The instructor announced, “I am going to give you some time to think about your dreams for your future, your career and personal goals for the next five years, as well as the things you’d like to accomplish by the end of your life.” She proceeded to pass out plain white copy paper and cheap pens.
My husband and I exchanged confused smirks. This was our seventh of eight mandatory adoption training courses. We’d watched videos detailing the family law branch of the legal system, reviewed various discipline philosophies, discussed attachment issues; we hadn’t done a whole lot of personal reflection. This assignment was out of left field. But we completed it without complaint as the entire class got to work. It only took a few moments for all of us to know exactly what we wanted to get done. Parents-to-be wrote of promotions at work, pay raises, degrees yet to be attained, businesses waiting to be started, travel, weight loss, home renovations, books to read, books to write, you name it. All that could be heard was the sound of pens against paper, thirty future parents dreaming away in black ink. Then came the sound of neighbors sharing their great hopes, lots of encouragement exchanged, “Oh me too, to have my own bakery, yes I’ve always wanted to do that.”
The instructor reappeared at the front of the room. Her smile was…compassionate, I think. “Take your dreams and rip them to shreds.” No one moved, silence. “I’m serious. You want children in your lives, you want to raise children? You want to be a parent? If you’re serious, grab your dreams off the table and rip them into pieces.”
With great horror and skepticism, we ripped.
I thought about that moment for months after, whenever I thought back to those eight mandatory classes. Ripping our dreams—so melodramatic! I reassured myself with the words of motivational classroom posters. If you really work at something, set your mind and alarm clock to it, are willing to sacrifice for it, you can accomplish anything.
Surely, I reasoned, children do not force you to sacrifice dreams. Surely.
(I’m so sorry, hold on one second, 2-years-later me is laughing in hysterics. Bless my non-parent heart.)
Months into this new role, some evening during bath time, I sat on the lid of the toilet and wept in my hands. It was the end of another day and to look at my desk, or in my notebooks, or worse, the kitchen, it would seem I’d never gotten out of bed. I confessed to my 10-month-old that I wanted to raise the white flag. I confessed that I felt like I was living on a hamster wheel and despite all my efforts and schedule grids and intentions—oh, the intentions!—I still hadn’t touched my manuscript in weeks and we still had no less than nine full laundry baskets sitting on the bedroom floor. Nine.
I saved my dreams from that evening class, each tiny piece of them. I stored them in a glass canister by the window in the kitchen. I used to see them every day as I filled my coffee mug — a travel mug, of course, because I was going places, doing things, being me. Now I see them as I pass, sometimes they’re moonlit as I hobble around for milk at 3 AM. I see them as I wash the dishes, then unload the dishes, then wash the dishes. I used to think they sat there mocking me.
But lately? I am starting to see them for what they are. They are not a record of my failures. They are simply what I would be doing full-time if I wasn’t doing this. They are simply good things that are happening slower than I hoped. They were torn necessarily so I could make space in my heart for my greatest dream, and they can be stitched back together. Maybe those dreams of mine will be scarred. That’s okay. Tearing destroys. Scars are much more difficult to pierce. Scars make us stronger.
I say this: some days are for crying on toilets, for acknowledging the sting in the sacrifice; other days are for forgetting the toilets completely, for living the dream of motherhood with relish, and for chasing the dreams of our pre-mom selves as best we can, without apology.
I wish that instructor would have told us that some of our dreams are worth pursuing, and that it’s not the dreams that have to change, it is the pursuit itself. We will partner with our spouses in new ways, we will lean into our tribes for support in new ways, time itself will become like a currency and how we find it and use it will be completely foreign at first. Nothing has to be lost, but everything will change.
And I wish she would have asked us to make a second list: "How You Want The World To Change Because Of Your Child." Now as I wash, rewash, and wash the dishes, with the most beautiful blue eyes watching me, I find my mind drifts back to this question. For months the news has been especially ghastly. Racial strife, young people filling coffins, children massacred, international tension, planes disappearing, Ebola still raging on. We may all fill in the blank differently, _____ Lives Matter, but I think we can all agree that something that mattered has been lost.
Are my dreams shredded? Maybe, maybe not. Is the world ripping apart? All around us.
I would be writing full time if I weren’t a mom. But I am a mom and for me that looks like taking my son to the park and teaching him that we take turns. We don’t take stuff or push or say ugly things, and it doesn’t matter if the person on our favorite swing is darker or lighter than us, has different eyes or wears unusual clothes, it doesn’t matter if it is a boy or a girl. We take turns and more importantly, we show kindness to other people based on the fact that they are people. One park trip at a time.
I would travel more if I wasn’t a mom. But I am a mom and for me that looks like teaching my son that no means no. No isn’t a suggestion, or an idea to consider. It isn’t something to do if you want or when you want. No is a nonnegotiable stop right now. When I open the baby gates at our house and let my son explore, I want him to get some energy out and learn the lay of the land, but I also want him to pay attention to this: Mama is a girl and girls are fun, and go on adventures, and shouldn’t say mean things to you or hurt you, but girls also say no and when they say no it means stop, let’s change course, let’s talk about what’s not working and do something different. Respect mama now, respect women later, one tumble through the kitchen at a time.
I’ve got a baby girl coming in April. This one is home brewed, and let me just say, dream tearing is not exclusive to adopted children. This little lady absolutely annihilated four months of my life when she was the size of a gummy bear. I was scheduled to travel for a couple of important writing events in September and instead puked Cheerios and felt guilty over the Caillou consumption taking place in this house. I would be a fool to think there won’t be more little white shreds in that kitchen canister come spring. But I also know my daughter, just like her big brother, will either tear the world into more ragged pieces or work to stitch it back together. It is my job to point them to the thread.
These little people we’re feeding and washing and dancing with on the floor, they will change this place, for better or worse. And so much is up to us, I believe that. We have to choose every day to walk as bitter martyrs in the name of motherly duties or to be warriors in a world groaning under the strain of strife and suffering. It is actually that powerful, all of this mothering. There will never be an epic score written to accompany our deliberations over baby food brands or tear-free shampoos or private vs public school. We’ll have to settle for fatigues that look like fatigue and tanks in the shape of minivans. But I think we can train our children’s hands to heal whatever space they occupy, to at least try. I think we can train up our children to wage war against darkness.
I think we already are.
Written by April Hoss. Photo by Kate De La Rosa.