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My husband has a thing for green apples, which is why he planted an apple tree in our yard about two years ago. It was a tiny little tree when we bought it, but it finally grew up enough to start putting on fruit. Tom was pretty excited the first time he spotted the blooms and the beginning of what would become our first bucket of apples.

But over the course of the summer, the apple tree started looking suspicious. The small apples dangling off its slender branches didn't look quite right. We decided it just needed more time, so we kept watching it, watering it, waiting for an apple to get big enough to pick. Finally last week, Tom came in from the yard holding a green piece of fruit he'd picked off the tree. He sat it down on the kitchen counter in front of me and announced the obvious:

"Look," he said. "Our apple tree is a pear tree."

And there it was, one sad little speckled pear sitting in the spot where the bucket of green apples should have been.

"How did that happen?" I asked. "You did plant an apple tree, right?"

"Apparently, I planted a pear tree that had an apple tree tag hanging off of it," he said.

Then we just stared at it, trying to replace our dreams of apple pie and apple cobbler with some other appealing dessert that includes pears. We're still trying to think of one.

The apple/pear tree switcheroo got me thinking about just how often things turn out differently than planned – much like this entire year. Sometimes the seeds that get planted in our lives grow into something entirely new and unexpected.

When I was about 10 years old, I remember having a conversation with my mother while we were riding in the car one day. We were talking about what I might be when I grew up, and I wasn't at all sure what I wanted or what I'd be good at. My mother said it might be good if I became a nurse. I think she had dreams of me saving lives and marrying some wealthy doctor, and the two of us would give our entire extended family excellent, free medical care.

But then when I was 17, I passed out at the doctor's office when a nurse pricked my finger for a blood test, and suddenly it was clear that a career in medicine wasn't in the cards. Even though I didn't end up doing what Mom suggested, she's happy with the writing career that eventually took root and grew into this column. More importantly, I'm happy with it, and that, in itself, feels like success.

My three kids are still in the seed-planting phase of their lives, and their plans for the future have already changed at least a dozen times. Ten years ago, our oldest was intent on playing basketball in the NBA. Today, he's a college freshman majoring in engineering and working as a deejay for his college's radio station.

His younger brother was once a 6-year-old who wanted to be either a professional soccer player or a judge on a cooking show so he'd get paid to eat. Ten years later, he seems destined to work in computer technology or video game design. He has already become our household IT manager.

And the boys' little sister was only 3 years old when she proudly announced she would grow up to be a "princess ballerina who does gymnastics." But now, a decade later, she is a 13-year-old who has fallen in love with the stage and spends all her extracurricular time in community theater classes.

I have no idea what the kids will one day be. They still have years of growing ahead and plenty of time to dream. What I do know is this: Sometimes you plant apples and get pears. Sometimes you think "nurse" and end up a writer. The one certainty in life is the element of surprise. The best we can do is hope for nice ones.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at [email protected] Her book is available on Amazon.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at rockwoodfil[email protected] Her book is available on Amazon.

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