We all grow up with some idea of the framework on which we'll build our lives. I'm not talking about hopes and dreams; I'm talking deep background. We might dream of being an astronaut, but unconsciously we assume that when we get back from our spacewalks there'll be a husband or wife, two-point-two children, two cats, and an aquarium. We aspire to win an Oscar, but we assume we'll display it on the mantelpiece of a brick fireplace in a four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath house on a shaded, Midwestern street. We hope to enter politics one day and to serve a term or two in the United States Senate; of course, it will be the great state of Iowa which will elect us to that post.
But in my experience, the framework is as subject to the whims of fate as are the dreams and aspirations. So here are a few aspects of my life that I never expected:
I never thought I'd live in California. I thought the farthest away I was likely to settle from Iowa was Minnesota or, possibly, Colorado. And yet here I am in a house we've owned for twenty-five years, in a town ten miles from the Rose Bowl and so close to the San Gabriel Mountains that north and uphill are synonymous. Two of my three children and my granddaughter are native Californians. I don't own a coat heavy enough for an Iowa winter anymore, and I can't remember the last time I saw an ice scraper.
I never thought I'd have a baby at twenty. I expected to graduate from college and then to work for awhile. Children were on the horizon - so firmly on the horizon that I had no idea when (or even if) I'd have any.
I never thought I'd like baseball, much less serve on the board of a youth baseball league for five years, learn to keep score!, and be glued to my television set during the World Series. And don't even get me started on hockey. (This is what happens when you have a son who likes to play games.)
I never thought I'd have a baby at forty-two. I was ready to retire from the high-pressure world of engineering to write fiction. I thought I'd get up early and write for three or four hours, take a long walk, chat with my agent or my editor, drink coffee in the afternoon with the other writers, and throw together a simple but elegant dinner to be served in my craftsman dining room after dark. Then I'd write a little more and go to bed. Rinse and repeat, every day for the rest of my life. A baby? At my age? Don't be silly. How can that even happen? (Well, I mean, I know how it happens, but to me? Not in a million years.)
I never thought I'd enjoy teaching middle school kids. Math. For free. I really, really, didn't see that coming.
I thought I'd have a lot more use for formal wear. I like to dress up; I thought I'd have many opportunities to do it, and that it would involve plenty of lace and satin and high-heeled slippers. I had no idea I'd spend so much time putting on the good jeans with a tee-shirt, a blazer, and some lipstick, and calling me 'ready.'
I thought I'd always be skinny and toned and bathing-suit-worthy. I mean, I was, for the longest time. And it wasn't as if anything changed in my diet or my exercise habits. But one day I woke up to the realization that I needed a Victorian swim costume if I was going to continue to swim in public places.
I never thought I'd own a dog. My daughter and I were in the car yesterday, waiting for a light to change, and I saw a pudgy middle-aged lady in a lime-green tee-shirt watch from behind while her little gray schnauzer pooped, and then lean over and pick up the poop with her hand gloved in a plastic grocery bag, and then tie the bag shut and walk on carrying a sack of warm shit like a purse. "Oh, dear," I said. "I've turned into that lady." The only difference? My dog is three times the size of hers.
I never expected to love sushi. Well, who in the Midwest does expect something like that? It's beyond comprehension, until you move to the West Coast. And taste it.
Okay, there you have it: the stuff I didn't know I'd live with. If you're young and you're making plans, I advise you to keep this in mind: life is unpredictable. Stay loose. Expect the unexpected.