Archive for category Grown-up Moments

Why it’s OK to love the Christmas music station

‘Tis the season for a lot of things and Christmas music certainly is one of them. It’s in car commercials, on radio stations, pumping through shopping malls and serenading office parties. It’s unavoidable, and yet, I find myself seeking it out.

It seems every passing year I listen to more and more Christmas music and I do it more and more on purpose. I can’t figure it out. Unless it’s just another one of those things that’s attributable to adulthood and the passing of time. It must be.

Growing every little bit older and more mature makes us want to appreciate things more. It’s like we realize time flies by too quickly, so we need to enjoy it consciously. It’s as if we realize life is fleeting and limited by nature. And that drives us to act differently, to show more gratitude, kindness and understanding, to live with all of our senses, to appreciate everything. Even hearing “Sleigh Ride” a minimum of three times in one day.

Overplayed tunes aside, there’s plenty to appreciate around Christmas. There’s the changing of the seasons, the pumpkin bread at Starbucks, the lights on houses and apartment balconies, the excuses to go see family, the free food at holiday parties, the unexpectedly light traffic, the classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life” constantly on TV, the simple feeling of warmth people seem to exude despite the impending months of cold, the silver bells and jingle bells and gosh darnit the Christmas music.

Maybe unabashedly listening to Christmas music makes me feel like a kid again. It could be that enjoying “Frosty the Snowman” without embarrassment brings out the snow-loving explorer in all of us, even as we grumble about scraping the fluffy stuff from our windshields and fighting traffic as drivers forget how to steer in it. Christmas music is nostalgia incarnate, good times past packaged into a simple song. It’s a time machine, in audio form, so why not cram as much of it as possible into the month leading up to commercial America’s favorite holiday of Christmas.

So as Dec. 25 approaches, I’ll continue to have the Christmas station on and you’ll often find me jamming out to seasonal songs – even if for no other reason than this: it can’t be Santa’s big day until I hear “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” at least once!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all some festive tunes.

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Why it’s awesome to have no plans on the weekend

It’s Saturday morning and I wake up just after 7 a.m., thrilled that I’ve gotten to sleep in. It’s midday Saturday and I’m making brunch after a six-mile run, leisurely sautéing veggies before adding eggs to make a breakfast burrito. It’s Saturday afternoon and my laundry is almost done, so is my cleaning. It’s Saturday evening and I’m outside on the balcony, reading a book in the surprising warmth. It’s Saturday night and I’m taking a walk on the path by my apartment.

It’s Saturday night, and then I realize … when did it become so awesome to have absolutely no plans on a weekend?

When I officially reached adulthood, I guess.

Growing up, weekends were family time, filled with activities governed by the parents, the park district soccer schedule and whatever the siblings or extended family might have going that day. In high school, weekends were important friend time to do a whole lot of nothing — watching movies in someone’s basement, piling into someone’s car and driving around aimlessly, or better yet, wandering to that reportedly “haunted” road on one of the many edges where suburbia meets a rural abyss and hoping something creepy happens.

Some anxiety entered into high school weekends, too. What if if was homecoming time and you had no prospect of a date? Or what if it was any old Saturday night, and you had nothing to do but stay home with your parents, listlessly chat on AIM and watch the 9 p.m. news on TV? Disaster! Weekends became something to be filled with friends to prove you had friends, with adventures to prove you had adventures, with plans to prove you had plans for your social success, and therefore, your life.

College was a vast improvement, but those few weekends when it was tough to find anything real to do still posed a challenge. Huddled with a few friends from the dorms on a cold Friday night, you’d scroll through your phones, wondering if you could scrounge up anyone who was having a party, anyone old enough to buy alcohol, anyone willing to bring you warm cookies without requiring you to walk outside to the late-night cafeteria. The weekend remained something to be filled — until Sunday afternoon became mandatory homework time, which blended into all of Sunday night and at least two hours of early Monday morning. Ahh, the 2 a.m. sleep cycle … Now that I don’t miss …

But when I suddenly realized, at the soundly adult age of 27, that it’s glorious to have a free weekend, I knew times had changed. When I admitted I don’t care if I have plans every Saturday, because me-time is important, it allowed me to place a little more value on having a moment. And really, we all need a moment. Maybe it’s a moment to chill, sleep in, catch up on some TV; to read, relax, get organized, clean; even to make plans for future fun-filled weekends and be active on our own terms.

