On wanting to be/actually being a grown up

Here’s an announcement I would like to make to the world: I, Lauren, am 24 years old and am a fully-functioning, financially stable adult.

I can hear the applause from all of you and, really, it’s heartwarming.

But why is it so easy to say, and so hard to actually do? As much as I’d like to think I’m a grown up, there are many things in life that make me feel like it is otherwise.

AWESOME PARTS OF GROWING UP

Apartment (with a pantry! And a washer and dryer!), check. Car, check. Big girl job, check. Macaroni and cheese every single night for dinner if I want (and, let’s be honest, I always want), check. Lots and lots of bills, check.

Maybe the bills aren’t exactly awesome, but they are a constant reminder of how on my own I am. No longer do I have the convenience of sweet-talking my way into my folks paying for my gas, or for my electricity to be free when living at home. I have to pay for what I use, and it’s liberating in a weird sort of way. I have bills because I’m an adult, and being an on-my-own-in-this-big-bad-world adult is kind of awesome. Plus, it reminds me that the reason I’m able to afford these bills is that I am #blessed to have a pretty awesome job at a pretty awesome place.

NOT-SO-AWESOME PARTS OF GROWING UP

I can announce to everyone that I’m 24, and therefore am old enough to be “on my own.”

Getting people to believe me is a different story.

Case in point, my lovely parents. Lately, I feel like I’ve been having an uphill battle to prove myself, despite all of the Medals of Adultdom I have achieved post-grad (and even during school). There are points where I want to scream that they can’t tell me what to do. There are points where I could pull my hair out at my frustration of what feels like this ever-present leash.

There are times I wish I could say “I’m still your child, but I’m not a child anymore,” and have it actually mean something.

They are my parents. I respect and love them wholeheartedly, but I am struggling with stepping out from underneath their shadow and doing things that I want to do, apart from things that are parent-approved. If I want to spend all of my savings on a trip to Europe, then I feel like I am old enough to make that (potentially stupid) decision and go. If I want to chop off my hair or get a tattoo, then I should be able to without having to feel guilty because my mom will look at me with those sad, why-have-you-hurt-me-so puppy dog eyes.

I guess what I’m struggling with is: how old do I have to be before my parents, and the whole world, realizes that I’m not a kid anymore? How old do I have to be before my parents take a step back and really and truly mean it when they say “We have X, Y, and Z concerns, but you’re old enough and we trust you”? At what age does it suddenly become okay to make potentially life-altering decisions—a trip to Europe! buying a car! getting married!—without them having a (literal) panic attack?

AN ODE TO GROWING UP

I, Lauren, am 24 years old and am a fully-functioning, financially stable adult. I realize I have a lot of growing left to do. I realize I’m probably going to make a lot of stupid mistakes in life, and some of that will ease as I grow older. I also realize that, at 24, I’m not doing half bad for myself, and many of the decisions I’ve made so far have actually been pretty good ones.

Alexandra tells me that: maybe the point is that my parents may never actually accept me being a grown up, sadly but truly. Instead, I have to accept that that’s in fact okay. I will do what I am going to do and that’s a part of what being a grown up is.

Lauren is a social media professional/web content manager/overall awesome editor. She spends too much time talking about Game of Thrones and the Oxford comma. To be insta-best friends, follow her on twitter.

To my sixteen-year-old self.

Dear 16-year-old-Allegra,

Hey. Take off your headphones and stop listening to your punk-pop for a sec. It’s older-and-wiser you, and I’ve got some things to say.

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See? I’m totally legit. Eventually you master the doe-eyed stare without looking like a zombie, I promise.

You’re at a pivotal moment in your life when you’re starting to plan for your future. It is scary as hell. You’re going through this identity crisis and you keep claiming that you’re trying to “find yourself”—a worthy goal!—but you are losing track of the things you love and hold dear in the process.

You are all in flux, so I am here to offer some assurance—and some friendly, big-sisterly advice on a whole host of topics :] First up…

The people around you.
In six years, you will be able to count the people from high school you regularly keep in touch with on both hands. I know that you are frustrated with everyone calling you an angry feminist and nobody understanding why you are so committed to the things that are important to you, but you’ve got to recognize that the things they love are no less important. You need to seek out the best in people, rather than simply writing them off as shallow or unenlightened because they do not like the things that you do.

You are very much an island, and that all will change when you move away to school. You know that girl who sits next to you in economics class, Ashley? The one who’s always very happy and giggly and you think is airheaded and boring?

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This is the two of you in five years. This girl will change your life. She will be a friend for you and a shoulder to cry on when you move away for college. She will travel to London with you in 2011, and watch over you when you’re thousands of miles from home. She will introduce you to other folks whom you wouldn’t have considered befriending either, and they will keep you well-loved and well-fed and well-cared for. You spent all that time rolling your eyes at her, and at so many other people, in high school—but you were wrong.

You can find friends—great, irreplaceable friends—in the most seemingly unlikely of people. You claim to have such an open-minded philosophy, so live it!

Your family.

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Relationships with your family are tough. You feel like they don’t understand you, and they probably don’t because it’s been a while since they were 16 years old and their hormones were a-raging. Interactions are particularly tough with your dad, because you feel like he puts a lot of pressure on you and doesn’t appreciate and share in your little successes.

