Wednesday, September 25, 2013

On Dreams

I began this post June 14, 2012. I even posted it for a few hours, then took it back down because I hadn't followed my thoughts through to a satisfying point; I had started to explore it, then dropped off with a cheap ending.

Let's give it another try.



I have a poster my mom made for me a couple years ago. It features the above picture, and below that the quotation,

Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
that cannot fly...

...Langston Hughes t.

This poster sat in the box it was shipped in for three years, because I couldn't face it. I was fighting the demons of my dance dreams, and all I could think when I saw the poster was, "How am I supposed to hold fast to dreams if they contradict what I know I'm supposed to be doing with my life?" I felt quite literally like the broken-winged bird--I had been used to flying through the air in gravity-defying dance lifts, and now I was grounded. 

I've shed a lot of tears over those dreams. I once even wrote melodramatic poetry about my dreams talking to me as I tried to kill them. (Not very good poetry, in case you wondered.)

I always knew that my ultimate dream of being a mother superseded all my dance dreams, or all my educational or literary dreams, or all my craft dreams--yet, when I finally achieved motherhood, I struggled to accept the world-altering commitment of all my time and resources to one thing and one thing only. And I didn't understand why I was struggling.

I still don't understand all of it, but I'm starting to put some of the pieces together. In the movie "Tangled," there's a part where Rapunzel asks what to do if something actually is "everything [she] dreamed it would be." Flynn replies that she'll get to "find a new dream."

That resonated with me, but it still seemed to only partially apply, because I hadn't fulfilled my old dreams--they were just sitting there, still hoping to be pulled back out, and it was hard to reach for new dreams when I was so tempted to reach for the old ones.

Then I read a wonderful little novel called "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making." (Yes, it actually manages to live up to the title.) There's a part where the main character has to be bathed before entering a city, and one thing that gets washed is her dreams. The person bathing her explains that sometimes people don't recognize when they should launder their dreams, and so they hang on to old dusty, grimy dreams. That felt like exactly what I'd been doing, and it made sense to me that dreams, like everything else, might need to be "washed," or re-examined and reworked sometimes.

But I didn't know how to do it.

Three weeks after writing the above post, I wrote this:

I don't know how to wrap words around what dancing means to me.

Two weeks ago I went to a beginner's Salsa class. My mom told me I needed to go dancing while she was here, and that was what was available that week.

The steps were simple, less complicated than the classes I taught when I was 14. But it was a studio. The floor, the mirrors, the music--it shook me straight to my center. I danced that evening, and then I cried the whole way home.

When I pulled into the garage, I turned off the car and sat, sobbing, not wanting to go in and face my mom, my husband, my children. I looked upward, and through my tears, announced, "I can't not dance anymore."

And over those next few weeks, I learned an important lesson: I could be a mom and still dance. Not all the time, and not to the level I had in college, but I could, thanks to a loving, supportive, trusting husband, go to a Friday-night class and party and dance for two or three hours.

This seems so obvious to me now, but it was an epiphany at the time. Here I had two little girls, one almost two years old and one five months old, and I had done almost nothing but mother since I had graduated from college a year and a half earlier.

And there was nothing wrong with that.

The problem was when I started to feel like a martyr instead of understanding the period of life I was currently in. When I first made the decision to get pregnant, I chose to cut ties with my dreams of dancing at Nationals, or getting on a team that year--but more than that, I somehow adopted the idea that choosing to be a mom meant letting go of everything that made me "Shannon" instead of "Mom." This idea grew as I muddled my way through the early stages of baby-raising--because honestly, chasing one baby while pregnant with the next really was all I could handle for awhile. And then, when I found myself with two babies within 18 months, I was even more overwhelmed. People told me it was just part of the "baby" phase, and that I'd have more time for projects later on, but my struggles were so in my face at that point that I honestly thought it would never end.

But when my girls got a little older and I hit that emotional wall mentioned above, I started dancing again. And as they've gotten even older, they can suddenly play on their own sometimes, or entertain each other now and then. And over the last few months I've gradually realized that my choice to sacrifice certain dreams at one point in order to choose motherhood does not mean I have to, martyr-like, forever give up my right to dream.

Of course, then we get into the mysteries of balancing motherhood with personal goals. I still miss being able to dance the way I used to, and sometimes I get nervous about pursuing new dreams--nervous that I'll let them take time away from what really matters, because I value my family above all else. But with the help of perspective granted by a little more time in the mothering zone, as well as a supportive husband--who has even told me we'll hire a part-time housekeeper if necessary so that I don't feel guilty for using my free time writing novels--I'm working on both finding new dreams and washing the old ones. And I must be making progress, because it's no longer painful for me to look at the poster my mom gave me.

In fact, I bought it a frame.

16 comments:

  1. Beautiful. I love the ending.

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    1. Thanks, Sara. I really wrestle with my endings (one of the hardest parts of writing for me), so I love hearing when they work!

