the cafe, covered wall to wall in paintings and photographs taken by local artists — at the couches set around the small stage for live entertainment and young musicians so full of wonder. At the electric fireplace that paints the cafe a mix of cozy and modern. And at my favorite part of the cafe — the organic juice and coffee bar at the front. I turned back to my friend and said, “if this was here when we were 17, we’d spend so much less time at Applebee’s and more time at cool places like this.” She agreed.

It got me to thinking about how much changes in very little time. The cozy cafe I was sitting in was relatively new. I’d been there a handful of times before, but it hasn’t been there long. Across the way, a brewery was being built across from a bar I spent a lot of summer nights at when I was 22 years old and so sure I knew what growing up meant. In the next town over, a new Biergarten recently opened. I’ve always been so fond of where I grew up. The Jersey Shore… not as seen on Jersey Shore. But it seems that in just the blink of an eye, everything around me’s changed. There’s traffic lights where there were once just stop signs. New strip malls. Condos where there were miles of land. Biergartens and brewerys and bed and breakfasts.

Everything around me seems to be changing. This is what growing up really is. I swear it is.

Growing up used to scare the crap out of me. There’s so much unknown stretched out in front of us. There are so many pieces of our lives laid out on that long road waiting for us to pick and choose which ones fit together. And anyone who doesn’t say that sometimes growing up is just as scary as a trip to the dentist when you’re five years old is lying to you.

We always think there’s a sign. We think that when we sign the title on our first car, we’re adults. Or when we move into our first apartment, when we’re picking out place mats to match our curtains, or making center pieces for our wedding, or registering for our baby shower, we’re grown up. We think that growing up is acquiring all of these things. But if we fall short of these expectations, if we never get this stuff… then what?

Growing up has nothing to do with stuff.

When you’re little, you equate adulthood to the turning of the second hand on the evening of your 18th birthday. As soon as that clock strikes 18, you’re an adult. At least by law. We think that by 18, we’ll move out of our parents houses, we’ll be free to do what we want. We look to 18 as an elusive and magical time. A time when we would have it all. And then we get there. At 18, we make our decisions about where to go to college. We pick dorm furniture, meet our roommates, and move away and start fresh. And while we’re standing there on our brand new campus looking towards another four years as a student, we realize that this isn’t at all what we predicted.

So we keep on trekking through. Soon, we’re 20, 22, 24. Some of us signed titles for cars, some of us have moved into our own places. Some of us have beautiful china sets that we only take out for holidays. Some of us are engaged, married, and have kids. And some of us don’t have all that stuff.

Growing up has nothing to do with stuff. It just doesn’t.

Growing up is accepting that work and school take precedence over hanging out on our friends’ couches watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey marathon. It’s finding new cafe’s with big couches to have coffee and catch up at. It’s letting go of your usual Applebee’s spot and reminiscing on the days when half-priced appetizers were the only things you ate (or could afford). It’s random texts and phone calls from friends asking how you are, wishing you luck on your interview, or just saying they’re thinking of you. It’s the nights you stay up all night around a firepit with the friends you grew up with having beers and laughing over old times. Growing up is that feeling of so much love and pride and joy when your friend gets a promotion, lands the job of her dreams, gets engaged, gets married, or finds out she’s pregnant.

Growing up is being there for the good, the bad, the sweet, the ugly, the messy.

Growing up is watching your friends pack their things to move away for new job offers, for love, for a big change. It’s making brunch plans a month in advance and sending cards and letters just because. It’s learning to let go. It’s learning to accept change. It’s being okay with knowing that nothing will ever be as it was, but nothing will ever change either.

The real stuff — the deep stuff, that’s what growing up is all about. Everything else is just a side effect.

“Speed and direction of our path through life are pretty good measures of our age. We race headlong through childhood, never looking back. Wanting it to end as quickly as possible. As we get older, we occasionally slow down long enough to savor certain moments. It’s a sure sign of growing up. It’s only in our twilight years when our pace is slowed and the long race is nearing the end that we spend most of our time looking backwards, and we wonder why we were ever in such a hurry.” -Everwood

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘The Night Before‘ by Carrie Underwood

It Was The End Of A Decade, But The Start Of An Age

As much as we try to resist it, the only constant in life is change. Seasons change. People change. Feelings change. Life changes. So, in a lifetime that is so full of change, very few things remain the same. In my lifetime, I’ve experienced changes from all different angles – from devastating loss, to heartbreak, to shifts in friendships, to ups and downs in familial relationships, to the goals and dreams I had for myself. And while I experienced all of these highs and lows of life, only one thing remained a constant. While the world around me never ceased to stop changing, the one thing that stayed the same, my one constant, has been my job. I never knew then that what was supposed to start out as a summer job when I was a teenager would turn into something that holds so many memories, so much meaning and so much of me for so long. I never knew all those years ago, the impact that it would have on my life and how bittersweet it would be to say goodbye – nearly a decade later.

