Monday, March 14, 2011

The Day Your Heart Breaks

There is something I want to admit: I bought into it. Hook, line, and sinker, although I knew better, and should have been the rational person I've always been. But something about small pink booties and pastel plaid blankets in the softest cotton and the smell of baby powder and skin like heaven.

I bought into it, even though I was proof it was a lie. That's the power of parenthood, I think, that when you are holding the tiniest person ever, this creature that lived in you, that grew inside you and who came out with your eyes and a future wider than the world, you want to believe. You want to believe so badly that any other option isn't even fathomable.

Your child can do anything. They can be anything. Anything they set their heart to is possible. We live in that kind of world, right? We live in a place where opportunity is endless; where determination and motivation are all it takes to be what you want to be.

You can do anything.

If we are lucky - the luckiest - we believe this. We've been taught this from the time we could understand, that the world is our oyster and limits are something we set on ourselves. We can be anything we can imagine.

Somewhere along the way, we learn this isn't true. For whatever reason - for economics or intelligence or personality or opportunity or people around us, but eventually the world presses into us that this is a lie.

When I was young I wanted to be a brain surgeon. I'd been told all my life I could be anything I set my heart on - that I could work hard enough to make any dream come true. But my lack of skill in chemistry and my interminably shaky hands and my need for sleep spoke otherwise. I remember the moment I realized this - that I could not do this. Even though it was a vague dream, one I'd rarely spoken of and one I'd invested little in - this was a shock. I could not do anything I wanted do. I could not be anything I wanted to be.

This was a lie.

But it is one thing to know this yourself. I found other loves, other dreams. I found enough. I was enough.

And then I had kids. And I believed again that anything was possible. Anything they wanted to do, they could. Whatever dreams they kept were possible. I - well, I had been less than perfect. My limits were not theirs, and their lives were new and sparkly and wide as the sky. They came into the world with a blank slate waiting to be filled. They were possibility personified.

I have to stop here. I reach for a kleenex and wonder if this day ever came for my own parents. If it did, they sure didn't tell me. I don't remember them leaning over the dinner table one night saying, "Honey, I love you and all, but you can't carry a tune to save your life. Give up the idea of singing and find something more practical, more aligned with the gifts you have instead of a pipe dream that will never come true." Or something along those lines.

But there is a day, and I can't help but think all parents get to this realization, where we know suddenly the world is a much smaller place for our kids than we hoped. That there are limits for our children. Gifts they are given, and gifts they are not. Dreams they may dream that we know will never be, because something critical is missing.

Yesterday - heart surgeon, concert violinist, Olympic swimmer,  veterinarian, astronaut.

Today - maybe not.

And maybe the thing that breaks my heart is not that they can't do it - because I know there will be other dreams, other careers, other wonderful amazing things they will accomplish and be in life - but that I see the walls in front of them, and they do not. Because they still believe: "I can do anything. I can be anything." And yet I know that not to be true.

And oh, today, how I wish I didn't know that not to be true.


  1. My heart breaks because I know the truth in your words. I did have a father who leaned over and told me I could never be a singer--so I stopped trying.
    But the hope in our world is that God has given us all many dreams and finding the perfect one for ourselves might take time but it's there if we keep at it:)

  2. I hear ya.

    I used to be such an optimist. I was a believer in the you can do anything if you just work hard enough mantra. I wasted way too much of my life believing I could be a pro baseball player. Lol to me.

    I'm much more pessimistic now. I know how things really are. And yet, I do want my kids to have their optimistic period.

    Course I'm guilty of the same as an adult, thinking I can be a bestselling author, even though the odds are staggeringly against it. Still, I tell myself I don't have to be the next Neil Gaiman. Just enjoy writing, have fun at my writing group meetings, and that will be okay. I guess that's the optimist in me coming back, just a little.

    As Craig Ferguson described Doctor Who: “The Triumph Of Intellect And Romance Over Brute Force And Cynicism”. I want to live in a world where this is really true.

  3. One more thing. Earlier in the year we went to church at the church I attended growing up. The regular pastor was out and a lay leader was preaching (a family friend). Her whole sermon was about how evil the world is (citing Columbine, some other stuff). I got where she was coming from but I deeply disagree with this.

    I don't think the world we live in is evil. Sure, bad things happen. But excellent things do too! In fact, I don't think the world is good or evil. It's just the world. How we act and how we perceive the actions of others is what really counts.

    I guess this is off topic, but gets to my optimism/cynicism point.

  4. This is a powerful post, one that had me from the first sentence.

    My daughter is 15. Fortunately her dreams are entirely plausible. Mine weren't. I wanted to be an astronaut.

    When I was told my eyesight was too poor to be a military pilot, and that I probably wouldn't be accepted to the Air Force Academy, and almost certainly wouldn't ever set foot in space, I gave myself time to grieve, then I returned to my room and noticed that it was filled with novels.

  5. Beautiful post, Heidi. It is, indeed, heartbreaking. As a mom, I try so hard not to believe it - to encourage my kids to try, even if I know in my heart they cannot succeed. And maybe that's what we have left, is the value of effort. Maybe it's enough that we try, even when we know we will not win, for the experience of learning, of doing, of having said "I wouldn't take no for an answer until I saw it for myself."

  6. I think the most important thing is to remember that our talents bring us to things we love. My hope is that (my daughter especially with her limitations) will follow the things she LOVES, where her talents lie...

    I do everything I can to foster the talents that I know might turn into something big for her, because there are things that she'll never be able to do.

  7. What is life if we don't have dreams??? Why would we get out of bed each day?? Yeah, they may be dreams that have almost no chance of ever coming true....but we need those dreams. No one should EVER tell anyone they can't dream or reach for their dreams.

  8. Yeah, I know. I know exactly what you mean. And I thank you for saying it so I didn't have to.

  9. Beautiful post Heidi, along with all the comments here that your word inspired. I remember the day the grade 2 teachers told me my challenged son would never 'catch-up.' Seems like I still keep fighting for him to be his best though. Luckily, dreams can change, and we always have the choice to do our best.