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  2. You express feelings and thoughts so well, things I feel and struggle with. I admire your ability with words! :)

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    1. I knew (or hoped?) that I wasn't alone in this, which is what gave me the guts to post it. Thanks for confirming that. And thanks for the compliment--I'm in the submission stage right now with one of my novels, and bracing for rejection letters, so I need all the compliments on my writing I can get! ;-)

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  3. Lovely Shannon! It's hard to balance and keep perspective. I struggled for years, wanting to hire someone to help me keep house with 5 little ones in it. I finally broke down and did it. It was the best thing I've ever done! Keep dreaming and do a little bit at a time! Small brush strokes make up the masterpiece.

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    1. You're a huge example to me of pursuing personal dreams while also caring for and raising a family. I definitely think that if I have 4 or 5 children, I'll get some help with housekeeping. I have a lot of talents, but I am not a quick or efficient cleaner. Other people have that gift, though, and if hiring someone means I can spend more time reading with my kids or working on my books without feeling guilty, I'm all for it!

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  4. BEAUTIFUL post! Our stories are obviously very different, but I've spent a lot of time thinking about dreams and giving up dreams and moving on to new dreams as well. I think a poster like that would probably have frustrated me, too. I get really annoyed with the "you can have anything you dream of" attitude, because the bottom line is that we often can't have "anything" that we want - and we certainly CAN'T have "everything" that we want. For me, I've had to give up and revise a number of dreams (including, ironically enough, getting serious about a dance career!) because of health concerns. I guess I'm getting more used to it because it doesn't kill me in quite the same way it used to (knock on wood). I think for me probably the two hardest dreams to give up were the dream of majoring in music education and being an orchestra teacher (I LOVE teaching orchestra), which I realized while doing college tours would be too physically demanding, and the dream of graduating college/getting a degree, etc. The latter was one that really came out of left field - I NEVER ever thought I would be a person who dropped out of college. But Heavenly Father has continually shown me that those lost and revised dreams can be replaced by new ones, that often end up being even more vibrant and wonderful than the old ones. Now if I could just keep that perspective in mind when I was in the wrenching moment of having to give up a dream! ;)

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    1. Oh that wonderful thing called perspective... I realized while working on this post last night that perspective is why I couldn't finish the post a year ago--I was still too stuck in the middle of the stage I was struggling with.

      I'm glad that I've gained a little perspective. I know it's something I'll probably struggle with again, especially when I decide to go back to that baby stage; but having glimpsed for myself that there really is life after that stage, I'm hopeful I'll handle it better next time.

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    2. Another thought that occurred to me as I was pondering this this morning is the fact that I actually think that by continuing to pursue dreams (properly balanced with mothering responsibilities, obviously), we are teaching our children a valuable lesson about pursuing their OWN dreams, you know?

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    3. Yeah, I definitely agree. It's hard sometimes when those dreams don't seem compatible with mothering responsibilities, though. Part of the process of laundering our dreams, I think, is to find which ones fit the current puzzle of our lives.

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  5. The post and the comments have both given me a lot to think about today. I have been feeling like a bit of a martyr myself, and it's a feeling I don't like at all. My biggest and most powerful dream was and is to be not only a mother but a successful, loving, strong one, yet there are a lot of days when I'm the mother-who-needs-an-award-just-for-keeping-the-kids-alive. Your post helped me to remember that you can't give out of an empty bucket and I need to remember to fill the bucket of me once in a while. As for washing dreams, well, most were too ragged to be worth washing, but finding new dreams? That I think I can do.

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    1. I love to hear this. Motherhood is wonderful, but there are definitely days where I'm thrilled if I just keep the kids alive and fed (getting them dressed is totally optional). Funny enough, those are the days I most need to feel validated for my efforts--we should make that award you mention. ;-)

      Good luck with your new dreams, and thanks for taking the time to comment.

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  6. I love the ending too. Thanks you for inspiring me to launder my dreams. My husband's tried to get me to do this but couldn't find the right words to tell me how. So thank you Shannon! You are a role model to me.

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    1. I'm definitely still working on this myself! Lots of prayers and tears trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing. I finally decided I had to sit down and NAME what I was struggling with so I could face it, and this post is what came out. Glad it could help.

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  7. The post you wrote about Mother's Day came up in my feed on facebook. After reading it, I was scrolling up and recognized the dance picture :) I am so glad I stopped to read it. This post is exactly the way I've been feeling since I married my husband. I didn't necessarily plan on pursuing it the way that several of our college friends have, but it was a major part of my life!! My husband tried to learn for me, but life is just so busy. I put my "dancing self" up on the shelf when I got married. I did it, and I did it knowingly- but it tore me to pieces. Reading what you've done gives me hope and just made me so happy! Thank you for sharing! and Happy Mother's Day!!!!

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    1. I'm so glad! Thanks for commenting. This post and the thoughts that went into it were really important for me personally, but it always makes me so grateful when I find out my thoughts were able to help someone else too. Happy Mother's Day to you as well!

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