Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta sing about the carefree days of the summer leading up to their senior year in “Grease.”
And as every school-age kid knows, summer is a golden idol to be worshiped, a magical span of days where time stands still, tans are perfected, and that small stack of pop fiction finally gets thumbed through. Having worked through the past three summers since graduation, this is my first summer off like a student again. It’s a little odd to have the freedom to wake up when I’d like, spend an afternoon at the pool, or go on a vacation without having to check in with HR for scheduling.
Over the last semester, I’ve worked as a tutor to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade elementary kids, helping them with their math and reading skills. During one of my last days in the classroom, I asked a girl named Avery what she was most looking forward to about summer. Her answer stunned me and sent me through a time warp.
It resembled exactly the summers I’d whiled away about 10 years ago at my grandmother’s apartment complex. Young Avery was looking forward to taking one of her best friends to her grandma’s house for a week (she just wasn’t sure which one yet) and watching whatever she wanted on TV, swimming in the community pool, and walking to the nearby grocery store to buy ice pops. So simple. So summer.
My own youthful summers were varied, but a portion of them were spent at my grandma’s apartment complex, Strawberry Hill. The name sounded like poetry to me. The quaint brick columns at the entrances even had little tiles with strawberries wrapped in ivy embedded in them. I’d hang out with my oldest friend Dayna (since both our grandmothers lived there). We would hit a tennis ball back and forth on the courts and memorize the Sorting Hat’s songs in the Harry Potter series. “A thousand years or more ago when I was newly sewn / There lived four wizards of renown whose names are still well known.” Absolutely low-key and deliciously dorky. Our grandmothers smiled politely and looked confused when we sang out J.K. Rowling’s words to the tune of “Gilligan’s Island” as they sat on the couch.
And I can still remember shouting out the answers to trivia questions we made up as I jumped off the fanciest pool’s ledge and into the white-blue water as Dayna called back, “Yup, you got it!” just as I splashed down.
Once, I bought a needlepoint kit from Michael’s craft store, and, a diligent follower of instructions, my grandma pulled out a pink basin and soaked all the thread in water before we got started. I’m not if that helped the stitch work or not, but my aunt found it hilarious. Other times grandma would drop balls of dough into boiling water to make European-style doughnuts. I’d name them after boys in my classes, and whichever dough ball rose to the top first represented the boy I’d eventually marry.
A nearby Fresh Market was a beautifully cold and darkened world for two girls to escape into. It was full of classical music, fragrant blooms near the automatic doors, and a mouth-watering display case of baked goods. It takes so little to make kids happy. Cannolis and fudge brownies are an easy place to start.
Last year, Dayna and I happened to be back in the area and drove through to say hello to her grandmother. Afterward, we walked past the tennis courts and along a sloping sidewalk through groves of thick oak trees toward the small playground that still sat nestled against a hill side. The steep, silver slide that hurdled us down to slam into the grass remained. So did the gymnastic bars and little cars and airplanes resting on thickly coiled springs for toddlers to bounce on.
But we weren’t little anymore. When did we get so big? I didn’t know, and I don’t think she did either. It happened slowly, most likely when we weren’t looking. Pieces of that childhood carefree innocence, curiosity and sheer delight over the simple things still live on. But the magic of life has lost a little luster, to be sure.
Sometimes I long for the impossibly hot summer days spent watching Nickelodeon shows like “Salute Your Shorts” and “Guts” with my toes dangling off my bed. It beats figuring out student health insurance and fellowship agreements, not to mention planning out how to buy furniture for and setting up an apartment. I’m not sure how exactly to set up a router either, and I’m not too keen on learning at the moment. I’ll just pray all my meals turn out edible, my car runs smoothly at all times, and I never shrink an article of clothing. See? No fun at all.
So for the next few weeks, I’m going to read and write and swim and see a few movies. I’m going to forget all about being an independent adult. And maybe Dayna and I will have to plan a trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter next summer.
I’m not sure when it happened, but lately, a lot of the people I communicate with treat me like I’m their personal therapist. The only catch is I’m not making the big bucks, sitting on a plush couch, drinking mocha lattes, and scribbling notes into a yellow legal pad about how often they speak in the past versus the present tense.
