My kid has a dream. He wants to be a major league baseball player.
You don’t have to share the odds of that happening with me because I do everything in my power to stop from stating the facts to him. This is a feat, because he constantly reminds me of this goal and the bookies swear I’ll lose my ass if I don’t bet against him.
Not long ago he also told me he wants to take all his friends on an overnight ski trip to a local slope for his birthday. The kitty I can expect to collect before winter gives out makes this request laughable. But I bit my tongue and forced out, “Let’s wait and see.”
Then he made his Christmas list. The first thing my husband did was freak about the contents. “Did you see this? This is thousands of dollars of stuff! I’m having a talk with him. This isn’t even practical.” I’d already seen the list, along with one of the catalogs from which my son shopped. So although I felt the same way, my son saw my simple nod of acknowledgement when he presented it to me.
The way that kid dreams can really press some buttons. His dad and I hang in there with his major league scheme expecting to pick up the pieces when it’s shattered. And I didn’t even bother to tell his father about the birthday ski party because I knew he’d only reiterate that I would fail to tease that from my self-inflicted budget. But the Christmas list got him. My husband needed to rein that child in.
My words were clear, calm and concise: “Don’t take away that child’s ability to dream.”
“It’s just a list. Nothing more.”
Nothing more than a reminder of what opportunities my husband and I can’t give him.
Nothing more than a coat check on reality.
Nothing more than a joint culmination of failure.
After Christmas, my kid was playing the MLB game he received for his Wii. A week after opening it, he was still getting his ass kicked by animated characters operated by an inanimate object. But on this afternoon, he found himself surprisingly in the game with a few innings to go.
Until his dad chimed in. “Would that game give you a bench clearing brawl?”
“I don’t know.”
“Try it. Hit the next five batters with a pitch and see what happens.”
This is what I knew was true at the moment. That boy was desperate for interaction. He’s a people person born to hermits so on another eve of a slow moving weekend, he was jones-ing for collaboration. He didn’t even know what he was compromising when he compromised.
Twenty minutes later he was by my side in the kitchen slapping leftovers on a plate and pounding on butter with such disgust I thought he would burn himself in effigy over the gas stove.
“What’s up?” I asked.
That boy couldn’t repress a fart if he was in the presence of a princess. Justly, he exploded. “I was about to win my game and I wanted to and I could’ve for the first time ever but Dad told me to hit the batters, then I ran out of pitchers and got pissed and turned the game off and now I can’t get it back because it didn’t save and I could’ve WON!!”
Ever notice the sparse punctuation in anger?
Here’s my quandary: is this my process? Is this any of my business? What if my husband was only tired of that boy’s endless optimism? What if he was bored watching the child dutifully swing at pitch after pitch, seeing him shut out inning after inning, manufacturing runs from slug bunts and lame hits, pausing play to read his manual because he was desperate to uncover an advantage when the truth is people seldom win?
That might have been one truth, but my words were clear, calm and callous: “Don’t manipulate that child for your own entertainment.”
“You were. If you weren’t, you’d have shown interest in what he was doing instead of destroying what he was building for your own personal enjoyment.”
“He was welcome to tell me to get lost.”
“Right. Like you gave him that option. Be the adult. Just once.”
Then I bit my cheek. It hurt. It might have bled. I wanted to blabber on about my husband’s propensity to make crap of something in lieu of mastering it. I wanted to rub his nose in his past and analyze every circumstance I’d ever witnessed where he had the chance to raise the bar but chose to chop it in half and use it for kindling. I was desperate to point out that had he ever embraced a challenge instead of throwing it away, he might have excelled at something other than sucking wind during that mid-life crisis he led us in.
But I didn’t. I know I’m capable of observing the worst in him without fostering any thought of good. And our relationship used to be so arduous that the worst can be summoned more quickly in my mind than the best. But then there’s the boy. Does he need to hear this about his dad? And does his dad need a lashing from someone who could find little more than this to say about herself?
How does a boy, ripe with naiveté, become a grown man like my husband—someone quick to slam what makes life vibrant, or like me—defending innocence while disguising skepticism? Was my husband like my son before parents like me sat patiently by until the appropriate age to inject him with reality? Is my mate’s vocal defense of practicality more revered than my secret fear of failure? Is it nobler to state the odds or defy them? Having checked in on both counts, who am I to say a damn thing?
Is it my foolish optimism that will net me a middle-aged basement-dwelling dreamer and finger pointers who say, “I told you so?” Do I fear failure for my child or do I really fear failing him? If we have to learn to manifest our dreams like we learn to walk—crawling, then walking, then running—is my child simply mastering baby steps? When will my fear of his failure finally put an end to his progress?
I know what life is like. I wake every morning wondering if breaking free from reality should be left to professionals. But try to force a lens of defeat on my child’s visions and I'm conflicted.
Sure, being a major league baseball player is a high order but someone will be one. Thousands, actually. What are we if not potential? If we never know what the future will bring, why not dream and dream big instead of grasping for dear life to caution and mediocrity and what most realists like to call “security.” If we can’t know what the future will bring, why not expect the best? At any age?
Even a dreamer will tell you that the most important part of dreaming is the process, not the product. To dream is a verb. It can pick up momentum like a runaway train. What if all you had to do as a parent was get out of the way? What if all I had to do for me was stop being afraid? And what if finally breaking free from fear was the only thing I needed to do for both my husband and my son?
Out of nowhere my friends decided to plan an overnight ski trip with the kids. I couldn’t believe it. They found a weekend package so affordable it can be scraped from a paycheck. And I’m bringing cake. All my kid had to do was wish for it.
My son didn’t get all the stuff he expected for Christmas. He got very little actually. But what he got was a surprise so unexpected that we never heard about the list again. That’s the funny thing about strictly defining a fantasy: you forget that something better than you can imagine awaits.
Today he finally beat the Wii. He told me he knew it was only a matter of time. His dad simply watched.
And right now he’s outside the back door, swinging his wiffle bat, dreaming of hitting a pitch into outfield seats at least four hundred feet away while playing for a team that was looking for someone exactly like he has become.
And he’s dressed in the uniform of dreams.
He’s unencumbered by facts when he makes a wish.
Maybe I should follow suit.