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>Reality vs. The Dream

March 19, 2010


I haven’t stopped thinking about wise Fanny all week. Reading her story, fictional or otherwise, makes me want to think about mine. Here goes:

The Dream:

Move to London, get an advanced degree in Art History. Curate at the Tate or the Getty. Marry someone gainfully employed (like a doctor or a lawyer) who loved art and literature. Spend summers in Italy or the south of France. Have two babies, a girl and a boy. Hire a housekeeper. Work if I feel like it, stay home if I don’t.

It wasn’t a well-defined dream. It was more of a “what’s next?” kind of dream – what will happen AFTER I graduate, AFTER I get married, AFTER I get a job, AFTER I have kids (clearly, not in that order). I was far more focused on the “when” than the “now.”

The Reality:

Move to Maine. Get an advanced degree in Corporate Culture. Work (slavishly) for a minor celebrity. Marry an engineer who likes movies and sports. Spend our summers mowing the lawn, remodeling and tearing up the backyard. Go on dates to Home Depot. Have two babies; both boys. Be my own housekeeper, maid, laundress, and chauffeur. Work to keep my kids in private school.

It hasn’t been anything like I imagined.

We’ve lived in four homes now. We owned three of them (currently carrying just one back-breaking mortgage, thank-you-Silicon-Valley). In each of the last three, upon moving in, we looked around and thought “This is it! This is where we’ll raise our family!” While I was envisioning nurseries and bunkbeds in our first house, life was making other plans and we sold it just one year later. After accepting that a change was eminent, I began making plans to move someplace new, someplace hip and different – like Austin. Or Raleigh/Durham. Or Colorado Springs.

Where did we end up? Silicon Valley. Again. The place I was raised, and thought I left behind permanently.

We floundered for a few months, found a house, bought it, and began making new plans. We ripped, we hauled, we painted, we tiled, we sheetrocked and sanded and painted some more. We raized. We dug. We concreted and tanbarked and planted and watered and suddenly…we were back on the market and moving further south.

I remember laying in the middle of the hallway sobbing, while I was supposed to be wiping off the new baseboards that the carpenters had smeared with fingerprints. I was working 10+ hour days at the ad agency, driving 45 minutes to an hour home in traffic, and immediately picking up paintbrushes and sponges trying to check off just one more of the NINETY-NINE items our realtor had instructed us to complete before the home would be ready to sell.

Meanwhile, our dream home (we thought) was already for sale and could be snatched up by someone else any second.

That was the most exhausting two weeks I’ve ever spent – but we did it, we got it on the market and 7 days later had our first offer. Then another. And another.

But, despite our best efforts, that dream home slipped away. Now home-less, we moved in with my dad and started looking around.

What we found, and could afford, was an untouched 1950’s ranch that smelled, and a backyard that was (literally) being farmed for produce. We tried to see beyond the small, dark rooms, the rank carpet, the overgrown yard, the hodge-podge of patio space and homemade (and crumbling) brick-and-concrete “fort.” We found kindly neighbors, a safe street, an enormous yard and room to improve.

When my agency was facing eminent closure due to the failing economy, I jumped ship early and started commuting the other direction. I worked my way up to an executive job, an office with a door and a window and a staff that I respected, and I think (and hope), respected me. But working and slaving, and doing it all every year with less and less budget became less and less appealing and that hour I’d spend in the car every day became more and more valuable. I didn’t care that I made good money, or had my own door. I wanted to be closer to home. I wanted to not have to rush off and miss the pledge of allegiance each morning. I wanted to go to all the class parties, not just one or two that I could squeeze in around my meeting schedule.

I’d watch my stay-at-home mom friends planning their mid-week beach trips, and morning hikes. I’d get invitations to birthday parties at 2pm on a Thursday afternoon and wonder…why me? Why do I have to work to live here, and they don’t? I would hand over my Ann Taylor suits for Old Navy chinos any day and trade lives with them.

I’m sure many assumed I worked because I wanted to. Don’t get me wrong, I do love to work. I love what I do, but this isn’t how I planned to raise my kids. We could move, I suppose, but it would force G to begin yet another career –our kids are happy, and healthy and we are aided in their development by a fantastic team of teachers and administrators that really love them, always have.

Two babies later, I now work as a secretary to keep my kids in this high-quality private school. I freelance when I can. I get up at 5:30 just to get a few minutes of exercise, and I head to the laundry room the second the doors close on the kids’ rooms at night. He makes dinner, I clean up. I load the dishwasher, he empties it. He reviews the math homework, I drill in spelling. If I’m really on top of my game, I know what we’re having for dinner before 5pm, and it might even be a balanced meal. He asks me every day “What are we doing tonight?” and, every day, I say “nothing.” But what I really want to scream is “The same thing! Every day! Dinner. Dishes. Homework. Baths. Stories. A tantrum or two. Laundry.” And maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to sit and watch an entire episode of LOST before falling asleep.

It’s not what I dreamed of. It’s nothing like I planned.

What would I do if my own Fairy Godmother popped in one night, ready to sweep me off to that life of dreams?

I’d tell her: “No thanks, Fairy Godmother. I’ll keep what I have. I’m good.”

Photo: This is what we do for fun on the weekends. We lay sod.
3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2010 4:33 pm

    >Fantastic post. Seriously, one of your best. And having been enviously eyeing your lovely home since we started dreaming of owning a house, I never would have guessed that it was once as you described it. Oh, and love the picture!

  2. March 19, 2010 7:34 pm

    >I agree with Christy – great post! Your house is lovely and I love spending time there. I know you're put a lot of work into it but I hope you love it there too. Thanks for the reminder that what we plan is often not as great as what transpires.

  3. campbelld72 permalink
    March 22, 2010 4:38 pm

    >Great post! Reminds me of the quote at the top of your blog: "Life is what happens when you're making other plans." (J. Lennon)

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