Waiting for the Future
A few weeks ago, my friend Christine got a crazy idea in her head. “Let’s take a few days off and take the kids to a waterpark,” she said to me. “It will be so much fun for them, and we’ll have each other. Let’s wait to tell them until the day we leave – imagine their faces!”
Before Shawn died, I was always up for spontaneous things like this. But I’ve been more cautious in the past year and a half. However, when Christine proposed this idea, I said, “yes, that sounds like a great idea!” Maybe I was ready to be spontaneous again.
We reserved a big hotel room for all of us. We packed the kids’ bags in secret. The night before we left, her two kids “spontaneously” spent the night at my house. When they all woke up in the morning, I fed them breakfast and then gathered them together.
“We’re going to do something fun today,” I said, “so I need you all to get dressed.”
“What is it?” Claire asked.
“It’s a surprise,” I said.
She got a huge smile on her face. “Oooh! I love surprises!” she said.
I loaded up the car, and the kids soon followed. “How far away is it?” someone asked.
“About two hours,” I said. “But I’m not going to tell you where we are going until we get there.”
This statement, of course, only made them more curious. They peppered me with questions and wanted hints as to where we were going. After tiring of that, they played DJ and we sang together to all sorts of current pop hits. It was joyful and I was able to stay in the present, which is always a goal of mine.
After about an hour, they started to get impatient. “Mom,” Claire said, squirming in her seat, “can you please just tell us where we are going. It’s not fun to guess any more!”
“Nope!” I said, maybe too gleefully.
“Well can you give us something to do?” Claire asked.
“Okay,” I said, “how about you help me figure out my next blog post?”
“I know what you should write about, Ms. Marjorie,” Claire’s friend Niko said. “You should write about this car trip.”
“What would I say?” I asked.
No one answered. “I guess I could write about all of the times you all asked me about our final destination!” I said with a laugh.
“It’s just so hard to not know!” Claire said. “I like that it’s going to be something fun but I hate that I don’t know where we are going.”
I thought about this for a few minutes. “Well,” I said to the kids eventually, “I think in a lot of ways this car trip is like life. Right now, you don’t know where you’re going and it makes you feel a bit unhappy, even if we are having fun in the car. I guess in my life, it’s like that too. I’m having fun with all of you. But I don’t know the ending. I don’t know if I’ll be a teacher forever or become a writer. I don’t know if I’ll ever get married again. I don’t know what will happen for me when all of you grow up and move away. I don’t know a lot of things about the future.”
The kids and I talked about this for a while. Uncertainty is hard, I noted. They agreed.
As the next hour passed, the kids seemed to forget about me. They played music and lived in their own world, and I thought about my life.
Once, I had known what lay in the future, or at least I had a general idea about what would occur in the years to come. Now, in many ways, the future is blank. That open space of possibility that lies in the future is not necessarily bad, and could even be really wonderful, but here’s the rub: I just don’t know. And even for a 40-year-old, the not-knowing is really hard to sit with.
It took over two hours to get to the waterpark. When we were close, I pulled into a car dealership and made the kids get out of the car. “Okay,” I said, “I’m going to tell you where we are going.” I paused for dramatic effect. “We’re going to spend two nights at the waterpark all together!”
They all started screaming and hugging me. They were elated.
Back in the car, we talked about how hard it had been to wait. “But wasn’t it fun, in some ways, to have to wait?” I asked them.
“I didn’t like not knowing,” Austin said, “even if it ended up being a good surprise. I wish we’d known the whole time so I didn’t have to sit through all that time in the car when I thought we might be going somewhere boring.”
“I thought it was fun,” Claire said, “even if it was hard. And now we’re going to go on waterslides for three days!”
As usual, my kids’ understanding of the world helped me to think more about my life. Maybe there are metaphorical waterslides in my future. Or maybe not. Either way, I can’t really know.
All I know today is this: the waterpark was worth the wait. Especially the “Howling Tornado” ride. I screamed the whole way down and the kids laughed at my reaction. We got off the tube at the exit, and they looked hopefully at me.
“Can we go again?” they asked. Their faces were joyful. Clearly, the waterpark had been worth the wait.
What a wonderful surprise for all! I know you were as happy about their joy as they were.
It was a really fun trip!
Kristina Knapp Schwarz
I thoroughly appreciated this post! Your words are apt for multiple situations where life has not dealt us the path we planned to be on… I bet your kids had a blast! Keep writing… ~Tina
Thanks so much for this sweet comment! And yes – I think it’s true for a lot of different situations that not knowing the future is really, really hard.