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This is so not what I thought 35 would look like

I‘m a journalist & single mom working on letting go of the life I thought I should have in order to fall in love with the one I do have. Tools: family, friends, humor, wine & Oprah

I am very close to turning 35. I can see it, just over there on the horizon, a little less than a month away. You know, that age when you go from seemingly fabulously fertile to barren, overnight. Biological clock aside, 35 is one of those milestone ages when you find yourself doing some sort of life assessment.

By this time in my life, I thought when I went to bed at night and I looked around the living room to do that final once-over before shutting off my lights, my focus would be on a large, lovely photo of myself, my husband (who lovingly teases me about my idiosyncrasies) and my three spunky kids. We'd certainly be sitting on the beach somewhere, hair carelessly blowing in our faces, with the youngest trying to make a run for it because really, who likes to sit still for pictures?

And after shutting off the lights in the living room, I thought I'd be tiptoeing up the stairs, walking past the sleeping sounds of our awesome kids before climbing into bed with my husband, who would very likely be finishing up some work on his iPad before shutting down for the night and being the big spoon to my little spoon.

But that is not the photo I am looking at... it is not the reality that I am living.

In reality, when I glance around my living room for one last time before calling it quits, I see tipped-over juice cups, snack bar wrappers and a wealth of photos of the love of my life, my 4-year-old little girl. When I make my way upstairs, I look in on the most perfect tiny human on the planet before climbing into bed... alone.

You see, I never planned to be a 35-year-old single mom. I actually never planned to be an anything-year-old single mom. I don't have the large family I thought I would have, and I certainly don't have the husband with whom I thought I'd be bickering with over the bills and the garbage and the dishes in the sink. No one to give me a hard time for checking my email on the weekends, no one to tell me to stop worrying so much, no one to look at me and know, without me saying a word, that I've had a bad day. No one to celebrate the new job with and no one to encourage me while I am busy pretending that I'm tough as nails.

And some days, well... some days, I get lost in the "shoulda, woulda, couldas." I'd be lying if I pretended I didn't.

But I'm going to guess that there are few among us who are exactly where they thought they would be. I mean, really, how much of life goes according to plan?

Right.

And nearly five years into living a life I never imagined, I am learning that if I get lost staring at the picture that isn't, I am robbing myself of the enjoyment of the picture that is. I don't have a picture of just one family sitting on my mantle. I have photos all over my cozy home with the amazing human beings who love my daughter and me.

I don't have that one person to ask how the interview went, or to remind me that "this is easy!" said no mom ever (except maybe Marissa Mayer, which is a different post for a different day). I don't have that one person to hug me and hold me when I lose my best friend from high school, that one person to tell me to chill out, take a breath, go on a vacation.

I have many, many people. People who know the best way to get me to do something for myself is to essentially make the plans for me, people who call just to see how my day was, people who email to tell me they love me, people who send me flowers at just the right time.

And I have my daughter. The one person who has helped me get out of my own way more than any other. I found out I was pregnant with Ellie two days before my 30th birthday. And in the nearly five years since that day, I have learned more about myself and the love that surrounds us than I could have ever imagined.

So no, I don't have one huge and perfect photo hanging over the mantle. Mine is a collection of wonderfully real and messy photos featuring love in all its forms, triumphs in all their glory and struggles in all their lesson-teaching power.

And the reality is, every moment I spend looking longingly at the picture that isn't, I am missing the opportunities to enjoy the picture that is.

More from Cara:

Let it Go or Be Dragged
Making Peace with Missing It

Cara is working on Rebranding the Single Mom® and would love to hear from other single moms who are interested in sharing the ways they are kicking ass at single motherhood and other aspects of their life.

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