You’d think I’d have learned by now that things never quite turn out how I imagine they will. Maybe it’s my natural midwestern optimism, my slightly elevated naivety, or just the refusal to expect the worst (that’s my husband’s specialty – I’ve learned to appreciate it over the years).
Let’s start with something simple and emotionally uncomplicated, relatively speaking. Being a writer. It seems like it could be glamorous or cool or leading to a world of fame and recognition. But for this piece it involved me tearing myself away from a show I was binge-watching due to my feeling under the weather. It also meant neglecting the Shabbos dishes which I already neglected the night before, so that’s an increased yuck factor plus a feeling of failure for not living up to my unreasonable expectations for myself.
Writing regularly also means thinking of a topic for a piece when I feel tapped out, or when I feel down about something personal enough that I can’t actually write about it. When that happens, naturally the only thing I want to write about is precisely the thing I cannot write about, so then I either end up writing something spectacular and it resonates with people and I feel good, or I write something mediocre which resonates with people and I feel bemused, or I write something spectacular and it gets zero attention and I feel completely deflated and keep checking all day to see if maybe someone noticed it.
You might think I talk about writing all the time in my “real” life, but actually I barely mention it. I feel a little uncomfortable bringing it up. Okay, a lot uncomfortable. In the past I’ve had people make comments like “oh, but you’ve never written for a physical magazine? So you’re not really a writer, then.” Even when I meekly or defensively mention that, you know, I do actually get paid for doing this, which, technically, does make it, like, an actual job, I still feel that maybe I’m a fraud. Maybe they’re right. So I don’t like to bring it up.
That’s writing. It’s personal, but yet, not so personal.
What about the solidly more personal stuff, like marriage, and children, and familial relationships? That’s the juicy stuff. That’s the stuff that we both need to talk about and yet really can’t, not in a completely public setting.
I mean, we can, and sometimes we should, sometimes we must. But sometimes we shouldn’t, and sometimes we can’t. And sometimes we just don’t want to.
But I think it’s fair to say that we all have expectations for what these relationships are going to be like. What’s it going to be like to be married, to have another person that we’re connected to, this other half of our soul?
How do we even know what that means, the other part of our soul? Is it normal to want to strangle the other part of our soul from time to time? Is there a midrash for that somewhere? It seems to be a normal enough feeling, from my highly unscientific research on the topic.
How could we know if the other side of our soul is vastly different than the half-soul we’ve always had? When I was in college and slightly after, most of the relationships I was in were based on things like common interests in art or music or something like that. Cultural commonality.
My husband and I have almost zero overlap in our cultural interests (except, thank G-d, a mutual love for Sci-Fi). I could not have predicted that. That was certainly very very unexpected, and yet, while sometimes I do wish I could share deeply nerdy musician jokes about Brahms being cranky or whatever, I appreciate that our relationship transcends the stuff we like. We love each other more than we love the art and music we like. That was also unexpected, in a wonderful way.
What were my expectations on becoming a mother? I really don’t remember. It wasn’t something I recall ever giving a whole lot of thought about, which now is something I feel guilty about, like so many other things I wish I had prepared more for, mothering-wise. I didn’t expect how one minute I will feel like taking time for myself is the most important and best thing I can do for my children and the next minute I feel like a self-centered monster. It’s ludicrous.
I didn’t expect to be so bad at remembering things like having an after-school snack ready, or to fill out all the endless endless forms that come with having children in school, or to remind everyone to use the bathroom before going anywhere. I also didn’t expect being so good at helping them with Lego, or with being able to stay calm in highly stressful situations (not always! But sometimes). I didn’t expect to love putting them in matching clothing on outings. Not only does it look cute, but it makes it so much easier to spot them in a public place.
A decade ago I was able to share everything about my children online. I wrote so many posts and shared so many pictures of them. But now it’s different, now I see how they may not appreciate having all their foibles and adorable yet mortifying childhood antics shared on the internet. I didn’t expect how hard it would be to withhold those moments. People go wild for pictures of kids. And it makes people happy. It makes me happy to see pictures of my friends’ kids online, so why should I be stingy with mine? I didn’t expect to feel so conflicted about this.
All of these are relatively mild, though. Unexpected events like having a child with special needs, or the dissolution of a marriage, or an untimely death, or intense family discord, or crushing financial pressure, or chronic illness – none of those things are usually in the expectations we have for or lives.
Don’t we all have a nice script for how life is supposed to go, and haven’t we all found that, in fact, the script in our mind and the script for our life is wildly divergent at times? I have found solace in learning to expect the unexpected. To be intensely grateful for the little unexpected moments, the ones that are aggravating but not life-changing. And to know that at any moment, something life-changing may come along, but that the script that I have for my life is, truly, irrelevant.
The most relevant thing I can write is to remind myself to cultivate the strength and resilience to flow along wherever my script takes me. And to make whatever edits I can through my choices, both in thought and deed.