“Ya.” Replied Emmett.
“Well it’s not true. I think they just said that to make things seem more fun. I know MY dreams don’t come true.”
This comes after weeks of daily heartbreaking revelations of his loss and a constant flood of tears from all of us. Of course the practical and realistic side of me is proud of my five year old’s deep grasp of life. Amazed that one so young can understand that just because it sounds nice doesn’t mean that it is always true. And as much as we may want to believe something, that won’t change the fact that they may just be flippant words.
And when I refer to my ‘Practical and Realistic side’ it is probably a bit misleading. It is not so much a side as it is the front and back, top and bottom, in and out of who I am. I probably have a few toes open for optimism and fantasy.
Because of those toes a part of me feels like this is where I should step in and try to rekindle the magic. Convince him that he should keep dreaming big. But I don’t do fantasy very well. Imagination and make-believe I get, and I love to watch my boys play in their own pretend world. But the line between real and made-up is very clear for me. When my boys asked me a few years back if Santa was real, I didn’t say a thing but just from the look on my face Emmett immediately commented, “He’s not is he.” Which officially made me ‘destroyer of children’s dreams’. A crusty, old-soul from the school of hard knocks. But at this point I honestly do not have it in me to advocate for something that I don’t believe. And I know it sounds heartless and barbaric, it makes me feel heartless and barbaric, it is just who I am.
Though I know it isn’t just pessimism. For my boys especially, I believe it ranks closer to self preservation. Most children need a fair amount of convincing to see the importance of wearing seat belts, practicing fire safety, or that people you love can die. But in our home the worst case scenario is a constant reality. The fact that life can hand you lemons is something we have tasted. So living in that space which promises happiness and fulfillment is scarier than facing the reality that dreams don’t always come true. And that isn’t something that I think I can undo or a life lesson to be unlearned. They are past the point of being conned; they have seen the man behind the curtain. This devastating truth is reality and instead of trying to trick them back to their naïveté and innocence I think I might be tasked with a different calling.
The daunting job of keeping purpose and meaning when your dreams don’t come true. Because if life were only about being happy and fulfilled we would have no reason to continue plugging away. We would have an acceptable excuse to pack it in and quit this journey. So I need to model and teach things like resilience, perseverance, grace, and dependency. And all of these traits in the face of disappointment and failure, devastation and heart break. Affirming in them now that it isn’t all about them might be the best thing I can encourage.