816 North Opinion

A life plan fail is a family complete

The problem with life plans is also the best thing about them: They don’t always work.

My life plan when I was a teen? Graduate college by 23, married by 28, two kids (preferably girl/boy twins) by 31, a fun and exciting career as a photographer/airline pilot/television journalist, a house with a water view, and a sunken living room with white furniture for my family of four.

I nailed the first one: bachelor’s degree at 23.

I rocked the second: Married my mate at 28.

I did have a fun-ish career but it was in a field that I never knew existed before I went to college.

The rest? Eh, not so much. I did live in an apartment on a pond once, but that’s the closest I came to a water view. White furniture? That’s funny. No.

I have never even seen a sunken living room in real life.

The kids? Not exactly on plan: first one when I was 33, second at 35 — a boy and a girl close enough in age that they are often mistaken for twins. I had planned two kids and I had two kids.

Several years of two kids…and then?

At first I thought it was menopause, kind of early in life but hey, it comes early to some women, right?

It wasn’t menopause.

It was a baby.

And then, 11 weeks later, it wasn’t.

“These things happen sometimes,” the doctor told me both when I discovered I was pregnant and when I learned I was not.

I can’t lie: Realizing that our two kids were going to become three was an emotional process; going back to just the two? Equally emotional.

A few months later, it wasn’t menopause again.

At one of my first OB appointments, I was sitting across from a young teen softly crying on her mother’s shoulder. If I had to make up a back-story, I would say neither was expecting the child the teen was carrying and she felt very awkward in the obstetrician’s office.

That last part I totally got. When I looked around the waiting room, I realized that I was older than all the expectant moms, and the teen’s mom looked about my age. I suddenly felt awkward, and the tune “One of these things is not like the other,” played in my head. My belly was growing just like theirs but unlike a lot of them — I knew what was ahead.

I knew what sleepless nights feel like.

I knew what having a sick child felt like.

I knew what potty training, temper-tantrums and walking through a parking lot with active toddlers felt like. Been there, done that, have a closet of kid-stained T-shirts to prove it.

But when that child was born, it felt new all over again. Was it because of my more experienced age or was it because of the specific child? That last child was different than the other two. He was more relaxed, he spit-up less, he was happier and rarely cried.

Was he different because the family that he was born into was different? I had grade-school-age children who entertained him and made sure that if he started to cry I knew immediately. They loved feeding him, playing with him, even changing his diapers. He may have been my third baby, but he was their first.

Whatever the reason he is a textbook last child: doted on by his siblings, given more free-reign by his parents. He’s fun-loving yet manipulative; outgoing yet self-centered; he’s a bit sneaky and argumentative but also thoughtful and sweet.

And this week, the baby who taught me that one of the best parts of life happen when the plan doesn’t work turns 12.

Happy birthday, Noah

Susan Vollenweider celebrates her kids’ birthdays in the Northland. To listen to the women’s history podcast that she co-hosts or to read more of her writing visit www.thehistsorychicks.com or www.susanvollenweider.com.