Updated: Jan 30, 2020
In the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, we meet a young girl bold enough to break and enter, but one who also appears wishy washy when it comes to what she wants. This one was too hot. That one was too soft. And after a lot of this and that, she finally finds her sweet spot where it’s juuust right only to have completely wasted her time in the end. Goldilocks, disappointed and dismayed, probably ran crying from the bears’ house to her best gal pal wondering if she’d ever get her life together.
Same, Goldilocks. Same.
From what I remember about my twenties, there seemed a certain haze to it and not from the cigarette smoke that then filled bars from New Orleans to Manhattan. I was thriving in a complex existence of hustle and hangover. I was going places. The world was mine to take, and I was going to take it all without missing a single party. I can still smell the heady scent of aspiration at the bottom of my rum and coke. Back then, I had the stamina to hit the dance floor at night and hit deadlines by day. Call it youthful energy, but that’s the twenties—or at least my twenties. Until at the end of the decade, I had one baby and another on the way, and everything was still hazy but because of sleep exhaustion from motherhood. It changed on a dime—total freedom for me alone to total responsibility for tiny humans.
Did I regret the change in lifestyle? Hell no. Did I miss aspects of my twenties? Hell yeah.
A few nights ago I was sipping La Croixs with a twenty-something buddy. Having twenty-something buddies comes with the territory when you live a block away from Frat Row and are an ex-sorority advisor. I was sipping a La Croix because I’d been up since 6:30 in the morning and after a day’s work, had attended a flag football game, shuttled one kid to dance class, and another to swim practice before returning home to make some semblance of dinner, call out spelling words, and say goodnight prayers. Had I sipped wine, I’d have fallen asleep on my younger, hipper friend. She, meanwhile, was drinking a La Croix because she was hungover.
There we were, the family cruise director and the life-of-the-party partied out. It seemed my young friend was getting that itch—the one that instigates change. That “maybe the porridge is turning cold and I should switch bowls” kind of prickle. It was a classic walk of shame moment not because of one night, but because several nights my little buddy has been out there whooping it up. Drifting up from the bubbles of her nursed La Croix came the question she’d been chewing on since she woke up parched and wobbly. Was it time for her to stop goofing off and get her life together?
To which I responded, “Do you think I know?”
There I sat, eyelids half-mast, my house littered with cleats and dance bags, bills, and schedules, and feeling something that resembled an itch myself. I tried to ignore it.
For many of us, our twenties are sort of haunted. We have the freedom to do just about anything we want, but looming above is a foreboding warning that the party must eventually stop, and that in the near future, we’ll have to get our lives together. Now in my forties, I look back at my twenties, and even though I may have suffered at the hands of my own stupidity on occasion, I know now those years were precious and fleeting. They were at once exhilarating, confusing, frustrating, and man, did they go by in a blink of an eye, right? It reminds me of when I was a new mom. Like my twenties, having toddlers came with a conflicting mixture of feelings and it all went by way too quickly. I often find myself looking at pictures of my babies as babies, and I want to trade in and go back. Even though now that they’re older we have hilarious conversations, celebrate team wins, and can basically go on vacation anywhere we want, I miss the innocence of the early days. It’s the same when I look at twenty-somethings. I find myself wistful to be that young again, that fresh out of the box, and that full of wonder too.
Only, in the thick of our twenties, we knew it wouldn’t last because from deep inside, something whispered there was more out there if we’d just switch seats. In retrospect, it was no different in the sweet, simple early years of motherhood when I was willing to extend myself to not miss a single solitary moment of my children’s lives. I traded in parties for first moments. Yet inevitably, I still got the itch. I needed to give more time to me, and my kids needed to spread their wings. And even today, though I love my work, embrace the hustle of the afternoon sports and dance schedules, and squeeze in a perfect rosé when the opportunity presents itself, my life is often met with struggle. I’ve had a hard year, and some days I can’t help but feel the slightest urge to switch seats. It seems the itch always finds me.
And so I, too, had a question bubbling up from my fizzy water. Is all of this that I’m doing now just another bowl of porridge? Will I, like Goldilocks, keep indecisively switching spots until everything finally feels just right for good?
We tell younger people to embrace their youth and at the same time we murmur behind their backs that youth is wasted on the young because by the time they appreciate it, the bar is making last call. In turn, twenty-somethings itch for what they assume we have—security, money in the bank, and a plan. But we itch, too, for what we might have taken for granted—the freedom to be indecisive. Meanwhile, we’re eyeing the other chairs and bowls of porridge, and we miss out on the moment in which we are actually living. It’s natural to want what others have because glancing at the next chair over exposes what we lack. But the important question might not be, do we want something else, but rather why do we want it?
In the case of my twenty-something pal, does she honestly want to buckle down at 23 or does she just think she needs to because society, profiles she follows, or other outside forces bring the pressure to her? If I examine the contents of my day and question if there should be more to my life than what I’m doing, am I bringing on the itch or am I influenced by certain individuals, circles, and my own outside forces? And, for both us, who has it right? Us or them?
Will we ever get it juuust right?
Goldilocks was a trespasser, yes. Goldilocks probably should have gone to jail or at least have received probation. But Goldilocks was also one cool chick. She may have appeared wishy washy, but if we take a closer look, Goldilocks was you and me on our best day because Goldilocks wasn’t about to compromise. Sure, the three bears ran her out, but probably because that girl was living her best life with their things and in their house. She showed them that what they were missing was just beyond their paws.
I know enough to know that maybe getting it just right means getting a certain time right, a season right, or even just one minute of the day right. The porridge may turn cold, the chair may be hard, and the bed may be lumpy, but we can still win the day. We can seize the moment we’re living in and not look back so much that we miss where we are now. Getting this far means we’ve at least learned some things about ourselves. And, like Goldilocks, it’s okay to stay curious about who we are. Inevitably our needs will change, and when they do, if we focus on the source of that pesky itch, we won’t compromise when we do switch chairs.
And each time it does feel juuust right, we’ll maybe get to savor it too.
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.