Did Your Life Turn Out the Way You Planned?

I honestly never pictured what midlife would be like until I got here, and like most of my friends, I’m still figuring it out

Ask any little girl what she thinks her life will be like when she grows up, and she’ll probably regale you with an epic monologue about being a rock star, horse doctor or robot designer. She may tell you how many guinea pigs and children she plans to have (all named after Taylor Swift and Harry Potter) and show you a sketch of the Princess Elsa­–inspired dress she’ll wear at her wedding. But ask her again what she thinks her life will be like at age 50, or even 40, and you’ll get a blank stare. Come on, does anyone ever imagine what their life will be like in middle age?

When I think back to those days in my aqua-colored bedroom on Long Island, dreaming of where life would take me, it certainly never included dyeing the gray out of my hair every month, giving up European vacations so we can sock money away for college tuitions, or trying to teach my 82-year-old dad how to look up his old army buddies on Facebook. I honestly never pictured what midlife would be like until I got here. And like most of my friends, I’m still figuring it out.

But even though I could have never imagined the details of this stage of my life, I have to say, when I look at the broad outlines, I truly am where I always wanted to be. After a few early dreams of being either a “girl cowboy” in Wyoming or an actress on Broadway, I had a moment of clarity at the age of 14, as I was strolling through New York’s West Village with my family after seeing an off Broadway play (the details are forever etched in my mind—the play was "Album" by David Rimmer, at the Cherry Lane Theatre).

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I was mulling over the fact that I didn’t think I could ever be as good as the actors in the play, but I could perhaps write something like it. As we passed a guy sitting on a stoop strumming his guitar, I remember very clearly saying to myself, “I’m going to be a writer when I grow up, and I’m going to live in Greenwich Village.” If a secular Jewish girl could ever have a “calling,” this was it.

From that moment on, I never had any other vision of what my life would be. The kind of writer I wanted to be changed over the years, from playwright to novelist to magazine journalist, but the goal to live in the heart of artsy, cultural New York and to earn my living playing with words never budged.

And since the day I graduated from college, I have spent every working day as an editor or writer. Of course, there were bumps and setbacks along the road, stretches of unemployment when my parents asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to give computer programming or law school a try?” But they never lasted too long, and I plugged away and made it work.

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After a couple of detours living with roommates uptown, I finally made it to Greenwich Village when I was 26, and have never left. I’ve gotten married here, and I’m raising two daughters who can’t imagine living anywhere where there aren’t six trendy ramen shops within a three-block radius, and who use the fountain and lawns of Washington Square as their personal playground (don’t worry, the pot dealers have long since been replaced by artisanal gelato carts and a guy who plays Rachmaninoff on a grand piano he schlepps to the park every day).

So when a friend recently asked me, “Did your life turn out the way you planned?” the honest answer is, I didn’t really have a plan. I had a vision one day when I was 14, and I’ve managed to always keep that vision in focus, even if the details were fuzzy. Two blue-eyed kids? This brown-eyed brunette never saw that coming. A chance to write essays about my childhood on a website? Who even knew that would be an option back in the '80s? I can’t really imagine what the next 10 or 20 years will be either, but I like to think that finding out is what makes life interesting.

Tags: memoirs