From little things, big things grow

The Question: How similar is your life today to the life you imagined as a child?

The innocence of childhood allowed me to believe that I would grow up to be a vet who had a large cattle farm and spent half the day riding horses. My farm house had a large kitchen with a slow combustion stove and a large mahogany dining table that seated 12 people.

My bedroom on the second floor was a pale Wedgwood blue, and the staircase was carpeted in red wool.I spent every afternoon riding through paddocks, checking cattle in perfect weather.

John Lennon was going to be Prime Minister (of the entire world if I recall correctly) and peace and harmony reigned.

Everyone had whatever job they wanted, lived wherever they wanted and pretty much did whatever they wanted.The reality is the first 3 are not part of my daily ritual, I don’t have the farm house, nor the dining table.

For a while I had a pale Wedgwood blue bedroom but never the red wool carpet.

We know what happened to John Lennon and all is not peace and harmony.

But life is pretty good despite it not going to plan.


I was raised in a middle class family in Sydney, Australia. As a child my biggest concerns were passing school exams, winning next weekend’s soccer match, the size of tomorrow’s surf and getting my sister out of the bathroom in the mornings. My parents made life very easy for me.

We seemed to have the family that inspired American sitcoms like Father Knows Best and Leave It To Beaver.

I assumed I would leave school, get a good job for a large firm, marry a pretty girl, have a few ungrateful kids and a house with a large yard and luxurious garden in a nice suburb. It wasn’t something I questioned.

I did have dreams, but I never considered them anything more than just dreams. One persistent dream was that I could be a professional horse rider. Horses were/are a passion. I thought how great it would be to ride every day and make a living out of it. I even fantasized about riding my horse to school each day.

After graduating school I attended a rural university in the hope of obtaining a science degree. I didn’t have enough money to buy a car, so I never even bothered learning to drive. This created a dilemma about how to get to lectures each day and go shopping in the local town and how get around the district.

My genius solution to this problem was to ride my horse everywhere. I received many funny looks and enquiries about my horse parked outside the super market. Students would be sent scattering as I galloped up the hill of the walking track on my way to campus. It wasn’t until many years later that riding my horse everywhere was a fulfillment of my fantasy of riding to school a few years earlier.

Later I graduated with a PhD and 15 years as a medical researcher followed. But it came to end in the early 1990s when I changed paths to become a professional horse breaker. Again another fantasy fulfilled. Then 6 years ago, I changed professions again to teach horsemanship rather than train horses.

I did get the pretty wife and I did get the house with the large yard and luxurious garden. I missed out on the children and well-paid job for the large firm. But most surprising is that the dream to be a professional horseman came true. Who really ever gets their fantasies fulfilled?


As a child, I don’t think I ever imagined what my adult life would be. I certainly don’t remember dreaming. And if I did, this certainly wouldn’t be it.

What child would imagine a life filled with insecurities, self-doubt and disappointment? When I think about it, I was probably too busy dealing with my insecurities, self-doubt and disappointments of my life as a child.

Sigh…It’s moments like these where I am grateful for my understanding of God. Not in the religious sense, but in the sense that, through God, I am a spiritual being.

And as a spiritual being, if I want to understand my inner child, I need only to go still and ask her. How did she imagine my adult life to be?

As it turns out, my life today is exactly the life I imagined as a child.

  • Courageous? Check.
  • Strong? Check.
  • True to who I am? Check.
  • Willing to learn as I go along? Check.
  • Ready to fall flat on my face to pursue my dreams? Check.

So what do you know? “Little me” was quite the manifestor!

I do so wish she had asked for more of the mushy stuff, like the love of my life, my beautiful home, and trips to exotic places, but you’re never too old to dream. One day, years from now, when I’m asked how similar my life is to the life I imagined as a 44-year old single woman I’ll say, “Darling, in every way!” 


When I was a kid I spent time imagining how it would be to be famous when I grew up.

Some of my school acquaintances collected celebrity autographs, and everyone in the neighborhood thought of fame as a positive thing.

Me, not so much. I was a shy private person and had no desire to exchange my peace of mind for strangers thinking they owned a piece of me however flattering it might be. And if I didn’t get famous and rich, so be it.

Making a name for myself was not my prime interest in life, but constancy of affection and emotionally stability was.

One of the things I loved most about my childhood and the thing that I always counted on was the atmosphere of abiding affection that my mother created in the family home.

The place was not without arguments. Tempers were lost in impressive ways, but rather quickly found again.

The house rule was not to go to bed angry. It didn’t always work, but usually the war clouds had vanished by morning.

The emotional climate of my life was generally sunny but always with a chance of thundershowers as moody as I was.

I remember telling my mother that I could live without love, but not without affection. That warm meeting place of hearts and minds comfortable in companionship.

Fast forward through sixty years of ups, downs, highs, lows and one thing has been fairly constant. I have been lucky enough to have the affection of my housemates be they humans or felines.