It will take most of your first year of college before you realize that your parents have raised you in a way entirely antithetical to many of the teenagers surrounding you, and that that was actually a good thing. Because your dad never let you miss a homework assignment, you will have cultivated a conscience that will not let you accept failure as an option. Because of this work ethic, you will be able to achieve things above and beyond what you ever could have conceived of in high school.

Allegra and proud parents 2

You and your dad bash heads so much because you are cut from the same cloth. You are similarly minded in that you are crafty and stubborn and have the memory of an elephant—you never forget. Instead of being angry when you run into confrontation, why not seek out commonalities? And your mom is an individual whom you should always strive to emulate, because she is giving of herself and her time and her talents in ways that are unparalleled. It is their work that has made you into the individual you are today: you are an amalgamation of all those who came before you. Honor that lineage.

Boys.
Man, you have dated a whole bunch of losers lately. You have dated, and will continue to date boys—not men—who will either push at your boundaries, or try to draw boundaries to confine you. Both kinds suck a lot.

Remember that guy who wanted you to compromise on what you were willing to do in bed? Remember that other one who told you that you were definitely going to hell for your desires and beliefs? Neither of them had any right to do that, but you lived and you learned after the dusts of the breakups settled. Now you know that nobody should seek to change you: to want to do so is to do violence to your identity.

Sixteen-year-old Allegra, you do not need to define yourself in relation to how others treat you. To feel the need to attach yourself to another person to find self worth is to be insecure with your body, your mind, and your spirit. You are your own entity: independent and mighty. In the words of Shakespeare: “though she be but little, she is fierce!”

And because you are so fierce, and so important, I need to tell you one more thing: you should never make someone your priority when you are merely an option for them. Relationships are most fruitful, most comforting, most successful when they are equitable—that is, when the two parties involved give and take equally. Your partner should value your talents and show appreciation for them accordingly, and they too should have opportunities to share what they love with you (whether that’s playing the guitar, or running marathons, or playing full costume Dungeons & Dragons, or…). They should value you, and communicate that value verbally and often—and if you don’t want to do the same for them, then they are not worth your time. Period.

Your mental health.
At this point in your life, you know in your heart that something is wrong with you. You are beleaguered by chronic feelings of depression and anxiety (even though you do not have names to call these feelings by, you feel them no less poignantly). I have good news and I have bad news about those feelings of terror and hopelessness that you have been getting every couple of months since you turned fourteen.

The good news is that there’s gonna come a day when you feel better. In fact, there will come days when you feel great.

The bad news is that before that day comes when you feel better, there will be many days that come when you feel worse.

In fact, you will feel so terrible that you will want to die. Do you think you are emotionally volatile now? You will hit twenty years old and all of a sudden your body will not be able to contain the heaviness of your soul or your anxieties about your future anymore. You will spend days unable to get out of bed. You will spend hours on the floor of your shower, trying to collect yourself and stop weeping before class starts. You will spend an inordinate amount of time eating plain oatmeal, bite by tiny bite, attempting to sustain yourself as your weight drops lower and lower and you retreat inside of your own doubts.

At twenty, you will finally seek the help that you have always needed and deserved. You have never been, and will never be, undeserving of help and of love. After six years of living with a body and a mind that were revolting against you, you will finally seek out that help, and it will save you. You are strong. You are brave. You are tough.

You will go through lots of therapy and medication and mindfulness and meditation. I am sad to say that this darkness will never go away, but your relationship with it will change. It will help you learn to relate to others, and to engage them with empathy.

Empathy is probably the best advice that I have to give you. Be happy, and be kind. You are a deep and pensive and very broody young woman, sixteen-year-old Allegra. You are an old soul, and that is admirable, but just because you don’t want to be childish does not mean that there is not value in being childlike. You should let yourself feel joy when you are joyous, and sadness when you are sad. As the poet Mary Oliver says in “Wild Geese,”

“You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

You have to take care of yourself. You have to give yourself time to laugh and to rest, as well as to study and to work. Learn to let things go, and to say “Enough for now. This is what I can do today, and that is enough.”


And a self-congratulatory note.
You’ve got a lot of hate and pressure in your life right now, so here’s some good stuff. Remember how you’d get picked on so much for being weird and nerdy and a total misfit? Over the next six years, you will…

  • Graduate from MSU (which, contrary to popular belief in 2007, was a much better choice for you than UM) with a 4.0 GPA. Remember how being 36th in high school made you so sad? Last spring you were first in a class of over six thousand students.
  • You’ll also give the commencement address.
  • Michigan State University will also put you on their homecoming court. Seriously. I’m not even making this stuff up. People really like you for some reason…
  • …And then they’ll pay actual money to keep you there for two more years for graduate school. Your life is bananas, really.
  • Travel to so many places and go on so many adventures. You’ll drink margaritas and roam the streets of Mexico, watch Shakespeare in London, climb the Great Wall of China, and more.
  • Publish poems and essays.
  • Make the church, and the world, a more inclusive place for queer, gay, lesbian, bi, and trans* people.
  • Date lots of boys. Like… a ton. And you will feel very fulfilled by this, and you’ll realize that that doesn’t make you a whore! Feminist liberation is very exciting.
  • Finally get the haircut that you tore out of YM magazine when you were ten years old. And it. Looks. Awesome.

