I went to the Bed, Bath and Beyond a few days ago.
I had to run in to get a new cartridge for my SodaStream machine because mine ran out and I have a serious addiction to bubbly water with a slice of lemon. I live in a college town and the kids are just getting back to school, so the place was packed. There were freshman and parents standing in the aisles, looking overwhelmed and dazed about what was about to happen to them.
I grabbed what I needed and got in line to pay when I noticed a girl and her father who were shopping together. The daughter was wearing a university sweatshirt and her father kept pushing up his glasses, clearly stressed out about choosing a desk lamp for her dorm. They looked ready to come to blows over color preference. He was showing her the features of the lamp he liked and she was having none of it. She liked the purple one.
I tried not to stare, but I love watching the kids come back to school. I tend to be enamored with normalcy. Since I started acting as a pre-schooler and worked consistently until I retired, I never got to be a full-time student until I attended college at age 28. By then, I was living in a four-bedroom house with my husband – so the experience was not at all traditional. I never got to fight with my dad about dorm furniture. I certainly had other exciting opportunities in my childhood, but there were many normal kid things that I missed out on. So, when I see others participating in these kinds of traditional life moments, I can’t help but find them intriguingly beautiful.
When the lamp battle was over, the father and daughter got in line behind me, both fuming slightly. When I stepped up to pay, the woman at the checkout stared at me. I started chit-chatting, which is what I tend to do, in the hopes that comments about the weather might divert attention from what I know is the real issue. She would not be deterred.
Had I seen Mrs. Doubtfire? I looked a lot like that girl. No, I looked JUST like that girl.
I responded by saying “I get that a lot” which is my go-to phrase because it is true.
She kept staring at me while I fumbled with my wallet. The dad behind me was tapping his credit card on the handle of the overflowing cart. I glanced back at the tower of shower caddies and plastic drawer sets and the purple, THAT’S RIGHT, DAD, PURPLE desk lamp in the cart. As I was signing the slip, I heard the dad telling his daughter that he really thought she needed just one more set of towels. Her sharp sigh indicated that she felt her current towel situation was sufficient.
I quickly grabbed my bag and left before the cashier could ask any more specific questions.
If I had been totally truthful, I would have admitted to the checkout woman that yes, when I was 14, for a few months I had filmed a movie. And now I’m in my thirties and I live in Virginia and although I’m thrilled that the movie was important to people, it’s strange to still be asked about it.
But if I had confessed, there would have been the calling over of other employees and selfies and questions holding up of the line and trapping everyone behind me in a movie-worshipping vortex. Because that’s what happens.
What I really wanted was for that dad and daughter to get out of the Bed, Bath and Beyond. I wanted them to set up her crappy dorm room with the purple desk lamp and the not-quite-enough towels. I wanted them to eat take-out burritos and chips out of a greasy bag.
Because then they would sit on the floor and the dad would realize it’s not just the towels he’s worried about. Maybe he gets up the guts to say he’s proud of her, or maybe he just says something about her needing to work hard and get good grades because she’s a smart girl.
And then the daughter would be embarrassed but secretly thrilled the way we all are when our dads say something dorky but sweet. And maybe she admits to being nervous about starting college and maybe she doesn’t – but either way, she feels strengthened by the fact that at this moment, all she has to do is eat a burrito with her dad who let her get the purple lamp anyway.
I wanted their night to be about her brave venture into the terrifying, thrilling world of college. I did not want it to be about the fact that a retired actor was in front of them in line at the Bed, Bath and Beyond. I didn’t want the focus of their conversation to be what I did more than two decades ago.
I know I romanticize the normal and that my adoration for the mundane could be a “grass is greener” situation. But I love those traditional social milestones and so I want them for others. I truly believe there is something inherently wonderful about the simple things in life – the connections, the transitions, the moments of silence. I love being able to acknowledge and enjoy them.
Maybe the none of it went down the way it went in my head, maybe there was not a single special moment or take-out burrito.
But I really hope there was.
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