The back doors to the school open to us waiting parents. I know kindergarten graduation is no big deal in the grand scheme of things, but the celebration of my son’s growth is important enough for me to take a few hours from work to cheer for him.
I was never good at being a stay at home mom. Since I was eighteen, I held a fulltime job. I took ten months off between military and joining the civilian sector which took its toll on my mental health and constant need to be engaged. I tried staying at home again when my daughter became chronically ill, in and out of the ICU. I even prepared myself to stay home with a plan to lose my baby weight, sign my science fiction book to a publisher, and start school. I met every single one of those goals within three months. Once the baby recovered, I was out of the house and back to work. But even in staying home I was so busy working, doubling up on college credits, and focusing on my new writing career. I missed out on a few field trips and family days during his first official year of elementary school.
We file in and I see my friend sit near the back row. My army brain says I should be a sentinel, a protector of these children by sitting near the exits and scanning the crowd, but since I never make it to anything at school, I make sure my boy can see me. I recognize the internal struggle as mom-guilt as I wave bye to my friend and proceed through the crowd of parents and loved ones. I find ladies from the PTO who thankfully recognize me and offer me a seat in the second row, middle left.
For a long time, I keep my focus on my phone, checking the time and my empty inbox waiting to hear if my husband will make it in time to see our dude walk across the stage. I check my emails, thinking in my mind someone around me is judging me for looking at my phone, but if I appear to be working, they will be a little less harsh with their assessment of me. I also know, this is a made up scenario, so I put my phone down and sit awkwardly in the too-close metal folding chair. For about five more minutes I sit before I hear a squawk next to me.
“Oh my goodness!” I coo to this handsome, two-teethed, bald baby. “I didn’t even notice him!” This is just nervous chatter to a woman I feel like I should know, but I don’t recognize. I come off far more charismatic and familiar than I am, but it’s a mask for my anxiety and fear I sat on the wrong side. I question even coming. I am scared he will get sick on stage since he was sick the last two weeks of school. He missed the rehearsal even and maybe he won’t know what to do at all.
A large screen displays projected images of each kindergartener holding up a sign of what they want to be when they grow up. All in their own handwriting and spelling. Cop, Teacher, Vet, doctor.
As the minutes tick on there is no sign of my son’s photo. All my maternal failures flip through my thoughts like a rolodex of shortcomings. Maybe his need for extra help with his assignments left this one as something he did not complete. Maybe he missed school on the day they took the photos. What if he just refused to cooperate because he was having a bad day? I know my son struggles at times and it kills me.
Fighting back the tears, I see my smiling boy pop up on the huge screen. In tiny letters across his paper “astronaut”. I clutch my heart. I did not know I wanted to be an astronaut until the third grade. I never traveled the path to NASA, but seeing his dreams the same as mine filled my soul, ridding my body of all self-doubt. A couple tears sneak past my lashes.
He can be just like me, I think to myself. Nothing would make me more proud.
The school principal calls all the chatty family members to order. I note I have forgotten tissue of any kind and am resolved to use my sleeve if need be. If he cries, I am going to lose it. There is no doubt my mascara will not make it out of this auditorium alive.
He begins his speech and I listen studiously, full willing to gain any inspiration he intends to impart: “We need to remember that your children, these students are so precious and incredible to us.” He’s going to talk about school shootings in Denver. I just know it. My anxiety cannot handle this. This year has been a rollercoaster of near-missed, close calls, and sad endings.
“You’ll see them in a moment with big smiles on their faces, carefree with everyone looking at them. Today, these kids believe they can change the world with dreams, but are we supporting them in those? Yes! Of course I let my son dream his big dreams and nurture his talents! I’m the biggest dreamer there is. At least this is one area I don’t suck in.
“I think as adults, we get to a certain point in our lives when we let go of our dreams. I don’t know why we start to dream less. Perhaps it is the pressures put on us with responsibility or someone at some point in our lives told us those dreams were not possible, not practical.” My dad told me writing isn’t a job. He crushed me with those words just a couple months ago when I asked him for advice, himself, an author. For the first time as an adult, I am learning how to dream my big dreams. I’ll never say those words to either of my children. Never.
“So, I challenge myself and everyone in this room to continue to push these students, these precious little graduates, today. To keep their dreams alive. Never let our pressures in life demean or demand or dictate what they are capable of. And never tell them their dreams are not possible.
“Our students, your children are born with different personalities. Different dreams. It’s so easy in life to find a highly qualified motivated person, but it’s difficult to find someone who is confident with themselves, caring, and thinking of others. Those humans are so hard to find in this world, but we can foster this type of heart in our kids by supporting their dreams. We don’t know what jobs will be in 2031 when this class graduates high school.” GASP. I’m old.
“We need to challenge ourselves to make sure they dream and not come down on them when something seems too farfetched or impossible. This world needs dreamers and people with compassion now more than ever.
“We need to change what we want to see in them. Can you proudly say, ‘I want you to walk in my footsteps. I want you to become who I am.’? We are the heroes. We are the role models. Are you willing to take that challenge to say, “I want to be your hero. I want to be your role model. I want you to follow in my footsteps.”?
Like an ice cream scoop to the gut, this man single handedly and without warning ripped all my creative issues from my chest and displayed them to me like a scene from Indian Jones. I am no longer crying from pride but a deep rooted pain.
When my heroes were called upon, I was turned away. I was told not to put so much stock in my dreams, in the same dreams they pursued. Yet I persisted. I was told to work for retirement instead of finding a profession I could do all my life. I was taught that work is exhausting, hard, and un-enjoyable, but you stick it out to support your family. Sure, I have a full time job that pays my bills. This is not my profession. I will encourage my boy and girl to work to support their dreams until their dreams support them.
Michaela Tesla, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison were all dreamers. I went to war twice and use every single life experience to give visceral vivid emotions to my writing. I hung my hat of “a job” in favor of a profession that fuels me with happiness and limitless potential. Those people who I made my heroes at a young age were the ones who told me there was no dreaming in the real world. I’m glad for my children’s sake that I saw between those lines before I fed them the same mislead idea.
Let your babies be dreamers as long as they can. Be practical, but never diminish them or their ideas. One day, they will carry this world with an open mind and heart into the next generation. You got this and so do they.