This mystifies many of my friends, who are designing retirement homes in their heads, climbing the chain of command at their various places of employment, and picking out onesies for their grandbabies-to-be. Still, it’s worked out okay for me.
In my twenties, I did not plan to buy a house (I planned to buy a co-op) or become a mom (I was an auntie already). I did not plan to find a full-time job that paid the bills, afforded me some autonomy and connected me to a broader social change movement (I planned to be an actor).
I have always, on the other hand, dreamed.
I dreamed a life for myself in a two-bedroom house, front door hidden behind a wild garden with a twisty path like the flower-trellised front yard on my California block when I was five, a longtime partner and a cat (maybe two cats), a job which sustained me financially and – oh, yeah – tapped my passion for writing, for acting, for directing or teaching, with enough mad money to head to a café or a pub or a show at night whenever I had the urge.
I was not one of those girls who dreamed my wedding at eight years old, or dressed future children in my mind with neckties and frilly dresses for Sunday services.
My dream was like a thought bubble drifting up into the clouds, an image, never quite close, never completely in focus. It shifted shape. It bobbed along just out of reach. It calmed me in my times of need.
* * *
It was never a plan.
* * *
I had a challenging workday this week, more challenging than usual. I arrived at the office still starving for sleep – thanks to the orange and white cat who slept most of the night on my head, until I lifted him into the air with my pillow clutched tightly in his razor-sharp claws and we knocked the cup of water off my bedside table, after which, with a hiss and meow, he landed on his feet on the bedroom floor and I debated for five minutes the pros and cons of standing, fully awake, to grab a towel to wipe the mess at three a.m. – and thanks to the late-night hemming of my daughter’s pajama pants which I will handle next time with hemming tape because it took me over an hour.
After making it out of the house (a miracle in itself) and into the city for work, I turned on my computer at 8:45 a.m., searching my in-box for final approval on an agency blog post (“Community Superheroes: Donning Our Capes”) which I quickly published. By 8:53, I was bombarded by a colleague’s awkwardly articulated and yet clearly urgent need to send a communiqué to 3000 people. I offered an equally awkward reply – something about how this particular framing of our message might confound and confuse its recipients. What?
Another colleague called four of us into a brainstorming meeting, and immediately left the room. Ummm…
A fifteen-minute project turned into three hours of struggling with hidden format code which turned black font orange and orange font grey, Times Roman into Cambria and Calibri into Arial… need I go on? Dare I? It was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day. We used to have a book about days like these. You know the one I mean?
I tried a few chocolate espresso beans from my office-mate’s stash as a little pick-me-up. They were super tasty but I’m not sure they helped.
Finally, just past 6 o’clock, I arrived at the home of a friend, who had picked-up my daughter from after-school care since my partner was out with clients and by then, I was out of my mind. We chatted for that half a second before my daughter bounded down the stairs. You know the half a second I mean? The one you squeeze your whole day into before your presence is required for whatever it is that’s more urgent than the day’s debrief. “Hi, Mami!” she said, and then rushed outside in her fuzzy purple monster backpack with a polka-dotted bathrobe flung over one arm, racing me to the car. I trailed behind, cuddling her unicorn pillow pet close to my chest. “I had the Best. Day. EVER!” she exclaimed. Pajama Day, extra recess, music, art. I felt my mood – slowly – begin to lift – as she gleefully spilled into my heart the stories of her day.
That’s what it took – my little girl in the backseat telling stories about her sunny day – and after weeks of deliberating and chastising myself for the irresponsible approach I apparently had to my own life, it came to me: I am living the dream.
I’m not walking on clouds or anything. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s really hard. Sometimes it’s truly awful. But mostly it’s not. And when it comes down to it, the life I have – 2 kids (1 grown), 2 cats, 2 dogs, a house just outside Chicago with its bit of sidewalk leading up to our 3-bedroom home, a loving partner, an amazing job connecting me to smart and passionate people who share a vision for social change – is some version of the plan I’ve had my whole life. Some version of my dream. Coming into focus.
It can’t all be written down. It’s not all under my control. But it’s real. And it’s here. And it’s mine.
What’s your dream? Do you know?