Sometimes, after I’ve languished on my bed for a while and tried to offer up both sympathy and useful advice, just as I’m about to open my mouth to say something about my life, they’re ready to hang up!
And I’m not only talking about a select few. It’s becoming more-than-most of my twenty-something buddies.
I spend a good three to five hours on any given weekend fielding phone calls from friends looking for love in all the wrong (and right) places, the ones who know they really should fill out those grad school applications, the ones wondering if their careers are taking them in a viable direction and those who still can’t stand their parents.
I’m starting to think that when all your friends are in the same capsizing boat as you are—as in they’re the same age and also trying to find themselves and meet the minimum payments on their credit card– no one can fling the orange life vest out far enough to save you. They’re too wrapped up in all the same problems you have, so they don’t see them with the insight it takes to get beyond issues.
Now, while I’m flattered to be considered level-headed, diplomatic, empathetic, and a good advice-giver, HELLO! I need to talk about ME sometimes too.
So, for all of you out there who feel like you need someone to pour out your soul to, for all of you who feel exhausted, not to mention resentful, of always being considered the strong, stable type who absorbs others’ problems like a good sponge, I hear you. And I empathize.
The sad part is that when I turn to the thirty, forty- and fifty-something women in my life who have been-there-done-that and could offer up solid words along the lines of, “You¹re kind, you¹re beautiful, and you’re talented, so take a deep breath! Everything is going to work out!” they often come up a little, well, short.
They listen better than their younger counterparts, but I’m amazed at how encouraging they’re not. It takes a lot for me to be emotionally vulnerable, and I don’t enjoy doing it unless I feel safe and comfortable. So when I say applying to J school freaks me out because I feel like the odds aren’t in my favor or that I don’t want to attend a wedding alone when my high school BFFs will be there coupled off, that’s your cue to say something reassuring.
(In case you were raised by wolves and don’t know this).
Yet, when I confess, these women I’ve known and respected for years set their lips into a pursed-grimace thing and smile at me through these oh-you-poor-dear eyes.
Then they say things like, “Graduate school is a tough market. There’s stiff competition. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Or “Get used to feeling alone. Friends in relationships will leave you in a New York minute. They don’t want to hear about your yoga class! They want to chat about china patterns and how to hang curtains.”
Maybe that’s been their experience, and if it is, I’m sorry about it. I wish things had gone better for them. But why rain on my parade before it really even starts? Why drain my hope?
So here’s my advice to those of you, who like me, are feeling a little down now that the mega-blowout, glitter-ridden, Mojito-drinking birthday parties are no longer the norm and parties of one are no longer the exception.
Believe in yourself. Don’t depend on everyone else to do it for you. They’ll disappoint you eventually, guaranteed. It’s not that other people don’t care, but they’re human and living their own lives, which always takes precedent. One thing’s certain though: they’ll never know how you feel unless you tell them.
And here’s what you might want to mention to them (regarding themselves) and to yourself (regarding yourself): You are attractive, smart, capable, kind, fun to be around, and going places.
Everyone has inherent worth just because they are. Are what? Are in existence. Each unique individual on this planet is worthy because we are all another way universe is becoming conscious of itself.
And we deserve to be treated accordingly.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting some hard battle,” Plato once said.
Even if they seem privileged and blessed to your eyes, it doesn’t mean that your friends don’t face challenging struggles. You may not know the whole story—you might want to listen. To know all is to forgive all.
Plus, your kind words could be the catalyst to get them believing in themselves, so they in turn can take actions to benefit others. If you can’t handle lower-level insecurities, how are you going to deal with facing a life-threatening illness, divorce, or financial problem?
In short, why aren’t we giving each other more hope?
No, it’s not always easy to listen and be present, but if you don’t do it, you can be damn sure you won’t be invited to the blow-out, glitter-ridden, Mojito-drinking future friend parties. Why not? Because you will not have earned a place at the table.
Our relationships could be a lot more fulfilling if we all tried to remember to treat other people like what they have to say is significant and valid. And if you can possibly spare them, words of encouragement are welcome.