I’m not rich and I’m not famous, but I have people and cats around me, who think I’m nice and we get along peacefully in this home I’ve made in which my soul can breathe freely.



As a child, I learned this,


and this,


and now I don’t know what to teach my children…


I sat on a folding chair in the park district art room with a pile of clay on the table in front of me. The teacher demonstrated to the roomful of 2nd and 3rd graders how to form a pinch pot.

“Put your thumb in the middle of the clay ball and press your fingers along the outside.” The clay came alive in my hands, slipping underneath my nails and filling the lines on my fingers. The smell of earth invaded my pores.

I fused my pots together to form a hollow ball and rolled a piece of wet clay between my hands waiting for inspiration. As the fluorescent lights hummed above, I left this world for another.

The creature made himself known to me in pieces… first a long snout and big, bulbous eyes. Then a wraparound tail and three digit claws. Two teeth and a forked tongue, and he came to life.

Look at you, Dragon! I love you.

For forty years, Dragon sat on my dresser and waited for my return. He held vigil as I traversed the creative void of a small public school system. He watched me study calculus and traveled with me to business school.

I married, birthed two children, and held fourteen jobs, always searching for one I liked. None of them brought me closer to his world. I moved from the country to the city to the suburbs, and later from a house to an apartment after the divorce.

Still he held vigil.

When I unpacked from the last move, I grabbed him from the box and held him against my heart as the tears flowed. I brushed the dust from his hard body and rubbed my hand along his snout as I searched his bulbous eyes. After all of this time, how could he not be lost or broken?

His presence was a message, and I listened.

Today, between spreadsheets, laundry, and rides for my teens, I escape to his world and wait for inspiration to arrive. Red clay dries on my hands, stringy hot glue clings to my fingertips, and the solder iron burns hot.

The moments are fleeting.

There is never enough time.

But Dragon holds vigil. His world awaits.



I wrote a poem about the color gray as a child - maybe in fifth grade, and it was the first time I received positive feedback about writing. But I was going to drive trucks, work on a ranch. Putting and reading one word after another was so tied to my life and home, it was the furthest thing from my mind.

Somehow I got hold of the old, incredibly heavy typewriter kicking around our home. My father and grandfather were journalists, and I am not sure if it was one of their machines, or abandoned by somebody else, but I became adept at changing ribbons, never learned how to touch-type, and never registered its limitations. I was going to be a vet, but writing continued to hang around like a old t-shirt I pulled on to go to bed.

Plans don't seem to work for me. I finished high school, one degree, a second degree, yet plans seemed out of my reach, or scope. I never felt prepared enough to plan. But I had a dictionary, and a neat little typewriter which stood me in good stead when I began writing page after page of fanciful, absurd stories to match the art I was making in my studio. Hopeless direction, but having the time of my life.

Today, I cannot say if my life is close to the one I envisioned as a child. I have the animals, I have the travel, I write stories, and the curiosity I never thought to question as a little girl feels just as vital. Now, I have the benefit of freedom. But words remain, as they have always remained, this imaginary friend, or the guardian angel I was told to allow a space beside me in church. No religion in this life, but without words, without a way to lay them side by side, pick them up, and shuffle them around, I would be faithless.



I always looked for the yellow border on the cover: the new National Geographic arriving at our house, the subscription a gift from my mother’s brother and his wife. Although I loved to read, it was the photos that really sucked me in. I could lose hours examining the newest issue, dreaming and learning about the people who lived in far-away societies like Micronesia and Borneo. The poet Elizabeth Bishop writes, in her poem In the Waiting Room, of having a similar experience while she waited for her aunt at the dentist office. She was perhaps more horrified by what she saw, but I set my sights on becoming part of the adventure. From a young age, I wished to be a National Geographic photographer.

Instead, I ended up a teacher and a writer and a mother. There is a tiny bit of irony in the fact that I once drew a freelance paycheck from National Geographic as I did a small piece of editing for them a few years ago. I have not turned into that globetrotter, but instead spend my evenings overseeing my kids’ homework and making a few lunches for the next day.

I’m not sure what I wanted out of my dream to become that photographer. Was it the travel I was after, or the freedom to be the one to create and curate the image on the page? The life I have is all wrapped up in creating in the medium of words and I love that. To make, to say, to connect: those impulses drive me.

In my twenties, I did have the chance to travel widely in Southeast and east Asia, to live for extended times in rural Thailand in Beijing. Sometimes on my quiet nights while my daughters’ homework is unfolding, I remember the evening I found a snake thicker than my thigh in the kitchen of the Thai ashram where I lived, or the scorpion I accidentally swept up into a broom, or the group of chattering monkeys that dotted the treetops as I walked, or the elephant who walked by a dirt road shop one day while I was having lunch (all in Thailand). That was magical, and this—staying home in the evenings with my girls, getting them launched—is also very magical.

No, it hasn’t turned out like I planned. And it has been absolutely delightful.


NEXT WEEK’S QUESTION: How long is now? 

Posted by MMJ

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