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Not quite 6:00 and the baby is making sounds. I put my coffee down quietly, wait; try not to make any noise at all. Waking up earlier than he does is a secret I intend to keep. 

I had last week off from work. Typically – or at least, in the Before Times – I would have taken a flight somewhere, perhaps extending my vacation an extra day or two to return on a weekday. I had my routines down when I flew all the time: the toiletries bag already, permanently packed; a small tote of cords and my passport at the ready. I was an excellent traveler. 

I’m happy I knew how lucky I was to travel as often as I did.  

Instead of boarding a flight last week, though, two of my best friends from college came west, which is just about the next best thing. It’s a trek to get out here, involving a long flight across a whole continent and an exhausting drive on twisty roads, but the reward comes quickly: redwoods and ocean and plants that look like they were borne out of a Dr. Seuss imagination; wine and seafood and whale watching. My baby. Me. The world I’ve built here; the home I’ve created. 

I found myself thinking about the ways in which our lives turn out differently than how we expect. Maybe that isn’t true for everyone; of course there are people who dreamed up their adult lives as children, constructed exactly that when the time came, and are fully satisfied. I don’t think I know those people, though. What I’ve seen, instead, and what I’ve experienced myself is something ultimately more interesting: experiences and people that, if we let them, shape us, challenge us, and help us grow. 

Last week, we talked about the people we knew – our families, our siblings, our friends – and caught up the way you can only catch up in person. We are the same people we’ve always been, only older and – I do think – wiser. I see them, these beautiful, smart, thoughtful women who have been in my life for decades, and I’m just so very grateful. I didn’t want to attend the large university where we met, yet if I hadn’t, we never would have crossed each other’s paths. 

Maybe it’s a good exercise, every now and again, to think about the unexpected turns we’ve taken in our lives. I didn’t expect to live in California. I swore I’d never get divorced. I thought I’d have children as a young woman. I couldn’t have predicted a pandemic that would disrupt so much. I thought I’d always find a way to travel. 

Yet here I am, creeping around my house to avoid waking the baby in this early-morning hour, and the truth is undeniable: I’ve had so many twists in my life, but where this road has taken me is a place I wouldn’t trade, a place – among the redwoods and next to the ocean – where the reward is my life, itself.  So I put my coffee down carefully, and hope I can remember this all.

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