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So chin up, 16-year-old Allegra. You’re one smart, tough cookie. I promise that you can and will make your way in this world—and while you will certainly stumble along the way, at least you will have plenty of exciting stories to tell.

Love,
Allegra, Age 22

Allegra graduated in May 2013 with a dual degree in professional writing and gender studies, and is pursuing a master’s in rhetoric and writing. She’s into queer theology, sex theory, and a whole host of other things that are impolite to speak of at the dinner table.

The Beauty of Cooking

Fresh spinach pasta w/homemade pesto & meatballs plus salad.

Fresh spinach pasta w/homemade pesto & meatballs plus salad.

Okay, guys (and gals), cooking is hard.

I began cooking for myself when I started at MSU in 2010. I did okay, mostly sticking with cheap things: beans, veggies, rice, pasta (I can still cook a badass lentil chili). I learned how to make homemade marinara sauce to save money and other great cheap-o things.

Even though I self-identify as a badass cook, I’m not really quite there yet. I’m working at being a badass. Because that shit is hard. It takes time, effort, experimentation, dedication, and a serious fucking love of food to be good at cooking.

I started to really experiment when I got my first real job in June of 2012. I had more money, and I was going to spend it. On food (and good beer, but that isn’t what this post is about).

Lavender cheesecake with earl gray whipped cream frosting.

Lavender cheesecake with earl gray whipped cream frosting.

Though I had already followed several food blogs, I quickly found more and more wonderful blogs to follow that gave me new and different recipes. I began to cook more meat (man, that was a process), began to buy expensive things (pine nuts are expensive but they make the best pesto!), and generally hang out in the kitchen more. It helped that I wasn’t just cooking for myself anymore, I was cooking for Jacob. It’s better to cook for others.

Cooking has become such a wonderful thing for me. I always enjoyed it, always loved putting together delicious meals, but now it’s something else. It’s another place for me to express creativity, to try new things, and to fuck up sometimes (okay, a lot). There is something magical to me about coming home when the sun is setting and throwing open the windows, chopping onions and managing not to cry, sauteing leeks to make a delicious leek quiche, kneading dough for the pizza I’m going to make in an hour.

Thai slow cooked pork, jalapeños, pickled carrots/onions/cucumbers, & Sriracha. Best sandwich ever.

Thai slow cooked pork, jalapeños, pickled carrots/onions/cucumbers, & Sriracha. Best sandwich ever.

It’s a time where I am allowed to be in the moment. I don’t worry about all the work I have to do, because hey, I have to eat. And I can focus on cutting peppers and slicing sausage into little medallions, and maybe sipping some wine while I do so.

Writing has always been my escape, and now cooking has joined the list. It’s fun. I get to eat the finished product. But, I think most importantly, I get to share with someone I love and who loves what I make. That part is pretty awesome, too.

I always wanted to be a badass cook from the get go. I wanted to throw shit together like my mom does and have it come out and taste like heaven. Except that sometimes the cake was hard and the soup was too salty. It’s easy to get frustrated at food, get mad that it won’t do what you want, but the trick is to take your time. Learn from it. Maybe you didn’t pick the best recipe, or maybe you had the oven too hot, or crowded the pan and nothing browned.

Oeufs en coquette - quail eggs, leek, zucchini, creme fraiche, & smoked salmon.

Oeufs en coquette – quail eggs, leek, zucchini, creme fraiche, & smoked salmon.

Cooking isn’t just a beautiful thing I do and eat. It is something that reminds me that it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to take your time with this. Watch the chocolate liquify. It glistens so beautifully on a whisk in the sunlight. The cheesecake needs to refrigerate overnight, but that’s okay, you can wait. The onions need to caramelize. Stir them, occasionally, sip your wine, and watch them transform. Add some mushrooms, that’s a kickass combination. Let your soup simmer for thirty minutes. Take the time to make homemade veggie broth with kitchen scraps, filtering out the little bits with cheese cloth.

Be patient with yourself. You aren’t going to learn to be the best chef there was with a few harder-than-mac-and-cheese meals. It takes a while to find your palate, to know instinctively what will go well together. You’ll make it, though, and even when you’ve made it, there will still be some epic fails.

Embrace them. You are human and you are a badass cook. That’s what I keep telling myself, and you know? I’m starting to believe it.

Some Food Blogs that I Love

Brown Eyed Baker
Budget Bytes
French Foodie Baby
Gimme Some Oven
Just One Cookbook
La Tartine Gourmande 
Mountain Mama Cooks
Table For Two

Want to see more pics of my food? Follow me on Instagram @vanessalevpom

Vanessa is a digital media coordinator by day and a writer, novelist, and badass cook by night. She loves used bookstores, is way too serious about tea, and doesn’t give a damn if she wears the same outfit 2 days in a row. She totally wants to be your friend, so you should follow her on twitter & maybe check out her writing blog.