So the Cape House is officially on the market. I saw the listing last night on Trulia, and the pictures look amazing. Even if I’d never seen the place I would totally buy it – if I had an extra $1.65 million laying around.
It’s strange to see our house stripped bare of the little things that made it home; our childhood pictures have been taken down, the bookshelves emptied, furniture cleared out. It’s so white now, so stark and anonymous. So different from the vision my mother had for it when they bought it.
See, she had a plan. The rough sketches of it must have formed in her mind when we were kids, and the prospect of not having us close by seemed inconceivable to her. When all four of us ended up in Boston, those sketches fleshed out to a full-fledged blueprint of our family’s future: with all of us settled around the Boston area, she would retire, leave New York, and buy an apartment in Brookline, where she could keep tabs on us forever. (Dad would travel back and forth on the weekends.) The Friday night dinners of our childhoods would resume; a gaggle of grandchildren would grow up together, spoiled beyond repair by their “Bubbles”; and, naturally, weekends and summers would be spent at The Cape House, the family headquarters just an hour’s drive away, where Mom would take her grandbabies to play in the tide pools. We would all live happily codependent – and up in each other’s beeswax – ever after.
I don’t remember her ever telling me this plan; she just channeled it to us osmotically, the way only mothers can, so that we all knew what her intentions were. And because my mother’s plans had an uncanny ability to elbow their way into reality, it felt almost inevitable. I was game for it, envisioning an extension of my own childhood and an idyllic one for the future first cousins – with a little crazy thrown in to keep it interesting.
But it didn’t work out that way.
Before she could even think about retiring, Mom got cancer. A year later, she took her last breath at The Cape House, the very place where she imagined starting the sweetest chapter of her life. The iceberg of her family cracked and separated, each of us drifting along our own current. One brother moved across the country. My father stayed in New York and remarried. Somehow, I ended up in New Jersey. Mom’s “Happily Codependent Ever After” never came to be.
The contrast between my mother’s vision and what life actually served up was never more glaring than when I looked at those gorgeous pictures of the Cape House on Trulia, now a blank canvas waiting for a new family to make it home.
For a minute, it was really sad.
But then I realized that even if it had worked out exactly the way Mom planned it, it would never have been as idyllic as she (or I) imagined it would be. It might have even been a disaster. We would likely have gotten under each other’s skin, fallen into old patterns, overstepped boundaries, and talked about each other instead of communicating. There would almost certainly be periods when someone wasn’t talking to someone else. Our kids might have even hated each other. Mine would have probably liked my mother more than me, which I would resent – even if I couldn’t blame them. Who knows what kind of toll travelling from New York to Boston and back would have taken on my father? Or my parents’ marriage?
We all have “plans” for our lives, visions of how things should turn out. But life rarely ever works out the way we want it to – and maybe that’s a good thing. Had my life turned out the way I envisioned it at eighteen, I would be living in L.A. with blonde hair and black roots, a tattoo of the Chinese character for “luck” on my shoulder blade, and tangled in a tempestuous, penthouse-smashing affair with pre-AA Colin Farrell. (Fist-bump to God for vetoing that one.) Instead, I live in suburban New Jersey, an Orthodox Jewish mama with a minivan and a writing career, who finds sober, humble Colin Farrell a whole lot more appealing.
So while there will always be regret about the rosy future my mother mapped out, and the many more happy years the Cape House was supposed to hold for us, I think there was an even better plan that was way beyond my mother’s limited vision. Of course, I would give anything to have Mom back, and I could do without the loneliness of not having family nearby. But being forced to make it on my own has revealed some incredible gifts – gifts my mother’s plan never would have given me.
I believe that there are no mistakes in God’s world. What happens is what’s meant to happen – and what’s for the best. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck sometimes, or that it’s not disappointing when we don’t get what we want. It breaks our hearts to lose the things we thought we’d have forever. But I’ve found that the empty pockets in my life are somehow filled over time, quietly, almost by surprise, and in ways I never could have expected. So I try not to make plans, which is essentially giving God directions. Instead, I ask God what’s planned for me, because I can guarantee you it’s better than anything I could have cooked up.
When the Cape House sells, I will miss it, and I will mourn what it could have been. But I will also wish the family who buys it the same joy it gave us for a while.
And I will be grateful that, for reasons I will never know, my mother’s plan didn’t work out.