In the mess and rush of the first week of school, between questions about classes and miles of to-dos, the query pushes through the mundane dirt- Did you dream of me? Of us? Of children filling your house, your life, with grubby-covered shouts and little mismatched socks?
A desperate glance at my husband’s bewildered face followed by a feeble answer, a Get Out of Jail Free yellow slip: Of course I dreamt of you….I wanted each of you. Then the conversation-ender: Then why do you seem so unhappy?
I am not unhappy, I argue…in spite of a husband’s unexpected traveling and a job that is demanding more of my day, I feel strong, calm, satisfied. I’m soldiering through and still (mostly) smiling. But somehow, those smiles must curve inward while the stress of reality bristles out off my body like a protective vest holding you at arm’s length.
So, daughter, I will try to explain. Dreams are funny things. Sometimes they begin or end in the middle, sometimes they morph into nightmares of known, or unknown, threats. I feel the weight of complication in the word Dream. I dreamed of marrying my first love, but in the middle of the dream were nightmarish realities of alcohol and struggle. Still, the dream is more vivid in the wake of those shadows. I dreamed of teaching literature, but sometimes the days feel like the depths of sleep, a stone instead of a kite. I dreamed of children, of sweet round-faced babies wrapped in pastel flannel. I was jarred awake by preschool tantrums and inconsolable feelings, and I fumbled in the darkness of parenting unknowns.
I have dreamed many dreams, Child. So much of what I hoped for has come true, dreams that meld into the fullness of reality beyond my comprehension. But real life also forces acceptance of the underside of dreams. The cost of being brave enough to dream boldly is the strain of holding the weight of the accumulated pieces of sleepless hope and daunting truth. In my dreams, I saw you. In my reality, I see the responsibility of raising you. In my dreams, I saw fulfilling, life-affirming work. In the daylight, I see reams of paper. The nightmarish fear sometimes clouds the dreamy wonder, and I am frightened by this unknown world of nebulous desires taking shape in realities I could never have guessed.
My imagination cannot hold you, little one. You are beyond a dream. My life is beyond a dream. I could not have pieced together my heart’s desires at 8, 15, 21 to build a life that looks as beautiful as this life I live. But beauty is different than perfection. I feel stress heavily sometimes, I forget an appointment, I fill your lunchbox with stale wafer cookies instead of fresh-baked chocolate chip. I cannot explain that reality to an eight-year old idealism. I want you to dream, too. In your dreams, you can envision perfect pancake mornings and lullaby goodnights without the worry of washing pans or singing off-key. And someday, when you are a 30-something, those dreams will stand fulfilled in expected and unexpected ways, and in the messy moments when a little voice speaks into your heart, “Are you happy?”, you will answer with a confident “Yes” in spite of, even because of, the moments of stress and heartache. Keep dreaming, sweet child, in the confidence that you yourself are a dream realized, a hope become flesh.