I can’t remember how old I was when I first became enchanted by the White Picket Fence mentality. Was it when I was fourteen, dizzy with hormones and a singular longing to be kissed? Or 19 when I was torn between taking flight into the world and anchoring myself to a soul mate? Perhaps it was when I was 27 with a freshly-inked master’s degree and a desire to be schooled in weightier issues of the heart. It had definitely happened by the time I was 29 and engaged, looking forward to a long life with my beloved and our offspring in a beautifully renovated Victorian home with a white picket fence and a well bred dog that we would train to poop in the toilet. What’s truly dizzying is the majesty of that imaginary future.
Within a year of my marriage things had already started to unravel. Eventually we moved into a cute little Victorian home where we began to raise three children. One of the few things we had in common was our dedication to that imaginary future; unfortunately we weren’t equally committed the reality of the present. It was messy, painful, chaotic, and exhausting. It took eight years for me to realize that I would only exit the anguish alone; we divorced and I grieved lost expectations.
Suddenly I became that woman. The single mom with three kids driving a beat-up minivan and struggling to make ends meet. I borrowed yet another cliché that placed our family in the lowest income bracket and predicted my children wouldn’t attend college. I became well acquainted with pity and almost clairvoyant when married women would look at me. Thank heavens, I could imagine them thinking, I will never be like her. Of course that’s what I thought in the eye of the storm, when my wounds were most tender and thoughts least clear. Now I realize that those women were most likely feeling a sister’s pain, or perhaps, communicating a common understanding, a sad union of souls.
When I first proclaimed that sometimes there’s no grass, it was a bitter statement, a poor-me decree. I had constructed a life based upon stolen ideologies, and it hadn’t worked. Next I conceded to the only ideology I assumed was available, that of the poor single mom, and it didn’t work for me either. What I now realize is that I was building from the outside in—or from the picket fence to my heart, from the bumperless Caravan to my soul. What I hadn’t yet realized was the need to work from the inside out, crafting a life that first reverenced me and then everything with which I connected. And now, at 40, I’ve finally decided to create my own ideology and engineer a life that is not cliché—a here and now that uniquely suits me and my children, and, lest I forget, one that is grand and enchanting. Does it really matter if it has no grass?
When I was 20, I lived in Japan for 18 months, and I still remember the first time I walked out a backdoor to discover a Zen rock garden instead of a grassy yard. I was mystified and exhilarated. There is something liberating about the unexpected. I intend to embrace it.