Follow your dream, reach for the stars, don’t settle for less. By the time both daughters went through all their various graduations – from nursery school onwards, I’d heard so much of this that I thought cliché was too generous a word for such repeated advice.
As if we grow up with an image of where we want to be as adults. As if it inevitably includes some combination of fame and fortune. For a recognition of a talent that, in truth, we do not really have.
When I was a teen – the age when you hear the greatest concentration of these messages (except that I didn’t, but that's a story in its own right) – I wanted to have the boy of my deepest affections reciprocate my passion for him and when he eventually did, for a brief while anyway, I wanted to be in couplehood with him for life, so that we would, together, take May walks along the riverbank and kiss feverishly on a bed of pine needles in the Polish forests we tended to pass through. Some dream! Had it come to pass, most assuredly it would have skidded down to nightmare status very very quickly.
In the end, I married young (by today’s standards) and for love, and I had perfect children and a job that permitted some degree of time with these perfect children. I think most would agree that that is one lucky package right there. If I had been offered fame, I would have taken it out of curiosity, but I would have preferred it to be for some irreverent oddity rather than for my life’s work in academia. And though we could have used more money, especially to pay off college costs and afford ourselves solid debt-free vacations with the perfect girls, I did not especially want to be rich. Small and simple always seemed more attractive than the alternative.
I did, early on, want to write in a more serious fashion. But this wasn’t a dream. It was more of a goal. Eventually, I will write in a more serious fashion, I told myself. I still say this and I think I have even convinced myself (if not too many others) that it will happen.
But what of dreams?
When I was a wife and mother, I mean, in the thick of those functions, I often dreamt that I was back in the Polish village where I spent so many of my childhood years and summers. My grandmother, who was my de facto mother for the first three years of my life, often made an appearance in those dreams (she still does). Little wisps of her would come through, a word, a smile, a guest in a dream that was of a time and place where bees buzzed and lilacs bloomed and blueberries came to us in big blue enamel coated buckets.
But I did not want to return to Poland. You have become too Americanized – my friends there would tell me and they wouldn’t be wrong. As I kept dreaming of this Polish village, I began to think that maybe my dream was to have a summer house – say in the south of France?
I read a lot of books about expats who bought houses in the south of France. It seemed, in the end, a financial drain and burden. And those with second homes in distant places hadn't the strong attachments I continue to have to the perfect, albeit grown up daughters. I could not happily leave them for chunks of the year to make home improvements four thousand miles and six times zones away. Email and Skype notwithstanding.
Thinking back to my teens, I would not have said that reaching for stars would include hoping to live in a small, old, but greatly improved farmhouse that resembles in some ways the Polish village house I loved (notably both have lilacs and a roving cat). And that I would maintain a challenging but also flexible work schedule, with periods of time to write, or not write, or plant perennials in the way that my grandfather did. No, I wouldn't have thought any of that and that would be a shame. Because when I wake up now, not exactly alone, but most certainly not, thank God, coupled with the boy of my teen dreams, I think that, when all is said and done, what I most appreciate and love about my days now, is that on this misty morning, I have the freedom to take my breakfast out to the front porch, take in a whiff of that lilac and think – now, what should I be doing with this day?