When I was 11.
I was 11 when life got complicated. I remember it like it was yesterday. One minute I was riding my bike in overalls and thinking about the cute guys in my youth group and the next I was mad at the world for reasons I didn't understand. Looking back it makes perfect sense. I got my period when I was 11. Suddenly my mom didn’t understand me and the world seemed different somehow. More menacing. There was a lot to sort through and I wasn’t ready for it. I still wanted to call the local radio station and request Simon & Garfunkel songs. I wanted to write in my green plastic diary with the lock on it. I wanted to wear my over-sized Elvis t-shirt to bed and wonder if I would have ice cream the next day.
Instead, I was becoming a woman. A woman in a child’s body. I felt mad about it at first. It just didn’t seem fair. My brain felt like it was a mess.
That was 26 years ago.
In some ways, for 26 years I’ve been trying to remember what I felt like in the first 11. I think it was good. I think I was happy. I remember laying in the grass at the park and looking up at the sky. Trying to make shapes out of the clouds. I remember playing endless rounds of Yahtzee with my best friend on her bathroom floor (to keep the sisters out). I remember not really caring what others thought about me. I was too wrapped up in soccer baseball and swimming lessons in the Kennebecasis River. I guess I was naive enough to think everyone liked me. Or maybe everyone liking me didn’t actually matter because I had my best friend, Sarah, and a whole group of girls at my church that I had sleepovers with and played in the woods with and went to bonfires on the beach with… We were young and life felt simple. It felt real. Not like a video game we were playing but like salt and water and smoke. Like tattered cable knit sweaters on a foggy day. Like first kisses and late nights whispering and the lingering sense of everything being o.k.
People refer to this as “the good ‘ole days”. We lose them and we don’t even realize they’re lost until their decades away.
Now I wake up and I feel complex. I feel like there’s a web in my brain that needs to be cleared and a few mountains to scale and only about 1,000 tasks to check off along the way. You need that? Ok! You feel a certain way? Let me fix it! You don’t like me? I’m so sorry! Let me be different for you. You are angry? It must be my fault. You are happy? How can I make sure you stay that way??? You need me to run your bath? Do a load of laundry? Get the oil changed? Life - and all of the beautiful people in it - are demanding I clear the cobwebs and scale the mountains and check off the to do’s and I’m ready! I’m ready to do it all!
And then one day I start thinking to myself… as my 37th birthday approaches… “I’m reclaiming the good ‘ole days.” And I dropped the angst for just a second. I met my sister at the river. We blew up our floaties (hers a pink lemon and mine a watermelon) and braved the mosquitos through a thick wooded trail. We jumped into the Chagrin River and floated. Sometimes we talked. Sometimes we did not. There were no men around so we didn’t care how we looked in our bathing suits or that we weren’t wearing make-up or that our posture on top of a giant 4 foot blow-up floatie wasn’t sexy. We just drifted away. The sun was out. There were rain clouds in the distance. Occasionally one of us would say something funny and the other would laugh.
“This is really fun”, I said.
“I know”, she said.
After we floated we swam. Treading water we felt alone out there. Strikingly solitary. Simply alive. Like each breath was authentic for the first time in a long time. We made our way to a big wall of thick and drying clay and we sat there digging in. We pretending we were taking a mud bath and that the clay had magical mineral properties that softened our skin. I looked over at my sister and she had it on her face. Mud. My perfect sister who is a successful realtor and sells millions every year. She had mud on her face. And she was smiling.
I loved her for her willingness to play.
We were 11 again.
As I drove home I committed to feeling 11 as much as possible. Feeling 11 means freedom. Living in the moment. Letting go of chaos for simplicity. Dropping the drama of life and responsibilities - motherhood and mortgage payments - to sit on the river’s edge in the mud.
This 4th of July I’m reading books in my kimono and drinking ice cold diet coke. We’re blowing up a pool to sit in and lighting sparklers. I am looking at the world I’ve created as a 36 - almost 37 - year old woman and I’m proud of it. I am with the love of my life and he is everything to me. He sits next to me smoking a cigarette because he refuses to give it up and I refuse to not accept him as he is. My son just finished his hot dog and his ripe nectarine after spending the morning building legos with the neighbors. My dog sleeps at my feet and I just discovered my lipstick in the fridge. Life is funny when you pause. It’s happening so gracefully all around and yet so much of it we spend in our heads - distracted, confused, overwhelmed, fearful, and in pain.
The practice of embracing the moment is remembering what it was like when it wasn’t so hard. When it came easy. When there was no other way… and then taking a deep breath, closing our eyes, and allowing ourselves to be with everything around us just as it is.
Good god it’s beautiful to live.
Happy Fourth, my friends.