If you had told me twenty, ten or five years ago that I would be happy as a stay at home mother, finding joy in the challenge to feed my family on leftovers, I would have told you to go and have your head examined.
If you had told me I would accept, and perhaps even embrace, the reality of the special needs mum label, I would have laughed in your face.
If you had told me I would be happy with the choice not pursue a PhD, I would have been on the phone to have your nearest and dearest take you to the hospital immediately because you and reality had a very tenuous relationship.
And yet here we are. (Although I will admit to a certain tweak as I see my friends from my postgrad days edge ever closer to completion of their doctorates. Until I remember the stress.)
Some dreams, we realise are just dreams, and that was all they were ever meant to be. Daydreams and what if’s and idle chatter with close friends. Never going to happen. Not even sure if we would be able to cope if they actually did come true.
Other dreams, we don’t call dreams, and we hold them much closer. We call them plans, and goals, and we speak of them as the purpose of our lives. We are, after all, nothing without the dream. Without the driving force, without that direction, without the dangling carrot of what we want to get, what would we do with ourselves?
My PhD idea was a plan, a goal. An obsession, sometimes. (I took a laptop on our family holiday because I knew if I was shortlisted for a position, I would be required to have a Skype interview.) But in certain respects, it was a dream born out of an expectation – I was intelligent enough, so of course I would get a PhD. Growing up, being clever was all I had. Letting go of the PhD was more than letting go of the PhD. It was letting go of the only thing I was ever good enough at.
Good enough for who?
And then there are the nameless dreams, the unspoken dreams, the dreams that drift just below the surface and we scarcely acknowledge their existence. We don’t call them dreams either, because we dare not admit the power they hold over our hearts. But they breathe out in our expectations, in our turn of phrase as we describe the people in our lives, the things we are doing, the judgements we pass over ourselves. We don’t want to admit they are there. And we certainly wouldn’t think to drag them into the daylight to examine them. Because who knows what they might tell us about ourselves.
Such is the nature of my big unknowable dream that I am now trying to kill. The big one, the one I’m in the process of bludgeoning (it sometimes tries to sneak back in, wearing a different hat), is the nameless never-expressed wallowing beneath the surface. The career woman with happy children dream. The expectation that I would have 2.1 children, and that I would be the principle breadwinner (because, you know, clever) and that my caring husband and I would raise said well behaved and typically developing children to be adventurous eaters, well-travelled, sporty with a creative bent and good maths skills. Or something like that.
I didn’t realise how I was still holding onto that dream until we were sitting in the paediatrician’s office and I was trying not to cry.
I wasn’t made to be a special needs mum, you see. At least, not in my dreams. I’m good with kids, you see. I tell them stories, play games, create imaginary worlds that help them make sense of their every day.
Little Person has little time for my world of words.
To be a happy mother, to find joy in my family, I have to kill the dream. I have to choose this reality, this life that I wake up to every day, not the life I thought I was going to live. That life was never going to happen. I have to see my Little Person for the beautiful, brave and inspiring person that she is. I have to love the watching birds, and painting boxes, and trying to find somewhere to hide my chocolate. I have to accept the one thing that makes this challenging reality better than the dream.
I get to touch it. I get to cuddle Little Person, and watch her grow, and see the sparkle in her eyes, and hear her laugh as she cries out “Tickle me, no don’t tickle me!” And I would rather be able to experience the fullness of what that means, than spend these moments comparing it to the dream I will never have.
Dreams. Sometimes you’re better off killing them.