My in-laws recently took my SIL and her brood on a trip to Disney. For several days, we got spammed with insta-worthy photos of my nieces and nephew with Elsa, my nieces and nephew with Mickey, my nieces and nephew looking adorably tired, looking excited, looking, well, like they were at Disney in all its Disney-ness.
Similarly, a few weeks ago, my family went up to the mountains. We had a great time. Truly. I snapped lots of insta-worthy pics of me in a hammock, the kids roasting marshmallows, husband and I in front of a waterfall (which he sweetly captioned, “The most beautiful thing I saw all weekend, and a waterfall). Later this summer we’ll meet our in-laws at the beach, and we’ll have lots of insta-worthy moments there, too. Kids building sandcastles and playing with grandparents and running in the waves, my son taking surfing lessons, eating ice cream on the Kitty Hawk dunes. It’ll be a blast.
Really, lots of fun.
But the moment I’m yearning for? This summer when I pull up to a normal house on a normal road in the middle of the Pennsylvania suburbs, and I see the best friend I haven’t set eyes on in years.
It won’t look cool. The light won’t look right and it won’t cost a ton of money, and we won’t do anything special. We’ll probably just see each other, break down and cry (me), go inside, sit at her kitchen table, eat, and talk for hours and hours.
I don’t want a big vacation. I don’t want a splashy resort or an amazing museum or even a beautiful mountain view. I want to see one of my oldest friends in person. I want to hear her laugh in real life, instead of on the phone. I want to see her roll her eyes at me, a gesture so familiar it will probably break my heart a little bit; I want to hear the mix of affection and frustration in her voice when she says, “Lizzie!” and goes off to yell at me about something.
You can’t make anything insta-worthy out of that “Lizzie!”
You can’t make anything insta-worthy out of the things I really want right now, in fact.
I want good friends. I want good friends who live near me, not far away. I want them to be there when I need them, the kind of friends who will clean your bathroom when your mother-in-law’s coming over and you have to scrub the baseboards and your dog just barfed in the living room and you still have to somehow parent through a maelstrom of laundry. Or the kind of friends who know you have the flu, but will drop a casserole on your doorstep, ring the bell, and run. The friends who know not to give you a potted plant because it will die, and instead gift you with a mug covered in unicorns that reads, “I’m fucking magical.”
These moments are not insta-worthy. But they’re the moments on which an entire life moves.
I want my kids to be happy. Not Disney-happy, not that kind of excited-for-a-few-days, overwhelmed-with-it happy everyone splashes over Instagram. I want my kids to find their deep-down happy, which is never insta-worthy, because you can’t catch it in a picture: their contentment, their peace. I want them to find more moments like the one in Target the other day, when my 5-year-old cried that he didn’t have any money to buy a toy, and my 7-year-old piped up, “Here, you can have ten dollars of mine.” Can’t make that insta-worthy. But that’s a deep-down peace with the self you can’t find at a resort. I want them to find pride in their work, be it whittling or drawing or making cretaceous dioramas out of LEGO pieces.
Everyone’s partner has a thing, whether it’s working out or biking or collecting or reading. It’s not something you can stick on the internet for everyone to ooh and aah about. But it’s something we want more of for them. I want my husband to work less and fish more. Maybe those fish pics, those are insta-worthy. But the time he spends on the river — the early-morning dinosaur cronks of angry herons, the splash of carp fins, the otters peeking from their dens, the cold water on a hot day, the stippling of a nature brown trout that got away, the fight of reeling in a gar — you can’t wrap those moment up and make them insta-worthy. But those are his touchstones. They keep him whole, they keep him happy and sane in the middle of children and housework and the demands of a busy, exhausting life.
I want more time with the friends I have.
I’ve Instagrammed some pics of me hanging out in my friend Patrick’s garage. But they’re dumb pics of some cigarettes and beer cans, stupid college pictures that say, “Look, I escaped my kids!” They don’t say: This is my friend from forever back. This is my friend who will always help me bury the body, who I jokingly call Penny, after a TV character who signs a millions-year contract to help someone.
My time with my friend Jonathan is limited at best; he has a daughter and I have sons and our schedules never match. And when we get together, we watch movies and have very long, very intense, completely honest conversations. Also not insta-worthy: the moment when you tell someone something totally true, totally honest, totally bare, something you’d never tell anyone else. I get that when I see Jonathan. I want more of it, more of him.
I don’t want to show you how perfect my life looks. I don’t want something I can filter and edit for highlights and shadow. I want something real to hold onto. I want the solid ground under my feet: time with real friends, a solid relationship with my husband, happy children. You can’t snap that pic, filter it up, and make it insta-worthy.
But I crave it more than any vacation. More than magical experiences that would make you drool: gorgeous vistas, children in seersucker, adorable selfies, sunsets over lakes.
Give me something I can’t put on a screen. Give me something I can’t point to, something I can’t hold. Give me something real.
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