Posts Tagged experience

One wish for a better world

I wish people weren’t so hypocritical. And I wish it most when it comes to our families.

There are times that bring families together. Births, birthdays, religious ceremonies, coming-of-age occasions, graduations, weddings, retirements, deaths. Aside from the obvious downer at the end, it’s hard to choose a favorite. Then there are things that tear families apart: insults, grudges, slights, distance, time, selfishness, laziness. I don’t know which is worst.

But families remain central to our lives, even as we progress through our twenties. Even as more time passes from the days when we lived with all of our immediate family, those relatives are a rock and steadying factor. Even as time progresses and some of us start our own families or come closer to doing so, those who raised us remain central.

Yet we let our families slip down our priorities list all too often, taking for granted that they’ll always be there for us. I’m guilty, that’s for sure. In fact, my family’s dependable presence and unconditional love are things I take comfort in assuming will be there forever, even when I’m not showing the most kindness, caring or consideration, even when I’m being selfish and putting my own thoughts, needs, wants and interests before those of the people who matter to me the most. Even when my selfishness takes so much precedence that I lose sight of the priorities I place on people, loyalty and dependability. Family is still there.

And when is this sad selfishness most apparent but at the time of a loved one’s death. Inevitably, there will be a lot of family time around a death, and this can be good and bad. Good because family can offer comfort that only those who truly understand you can provide. Bad because family time around a stressful and sad occasion can lead to old tensions flaring and new battle lines being drawn.

Also inevitable are the realizations. They’ll be different for each of us. Often they involve time. We’ll realize we should have spent more time with our families — the ones we were born into and the ones we choose. That’s what old people always say on those work/life balance surveys, anyway: they regret working so much and not spending enough time with their families. But why do we have to let this become a regret before we try to do something about it?

Time, I guess. It’s such a limiting factor that we blame it for our inability to balance our lives and put into order the things that are or aren’t important. Time is why we don’t see our families enough, but time isn’t the culprit. We are.

So if we value our families, let’s start showing it. If we love spending time with our families, let’s start doing it. Don’t wait for the next joyous occasion or tragic one. Don’t wait even for the next weekend. Keep the people who matter in your life central to it and do it now. Because you never know when it’ll be too late.

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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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Now open: Intro to caring for twenty-somethings

There could be a post-college class for twenty-somethings called Intro to Caring. Those of us who occasionally become self-absorbed, or who lack the confidence that we can adequately care for others as well as ourselves, our work responsibilities and our home lives – all at once certainly would benefit. Heck, I’d say we all could benefit from it. And luckily, it’s available if we’re listening. In a sillier world, it’d be a real class, and it’d be something like this:

Intro to Caring (CAR 101): Introduction to Caring for People and Property

Required for anyone who wants to have a car or a bike, house or apartment, bank account, furniture, decorations, clothing, dishes, a plant, a pet and/or a child.

Learn from a variety of sources sharing the best techniques in care for homes, vehicles, fabric, décor, wood, tile and other household materials, finances, personal health (physical and mental), houseplants, grass, trees, bushes, flowers and common garden plants, dogs, cats, turtles and fish, infants, toddlers, children, tweens, teens and budding college students. This course will cover basic maintenance all the way to advanced and precise care for all of the above living and non-living things.

Gain insight from experts about the best routines to provide proper care for all of the people and things under your purview in the most efficient, empathetic, cost-effective and appropriate ways possible. Offers plenty of opportunities for learning by doing and real-world experimentation. Take this course before living on your own, if possible, or at least before buying property (unless you’re playing Monopoly). Be sure to take this course before having a child, especially if maintaining plant life or a pet has proven challenging. Refresher courses are available in various specialties including household maintenance, indoor and outdoor plants, pet care and child care.

Pre-requisites: Birth, pre-school, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, college (graduation from college preferred but not required)

Instructors: Your parents, grandparents, bosses and slightly older friends, with guest lectures by your favorite aunt, two of your funny uncles, that professor you never wanted to listen to but who was always right, your significant others (of the past and present, but unfortunately not the future) and your middle-school home economics teacher.

Cost: Full commitment to learning to best care for yourself as well as the people, places and things around you. Because that’s what it’s all about. And this is a course called life.