A free weekend with a blank calendar stretching out before you with 48 hours of unoccupied bliss isn’t a social snafu, a popularity fiasco. It’s something to be thankful for. And maybe, just maybe, one of these fantastic free weekends could be coming up … in as few as three more days.

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If the shorts don’t fit … be glad you’re out of high school

It feels weird to say this, but I think I’m growing out of my old athletic shorts from high school.

The weird part is the shorts are huge. They’re the super-long, basketball shorts that were my identity in high school. I didn’t wear the booty shorts of cheerleaders or pom pons girls; I shied away from the spandex of volleyball players and the loose but short shorts of runners. I didn’t wear those tight dancer capris, either. Just my basketball practice shorts, which practically went to the knees, and my soccer shorts, which were maybe a little shorter, but wider, roomier and airier.

The other weird part is it’s not just the size and shape of the shorts that doesn’t seem right – the identity they represent no longer seems to fit, either.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love to watch basketball (give me free tickets to a Bulls game and I’m a fan of yours for life) and I still love to play soccer (so much that I’ve considered refereeing on the weekends just to get back into the game). So it’s not that my sports identity has changed. It’s the high school connection between my sports of choice and my social self that I’m shedding as I approach my ten-year high school reunion.

In high school, wearing long, large basketball shorts was a sign of belonging. It identified you as a basketball player, a hardworking athlete, and not a super-girly one at that. It was a hard-nosed identity and it was the one I chose, despite also being a clarinet player in the band and a high school newspaper reporter/editor, among a few other club affiliations. Soccer shorts were the same way. Big. Not pretentious. Serious about sport, not necessarily about showing off to the guys – unless they happened to be impressed by your corner kicks or your status as junior varsity leading scorer.

All of that is in my past and I’m not ashamed of it, not running from it, not wishing I was someone or something else. I’m just saying it doesn’t fit anymore. And no matter how much I think it through, that’s weird.

It was the literal fit of the shorts that clued me in to this change. Seriously, they’re huge. I’m primarily a runner now, and I’m getting more used to shorts that are actually designed for running. They’re little shorter so there’s not too much fabric sloshing around between your legs. And in some cases, they’re a heck of a lot tighter so your legs won’t rub and chafe directly against one another. I still run pretty frequently in my basketball and soccer shorts, but I’m finding myself leaving them at the bottom of the pile more and more often in favor of the ones meant for running.

All I can do is let it be. Someday, my running shorts might not feel like a fit anymore, either. Maybe then I’ll have to move into old-lady shorts, super-long again to hide ugly veins or extra leg fat. Maybe I’ll become more of a bicyclist and choose those spandex shorts with a padded butt. Or maybe I’ll stay a runner and eventually wear those short runner shorts that made me so uncomfortable in high school. Only time will tell.

All I can do other than that is take stock of my identity and realize it’s shifted from where it was and who I was in high school. At my core, I’m the same, as are many of us in our twenties, but the adult is coming further to the forefront of what makes me who I am, and the teen is fading away. If I ever need to remind myself of who I was a decade ago, I’ve still got just the shorts to do the trick. So I say they’re worth keeping around.

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Family, growing up and group texts

Group texts have been taking over my phone. I haven’t gone on a bachelorette party or been in charge of some other occasion that requires planning and coordinating best done by mass-text. I’ve just reached the point when all of my siblings no longer live at home. And that equals group messages galore.

It seemed to happen suddenly. I’ve been living in apartments with various roommates for three years, and my sister moved out nearly a year ago. But the group texts really hit when my brother moved out early last month. And they have been glorious.

There’s a new tree in our parkway after the previous one bit the dust to the Emerald Ash Borer, my mom decides to text my brother, my sister and me. Complete with a picture! I’m glad she did. The yard looked kind of sad with an empty hole where our struggling tree used to be, and it was neat to see the little baby stick planted in its place. Aww, home, I thought.

Which day would you prefer to come over for Father’s Day, my mom group texts us a few days later. Planning. A classic function of the group-text. My brother responds almost immediately with one word. “Sunday.” I reply a few minutes later also expressing a preference for Sunday. My sister, an emergency room nurse, never replies – at least not on the same message string where we all could see it.

And it’ll happen sometime soon: My dad will group-text the entire family about some weather warning or another. He’ll tell us what he heard on the radio or saw on the Weather Channel, and he’ll remind us of seven precautions that are smart but maybe a little farfetched. He’ll tell us to be safe and end the message simply with “Love,” written on a separate line than the rest of the words. Why say, “Love Dad,” I figure he thinks, when the phone already displays that the message came from “Dad” and takes care of it for him. Instead of being alarming, as some weather alerts can be, these Dad reminders are a comfort. Lets us know he’s there thinking and caring about us. As always.

But these days, everything comes by group text. The lighthearted, homey details like the tree. The planning of minor family get-togethers like the Father’s Day gathering, which did end up on a Sunday, after all. The weather warnings. None of us live at home, yet there are plenty of things our parents still want to tell or ask all of us. At once. With technology, the group-text is the clear way to go.

I never realized I’d see so many group texts or enjoy them so much. But it all makes sense. And when your phone is inundated with family communications via group text because your siblings all have launched lives away from home, you know you’ve officially reached adulthood. How to celebrate? Pull out the old phone and type up a note to mom, dad, bro and sis. Make their phones buzz in unison. You know they’d love to hear from you.

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Why it’s exciting to actually have TV (and money)

I’m sitting in front of the TV writing this now. I couldn’t have said that a month ago. And I’m kind of excited about it. Yes, it’s 2015 and I just said I’m excited about TV. If it was 1965, maybe that’d be acceptable, but now? Not so much. Still, there’s a reason I think it’s OK: because it’s a sign.

It’s a sign of a new level of economic status I’ve now reached as a twenty-something, and it’s refreshing. I can actually afford TV. TV with HD and a DVR. (Hello, recording Bulls games when I’m at night meetings! Hello recording silly things just to watch when it’s rainy or for some reason there’s nothing else to do!). I can afford TV with music channels and a YouTube app to watch workout videos and on-demand to watch movies and stuff. TV with so many bells and whistles I won’t even use them all, I’m sure of that. But I can afford it. Lucky me.

At 27 and three years into living on my own (aka not with my parents), it feels gratifying to be able to afford a last luxury-type thing that I previously thought was out of my range. TV service was really the last holdout, the last thing about which I could be accused of being a major cheapskate (other than small stuff like swiping extra napkins from Panera and Starbucks or reusing plastic snack bags because, c’mon, you obviously can put trail mix in the same bag twice).

It wasn’t so much that I literally couldn’t scrape together the money to pay for TV service, it was that it didn’t feel like the smart thing to do, and TV was something on which I was willing to skimp until I felt more comfortable with my money for the long term. We can’t expect to set ourselves up well for the future if we don’t make smart decisions now, so for a while, TV was out.

TV was my last cheapskate item, but maybe yours is a vacation a plane flight away instead of within a reasonable driving distance, or a vacation at a real hotel with a fantastic hot breakfast buffet instead of at a motel with a cracked mirror and questionable carpet. Maybe your last withheld luxury is going to pro sports games with friends instead of backing out half of the time, or having the free cash to sign up to run races, obstacle courses or triathlons.

So when you get that next raise or you make that last student loan payment and you realize, “Hey, I actually have money!” it’s going to be a good feeling – a good but subdued feeling. You won’t want to jump for joy. It might not even hit you right away. But eventually you’ll notice a few extra dollars in your checking account. You’ll wonder how it ended up there and what you should do with it. You’ll gain a new level of thankfulness for everything that’s allowed you to have this money – the blessings you can’t even count, your hard work, your parents’ support, your steady job, your education, your socioeconomic class, your parents’ support (so important it’s worth mentioning twice), your privileges and advantages everything that makes you you.

Maybe you’ll donate a few bucks. Or save a few bucks. Or decide to run the air conditioning more often, to move to a bigger apartment or splurge on expensive groceries from time to time.

Or if you’re like me, you’ll rejoin the world of 2015 and rejoice in some glorious TV. So for now, it’s back to the screen and a multitude of viewing choices.

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The trick of time and the post-college life

I’m standing near a drive-through at a suburban Dunkin’ Donuts chatting with a couple of cops. They assure me they’ve had their doughnuts for the day, but they’re actually here to collect donations for Special Olympics Illinois. It’s the annual Cop on a Rooftop day and I’m covering it for work.

So the cops and I are bantering and I’m writing stuff down. On a tangent unrelated to my story, one of them tells me why so many cops frequent this particular Dunkin’ Donuts location. Another cop tells me, more on-topic, thankfully, that he went to the start of the Special Olympics summer games last year and it was a really moving experience.

