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I always knew that my ultimate dream of being a mother superseded all my dance dreams, or all my educational or literary dreams, or all my craft dreams--yet, when I finally achieved motherhood, I struggled to accept the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.