As a Mama, you are a bit like the family dream keeper. You have to have your eye out for dreams that rise up in your children and know which are important to support and shape life around, and equally imperative is that you keep your dreams alive and talk about them and pursue them so that you teach your children the trials and rewards of following dreams. You have to show them that you can in fact make dreams come true if you work at them, and simultaneously expose them to the truth that some dreams just aren’t going to come true.
There have been a few big dreams flying around our house lately. Elle wanting a dog, Maya wanting to convert the attic from Cam’s office to her bedroom and me wanting another baby. I shall start with the first, and work my way through them in order.
I do not recall when Elle became fixated on dogs, and perhaps these things do not start, they are just part of the genetic continuum, but it seems it has gradually built with cumulative feelings and we consider it a fact, that Elle is a dog lover. Now, when I say a dog lover, I mean a dog LOVER. If Elle could be a dog she would be, although she much prefers it if she is the dog owner and we pretend to be the dogs. We all play the dog. Except Maya who is obviously a cat and could not ever play a dog. On all fours we crawl around the house, barking, yipping and growling, wagging our tails, mouths agape tongues out, the occasional begging and tug-a-war with the lead that she ties to us. It might entertain you to imagine me as a dog, and of course I would be a golden retriever or perhaps a long-haired labrador, and it won’t surprise you to hear that Cam is a much better dog than me. I tire of being a dog pretty quickly. Anyway, no matter where we go, Elle makes friends with the dogs, and all her play involves a collection of little dogs. Her drawings are about dogs, her conversations are about dogs, and there are even tears shed over dogs.
For the longest time, and I say this because it has felt like a long time, she has been wanting a dog, a real dog of her own. For some families getting a dog is an easy decision, but for us, not so. There are a few things stopping this from happening for Elle. Firstly the logistics of if we move back to Australia, the dog, were we to take it with us, would have to be in quarantine for six months. My instinct was that there was no way I would want to subject a beloved pet to this rigmarole. After some more thought I had to accept the other option, which would be to give the dog to another family if we leave America, which also seems not a great scenario for Elle and her pet.
At some point though I reasoned that if we did decide to get a dog we would have to go the route of leaving it behind and since moving back to Australia is a maybe situation, she could potentially have the dog for ten years or more in the time it takes us to decide if we are moving abroad, and who knows what can happen in that time frame?
So with all of that sorted out, on to the next obstacle of getting a dog, which for me personally were two very strong moral and ethical issues. Firstly, there are children starving in the world, and there are pets living more privileged lives than people, and I could choose instead to support a family with the investment and energy a dog takes. It is one of the oddities of mankind that some pets are living in a situation, with walkers and groomers paid to care for them and meanwhile children on the other side of the world (or perhaps right out the front door) do not have nutritious food to eat or clean water to drink.
In addition to this moral weight which is strangely easy drop with the joy of puppy in mind, we are a vegetarian family and if we add a carnivore to our mix, that would mean I have to purchase meat. I grew up on a farm and I am accepting of the realities, and I actually do not have a huge issue with animals being eaten as part of the food chain, as long as humans do it with respect. I just do not want to be caught in the situation of buying the cheapest and perhaps questionable cans of dog food from the supermarket. So once again I sat with this choice for a while and decided that I could in fact feel comfortable feeding the dog like my Grandparents fed the farm dogs with dry food and kitchen scraps and weekly bones from the local butcher at farmer’s market, for the sake of Elle’s happiness.
I took this giant bubble of thought, this enormous wordy conclusion, and walked up to the attic to where Cam likes to work undisturbed.”Yeeessss Poppet” he says to me as I reached the landing. I positioned myself on the bed, which I am sure indicated to Cam I was getting comfortable to talk something out. With my voice firm and resolute I said “I have given it some thought, and I want to get Elle a dog for her birthday.” Cam stopped what he was doing to swivel his chair towards me, which was my cue to burst forth into a convincing dialogue, where I speak quickly, deducting key points. “There was an incident in Nantucket with Elle and a dog and watching her with it made me realize it opens her and sets her free, and I think we should get her a dog for her happiness and wellbeing” I likely said a lot more than this because when I am trying to talk Cam into something I am rapidly verbose. Cam looked at me and the second I ran out of breath he said “No, we are not getting a dog” And like that, a wall was up, with a loud and clear NO.
Cam does not say no with such a direct and minimal way very often, and I was a little taken back. ