Archive for the ‘The Family’ Category

25

September 18, 2012

Life is changing.

I’m careening toward the end of my 25th year and 10 months into my first job. I get up and go to work every morning wearing heels and something semi-professional. I do my make-up and hair in the morning and undo it every night. I’m getting really sick of that already.

A few months ago, I bought a house — me.

My life has almost all the trappings of adult-hood. But, sometimes, I still get deja vu. I flash back to a day when we lived in Louisiana, so I must have been 5 or 6. I’m shuffling through my mom’s closet, picking out the prettiest jacket and skirt I’d wear if I got to go to work like she did. I put on a white suit with shoulder pads — and a pair of her high heels, too. I look at myself in the mirror. Not as pretty as my dress-up clothes, I think.

You see, I am not an adult. I am still in the throes of growing up, nagged by a mix of annoyingly existential and incredibly superficial questions — am I making a difference with my life? Is this is where I should be? What if I had become a singer instead? Should I grow out my bangs?

They are questions left over from an adolescence of insecurity coupled with a future of unending potential. Forever, the possibilities were endless and I could do anything. And I expected I would. That was my story — the one I’ve been writing for myself since I was 10 years-old.

But, at some recent point, I put down the pen. I gave up writing my never-ending draft and decided to sit back and drink a glass of wine, or something. It didn’t last long.

Now, with each question I ask myself, I’m trying to edit my life story — starting somewhere in the middle. But, with each answer, I’m closing another door. I bought a house. I picked a city to live in. I chose a career.

My life is not only already half-shaped — so am I. The possibilities are no longer endless.

I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction lately written by not-very-old women who have gone through some kind of  transformative experience, usually involving some kind of travel, or great loss, or something. They find themselves and then they find love. It’s a coming of age tale, a common enough narrative that should inspire me. But lately, this story line has become my obsessive mantra. I repeat it to myself, find it in everyone around me and continually fail to live up to it.

I’m constantly watching the lives of other women and writing their life stories for them. There’s always a clear path and a for-now conclusion. If I commit myself to one life, I’ll be strong like my sister. If I can stop feeling sorry for myself, I’ll be content like my best friend. If I could take the risks I know I should, I’ll be more like the woman I want to be. 

But I’ve never been a risk-taker. When I was a kid at a sleep-over three blocks away from my house, I’d get homesick at 9 p.m. and call my Dad to come and get me. But, every leap I’ve taken in my life — and I’ve taken some  — has been in direct retaliation against this part of myself.

I knew my instinct was to huddle up in my bed at home, so I moved across the county to New York the first chance I got. When I was 15, I refused to risk speaking even one word in French to our exchange student from Paris the whole summer he lived with us, so I majored in the language in college and spent 6 months living in Paris. I made myself do the things that terrified me most.

It’s the central paradox of me. And it means I’ll never stop striving — to achieve, to succeed, to love, to live. And it means that I’ll be fighting myself every step of the way as I do it.

I am not an adult. I am still in the throes of growing up. But, then again, I probably always will be.

Raised on Musicals

October 1, 2011

It’s happening again. I can feel myself being pulled back in.

My Mom and I sat in the highest balcony at Gammage Auditorium last night and mouthed every word of West Side Story. We were offended when the producers of the show’s revival added a scene that wasn’t in the original. We didn’t like when they switched the order of the songs. But we still cried when Maria sang her final farewell to Tony, kneeling beside his dead body on the dark streets of New York — ahem, I mean, on the stage in Tempe.

Oh no. It’s all downhill from here.

I just spent the last hour watching every scene that’s posted on YouTube from the original 1961 movie of West Side Story. (“A Boy Like That” is my favorite, thanks to the fiery Rita Moreno). And, on the drive home from the theater last night, I played selections from Wicked on my iPod because it’s the only musical soundtrack I have on there. Lucky for anyone sitting in a car next to me at any red light on the way, I drove with the top down on my convertible and could be heard clearly, belting out every note.

The Cult of the Musical has a strong pull on a generation of women like me (and our mothers). It’s an obsession that usually rests nascent in the back of our minds as we go about our everyday lives as seemingly normal people — until we hear a Sondheim melody or see a Fosse dance move. Then, the obsession is triggered and it could be weeks before we are back to normal.

It’s not our fault. We were raised on musicals.

In fact, most of my childhood memories are mixed up with musicals: My sister fast-forwarding through the slow songs in My Fair Lady every time we watched it. Both of us refusing to view the second tape of Camelot because everything gets sad after the end of the first one. My mother making us sing the “Sisters” song from White Christmas every year. Me, spending hours playing with sponge-rollers, trying to figure out how to make my hair exactly replicate Shirley Temple’s.

Like great literature might do for some other (smarter) children, my concept of historical places and events was almost entirely framed by these films. Ask 7-year-old me what slavery was, and I would tell you about “Old Man River”  and the Show Boat on the Mississippi. What’s an arranged marriage? When Tevye tried to make Tzeitel marry the butcher in Fiddler on the Roofbut she had the courage to defy him. What were they fighting about in World War II? I wasn’t quite sure, but I knew it kept Liesl and Rolf from falling in love even after they kissed in The Sound of Music.

Courage, tradition, love — especially love.

Even now, the biggest mysteries — the ones I still am grasping to understand — just make more sense in a musical. And, for my generation of women, in between Feminism and Whatever’s Coming Next, that kind of high drama hits a nerve. There’s a longing for something more — something grander — within us. And musicals give it life.

Thanks to my childhood of musicals, I have always known exactly what love would look like one day. Thanks to the world I actually live in, I have been consistently disappointed. Shocking, I know. Instead of ballads and dancing and long, flowing dresses, we get hook-ups and Match.com and text-messaging.

I’m not blaming musicals for giving me unreasonable expectations about love. I’m blaming myself for not living up to my grand musical ideals.

When Tony sings an entire song just about Maria’s name — repeating it over and over again at different pitches and volumes, just to hear it sung — it’s hyperbole, sure. But it also touches on something true. And, when he hit that last, quiet, high note of the song on the stage in Tempe last night, it gave me chills. And maybe even a bit of hope.

This Christmas, I will be a bridesmaid for the fourth time. My best friend will steel her nerves and walk down a long aisle looking like royalty to commit her life to the man she loves. For the fourth time, I will stand in awe watching her, wondering how she could be so brave, so beautiful, so sure.

But, like millions of women before her, she will do it without a moment’s hesitation. Like millions of weddings before, the music will swell, the steps will be traced, the words will be recited — and I will cry just like I did last night watching that musical.

Courage, tradition and love — especially love. Only, this time, it will be in real life, not just the movies.

4 Days with my family

December 6, 2009

I have an interesting family. Really, we’re very out of the ordinary. And very different from one another.

And, sometimes, four days together in my sister’s 1,100-square-foot house with her new husband and her dog can be interesting as well.

I’ve told you all about my stay-at-home, do-the-laundry, amazing Dad and my Mom, who I still haven’t friended on Facebook, by the way (please be patient with me). Now, I’ll tell you about the rest of my family, in hopes that they’re something like your family — except not really at all.

First, there’s my sister, Dana.

Enough said? Probably.

Nah, just kidding. Dana is the person who raised me. I mean, my parents were there, but she was the one who dressed me (in various neon outfits with side-ponytails), taught me to love NKOTB and to play sports like my life depended on it. I told a story in my maid-of-honor speech at her  wedding last month that will explain this all perfectly:

When I was little, my mom would ask me, “Who do you love the most, Lauren?” And I would look back at her and say, “Dana.” (And then Dana would look at Mom and say, “See.”)

I will never not want to be just like my sister…(which makes her recent wedding a bit of a challenge for me). Other than the fact that she is a counselor and I could never do that.

Then, there’s my big brother. Paddy to everyone he’s ever known since college; Patrick to us.

Patrick is a Jesuit priest…(that’s Catholic). They’re the really cool ones who run colleges and all-boys high schools around the country whose students love them and tell stories about the secret kegs they have hidden in a closet somewhere on campus. And my brother is pretty cool.

He is a passionate philosopher, teacher, learner — and a passionate Brewer’s fan. He is the one who led me to journalism, actually. Not that he meant to, really. Well, he did mean to lead me to Fordham (a Jesuit university) and he did mean for the Jesuits there to instill in me a sense of duty akin to something in Star Wars. (In fact, the whole family has a theory that Patrick really became a Jesuit because he thinks he’s a Jedi. He’ll even point out that George Lucas named the Jedis after the Jesuits).

In other words, because of Patrick, I knew I had to do something for others with my life.

That’s right, this guy right here — Pabst in hand — has set the standard for morals in our family.

But family is an odd thing like that, isn’t it?

And all of the oddities come out when all five of you spend an extended weekend together over food, wine (Scotch for the Jesuit), board games and way too much football on TV. At one point when we were playing Catch Phrase — the greatest game known to mankind — I shouted “it’s like Dad’s head!” My brother yelled, “balderdash!”

Amazing.

The nicknames also come out over the holidays. According to my Dad, I am “Fork,” “Squirt” or “Little-Biggie.” I couldn’t really tell you why. Dana is “Biggie” (she loves that) and Patrick is almost inevitably “Spud.” He doesn’t seem to mind. Or notice. It has also been established that I am my mother’s doppelganger. It’s getting embarrassing.

Nobody can get to you more than family. Nobody has shaped you more. And nobody else will refrain from judging you while you scarf down the largest plate of food you’ve eaten all year…because they are too. Here’s what Patrick and my sister’s new husband, Brandon (he doesn’t normally have that stache, but he should) looked like after the big meal. Mmmmm.

Hope you enjoy the holidays with your family!