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In the ABCs of twenty-something life, U is for Understanding

And we’re getting a lot better at it.

Twenty-somethings, I feel, are learning to cut each other some slack. We’re learning no one is perfect and everyone oversleeps or runs five minutes late from time to time. We’re realizing life can be exhausting, and sometimes, friends have to take the backseat to more pressing concerns, like insane weather or family medical emergencies, last-minute assignments at work or a simple desire to avoid extreme sleep deprivation. We’re noticing that anyone can say insulting things, but deciding that everyone deserves a second chance.

We’re learning these things because we’re making these mistakes, and that’s allowing us to understand why they happen. Understanding is a beautiful thing.

Understanding is applying our knowledge of situations we’ve faced to our treatment of others. It’s thinking before we speak and finding perspective. It’s staying cool when your college friend takes eight days to return your call and not feeling hurt when your former roommate who moved to another city doesn’t have time to see you when she’s home. Understanding is something I’m feeling from my friends more and more. And it’s a beautiful thing.

Maybe we’re only showing more understanding because we’re older and more mature, or because we still have so much in common when it comes to sleep schedules, careers, friends, dating, drinking, traveling, housing, cooking, eating, exercising – the stuff of life. Or maybe our new degree of understanding results from the increased connectivity we have compared to previous generations. Since we share so much of our lives online, we create more opportunities to see into each other’s world and appreciate what our different situations might be like.

Either way, we’re showing our new level of understanding most when it comes to forgiveness. We’re gaining the ability to forgive for missteps that previously might have annoyed us, like a friend canceling plans on short notice. We’re avoiding birthday drama and cattiness and replacing those bad habits with acceptance, tolerance, and even better, kindness.

We might not give ourselves enough credit for it, but we’re beginning to build a new strong suit, and it’s a helpful one for all involved. But I don’t have to spell it out because I know you understand.

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The good, bad, beautiful: Unlimited reasons to run

It’s been said that people become more health-conscious in their late twenties or early thirties. So it seems appropriate at this point to say R is for Running. And there are lots of reasons why.

Sometimes I have such pleasant thoughts while running: “The world is beautiful.” “This is real life and this is great.”

Other times I’m not so lucky: “Ugh, my hamstring hurts.” “I … can’t … breathe …” “Am I not even at Mile 1 yet?”

Sometimes I make minor discoveries while jogging away: “That coffee shop looks relaxing.” “This street smells like bread – aha! there’s the Gonnella factory!” “I didn’t know there was a Kuma’s here. Time for a burger date this weekend.” “And here’s where I went out with my roommate last Halloween!”

Other times I’m bored by familiar landmarks: “That junker SUV hasn’t moved in months.” “I never get this stoplight green.” “Hello mini splash park, goodbye Mile 3.”

During some runs, I’m a philosopher: “It’s not about having time. It’s about making time.” “Why do I seem to worry the most about things that are completely out of my control? I need to work on that.”

Other times, my mind is pleasantly empty: “                     .”

Sometimes the world seems to smile at me: “Sprinkler! Score!” “Aww, that cute kid just waved at me.” “Free donuts beginning at 8 a.m.? Just enough time to finish this run, shower and grab one before work!” “What’s this on the ground? It looks like … it is … it’s $80 bucks!”

And other times, I’m the fly hitting the windshield: “Eek! OMG! OK, you’re OK, that was just a barking dog. Breathe.” “That was kinda squishy … that’s because it was goose poo. Lovely.” “How many oblivious couples with strollers can there be on one street at one time?!? Seriously.”

Running brings the good times and the bad, but all of these times are why there will be a next time. All of these are reasons why I run. Not just to stay in shape, to burn calories so I can eat more food, to enjoy the camaraderie of races or to be outside. (Although those are all great side effects.)

I run to experience the variety of life through one continuous lens – that of a runner – an actively moving, striving, progressing, growing human being. And I run because that perspective makes me a better person.

So give it a try. Go for a run. Even if your knee hurts or you can’t breathe after two blocks or you’re bored out of your mind, maybe, somewhere in that adversity, you’ll find your own reason to run.