To many, Auntie Anne’s was just a pretzel place and a way to demean and degrade not only myself, but my coworkers as well. It was often a way for outsiders to make us feel like less than human for where we worked. I’ve never understood how having a long-term job, working for great people, and working with incredible friends could ever be a negative enough thing to make fun of us for. To outsiders, it was a place they often frequented for a snack. It was the store that you could smell from a mile away. It was a childhood favorite that manifested itself into adulthood. But for me, Auntie Anne’s was my job – my first job.

It was where I learned customer service and people skills – where I learned how to talk to people, where I learned how to listen to rules, where I learned leadership, and where I gained a strong sense of self and a great work ethic. But it was so much more than that. Auntie Anne’s was a place that harbors so many memories and was, essentially, where I grew up. It was here that I learned what friendship is – and I mean real, raw, true friendship. Here I learned how to pick and choose which people I wanted in my life and how to read a person from a mile away. It was here I learned to build a back-bone and let some of the nasty things customers said to me roll off my shoulder. It was here I learned to work hard – to put in the hours, the work, and the time and see that hard work, no matter where you work, gets you places. It was here I learned to balance a job, extra-curricular activities and school and still make good grades. It was here that I gained a life-long, incredible, and supportive best friend, whom I genuinely do not know where I would be without. It was here that I had the chance to work with my brother and to work with a girl whom I have known since before she was born. It was here that I forged close friendships with, now college-bound girls, who remind me of myself at their age. I was, and still am, so emotionally invested in their lives, their well-being, and their success. I’ve watched these kids blossom into young adults and learned that I could be proud of them, even if I have only known them for two or three years.

Proud of S, for going into the city, despite the challenges that it took her to get there – for following her heart and making her big dreams a reality. But also, for being level-headed and humble, even when she recently was inches away from George Clooney, John Goodman, and Bill Murray. Proud of G, for leaving high-school where she hated it – to going off to college, loving it, and growing into this mature young lady. You are far better than I was at your age and as I have always told you, college is really where you will shine. No matter what, I will always be your ‘mentor’ :). Proud of S & D, for going off to the schools of their dreams and making these dreams an eventual reality. For coming from a small high school to jumping into these giant universities, but finding your niche and group of friends and for really having the time of your lives. I am so excited for both of your futures and we all  know that we will see your names in lights. For A, who is already changing lives, in only your second semester of college. I don’t need to tell you how proud I am of you for going after these crazy dreams of yours, because you and I both know that your dedication to becoming a doctor is what will get you there, no matter how difficult that road may be. And for C, who will forever remind me of myself. For really being a friend and for going after those journalism dreams – even after you had a minor setback with schools. Being proud of every single one of you girls doesn’t even cover it.

It was within those four walls that we all felt every emotion – we laughed, cried, joked, and fought. My God, did we fight. No one has seen me in the same way that my coworkers have. Good, bad, ugly – they saw it all. Our job was our safe haven – no matter how many negative things were going on in our personal lives outside of work, we always had a place to go. Even on the most stressful days, there was always  some element of fun. We laughed every single day and most importantly, it was here that I gained an extended family with whom I was able to share the bulk of my fondest memories, both inside and outside of work, for the last nine years.

Tuesday night was my last shift – the end of such an epic saga. Never again will I work with my best friend or my brother. Never again will I work with teenagers – unless, of course, they are my clients. Never again will I work for those same incredible people. Never again will I look at an Auntie Anne’s, or even a mall, the same. I said goodbye to the biggest part of me this week. The biggest part of my life, the only constant. And while I closed this chapter of my book and said goodbye to a job that I never knew would mean so much to me, I am also opening the door to the future and to endless possibilities. The unknown future should terrify me, but at the same time, it’s the not knowing that excites me. I have the utmost confidence in myself and in my coworkers and know that no matter what direction we take and where we are headed, we are all going to do something great.

So sure, it was just a pretzel place. It was my first job. It was food retail. But, it was the biggest part of my life thus far. I am a better person today because of it and I have the best stories and relationships that will genuinely last far beyond those four walls.

To every single one of my coworkers and anyone I’ve had the pleasure of working with, whether it be now or at any point in the last 9 years, thank you for being the biggest part of my life, thank you for being my backbone and being part of the place that kept me together when things outside of work fell apart, thank you for being my family – near or far, you’ll always hold a piece of my heart.

I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn and we are led to those to help us most to grow if we let them, and we help them in return. Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true, but I know I’m who I am today, because I knew you.” ‘For Good,’ Wicked

The title of this post is from the song, “Long Live” by Taylor Swift
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