Then the first cop, the off-topic guy, asks how old I am. He’s not being creepy, just curious, so I smile and answer. He seems surprised to hear I’ve been out of college for five years. He tells me he wondered if I was an intern – 21 or 22 – because I seemed focused and good at what I was doing, but still looked young.

I smiled some more. I just got asked the “are you an intern?” question and it wasn’t an insult to my working abilities, it was a compliment! And it actually felt that way!

At the back of my mind, a little part of me had been waiting for this moment. The moment when being asked, at strange times throughout the summer, if I’m an intern would actually feel good. The moment when I would be glad to look a handful of years younger than my true age instead of feeling worried about my lack of professional experience.

I guess it takes five years. I guess it takes being out of college longer than I was ever in it. Wait … what?!? I’ve been out of college longer than I was in it? It just hit me. And it’s scary.

This is a strange and remarkable moment because it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. The four-year time periods of college and high school feel like entire eras in our lives. They have entrance and exit rituals, freshman orientation days and graduations. They come with their own sets of activities and stresses and growing responsibilities and entirely new circles of friends. It’s like a package deal.

But twenty-something life, while somewhat of an era in itself, doesn’t necessarily have entrance and exit rituals … other than, possibly, the 30th birthday. More importantly, it doesn’t come with easy access to new activities or built-in challenges to overcome or easy-to-find groups of friends. It doesn’t come with an instruction manual, a set goal of a new phase to enter once it’s over. It’s up to us to decide where we’d like to be by 30 and pursue our goals so we can get there. We won’t have the same tests to take or stresses to endure as the next guy or gal, and we won’t have a guidance counselor to show us the way. We’ll encounter trials of sorts and our lives will be more stable if we find mentors and guides, but again, it’s up to us.

Since this twenty-something phase of life is so different, and so much more free – in a great and overwhelming way – it’s hard to believe I’ve been living it for longer than I ever was in college.

I squeezed all I could out of those four marvelous years, and now I’m doing my best to get all I can out of every year thereafter. But to realize my post-college life is already longer than my collegiate experience really puts the fleeting nature of time into perspective.

It’s an altogether strange thought and it calls for more reflection. But at least it’s allowing me to be pleasantly surprised when I’m thought to be an intern. And I don’t even have to get anyone else’s coffee!

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The many milestones of twenty-something life

This month is shaping up to be full of big days for me and a bunch of my friends. And it’s all just an illustration that this phase of life can be full of milestones, even though we’re past the phase of first kisses and high school graduations. I offer a few examples:

  • One of my college roommates is beginning her three-year medical residency to become a pediatrician. The process of getting “matched” with a residency is one more that’s even more subjective, unpredictable and crazy than rushing the most selective of sororities, so it’s amazing that she got placed at such a well-regarded hospital (Advocate Lutheran General in Park Ridge) and that she’s finally made it to the last step of toward becoming a real-life doctor.
  • One of my close friends from college is being deployed. He’s headed to Japan and/or Korea after more than three years in the Navy. And he still has about two years left of his commitment to service. He’s been training as a medic and learning the combat techniques of the Marines, and now it’s go time. I’d be scared.
  • Another friend is moving into a townhouse she and her fiancee just bought in Des Plaines. I’m not someone who has lot of friends who’ve bought houses, so this is a big deal. And it’s a bigger deal for this friend and her fiancee, who have been dating for more than five years.
  • Another couple I know who’s had a house for a while – a starter house of a duplex, actually – is moving soon into a brand-new home they just. It’s kind of on the far edge of suburbia, if you can even call it that. But it’s making them happy and that’s what matters.

Sadly, though, I don’t know which milestones are being reached by everyone who’s mattered so far in my life. I’ve lost touch with some of my formerly close friends from college and high school. With one college roommate in particular, this breaks my heart. But it’s a sign. The moment you don’t know what’s going on in the lives of some of the people with whom you used to share everything, you know adulthood is here.

It’s the big leagues now. These milestones will keep piling up. They’ll matter to us, but less deeply than milestones did when we were 10 or 16. But these moments will tell us we can’t hide from it anymore: We’re adults and we’ve already been adults and we’ve already been acting like it – for a while. This comes with self-determination and freedom, chores and duties and responsibilities.

But we’re ready. We wouldn’t be moving in with our fiancées, beginning the last step toward becoming doctors, getting deployed overseas, buying houses, building new houses or otherwise chasing our dreams and taking names if we weren’t.

So enjoy your milestone, whatever it is, and make sure to share it with those you want to keep in your life. Because they deserve to enjoy it, too.

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