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Q is for Quelf … and that’s all I have to say

Q is for Quelf. I played Quelf once during a game night with a group of friends. I’ve been to game nights a few times, but I they’re really not my favorite. So that’s all I have to say. About Quelf, at least.

Knowing when you have nothing to say is a skill. A lot of people don’t have it.

You can see this clearly just by visiting Facebook. People in the suburbs of Chicago will comment on police violence in New York City or on pilot mental health policies in Germany or on a “religious freedom” law in Indiana. They’ll post instantaneous reactions, give them life online without so much as a second thought. I’m generalizing here, but I know you’ve seen it.

Before social media took over, I used to run into this problem with my siblings – I’d spout off without thinking and accidentally offend one of them, causing an argument. I’m still guilty of this with my dad sometimes. Whenever I stupidly contradict him without having a solid opinion, or whenever I question his views without being well-read enough to have formed my own, I regret it. I feel like I’ve spoken out of turn, and I can’t take it back.

That’s why I’ve been trying to build the skill of knowing when I have nothing to say. My job helps. I cover liquor laws and pension policies and road projects and endless other things I don’t really have a stake in because I don’t live in the city I write about. So while I spend my days calling others in power and average Joes and Janes to see what they think, I’ve learned my opinion doesn’t really matter. This doesn’t mean I feel insignificant, I’ve just realized it’s best to stay quiet on matters that don’t immediately pertain to my life.

There are exceptions, of course. I see nothing wrong with expressing my views on topics I’ve covered out of personal interest – the gender pay gap, the social issue of the heroin problem in the suburbs, the Naperville Marathon. And I think it’s great if people speak up when they’re passionate and knowledgeable about anything – be it global warming, safe road biking practices, equal rights, the stock market or the Chicago Bulls.

Because when people are passionate and knowledgeable, that means they have something to say. But when they’re uninformed, thoughtless and rushed, chances are, their words won’t be of value.

My mom always has loved a line she helped me come up with for an internship application essay, something about the “power and integrity of words.” I’ve always loved the line too. Because words do have power and they do have integrity. But only when you actually have something to say.

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In the ABCs of Twenty-something life, P is for Packing

This is a phase for packing. Not packing a punch (except in kickboxing class), or packing a weapon (that’s not my style), but packing an overnight bag, an extra change of clothes, a lunch.

It’s a fact of our lives that we’re constantly in motion. For better or worse, our hours are spent commuting, running from place to place for work, sneaking home for some good food and a family gathering and becoming public transit pros as we journey to our friends’ scattered apartments, adult league soccer or softball games and alumni gatherings.

Our own apartments and houses aren’t so much living spaces as they are occasional home bases, holding all the things we don’t need on one particular journey, but may very well snatch up for the next. Sure, our daily travels frequently bring us home to our places, but often just for a pit stop on the blazing path to our next occasion or obligation.

All that motion might not seem like such an effort if it didn’t require so many things, so much stuff.

But it does. Staying over at the boyfriend/girlfriend/partner’s place on a Thursday night requires a change of clothes for date night if work wear won’t do the trick, something to sleep in, face wash and all the other nighttime/morning toiletries, clothes for Friday, and, if you’re cheap like me, an extra lunch to leave in the work fridge for that second day at the office.

See, we’re talking about packing. It’s a constant battle with the constraints of duffel bags and large purses, the limiting reagents of the laundry pile (socks, anyone?) and the boundaries of memory. You can’t pack it if you don’t remember you need it. And you can’t remember everything.

Going on a lakeside weekend trip with the family after a Friday at work takes just as much thought and just as many items. Pajamas for sleeping at the parents’ house, a swimsuit, towel, cover-up, sunscreen, sandals that are junky enough to actually get sandy and actual clothes to wear once the swimming’s over. Try thinking of all that on a Thursday night after a 10-hour work day, an hour-long run and two hour-long commutes, and there you have it – the everyday packing challenges of twenty-something life.

The feeling of living out of a bag can be discomforting at times, but the trade-off is simple math. Nights out with friends and early summer days with family are far greater than the annoyance of constantly packing and unpacking – even though it requires us to fight the subconscious urge to forget the very items we need the most.

These twenty-something years are spent in motion, and like it or not, gathering the necessary goods and packing them all up is part of what it takes to stay on track.

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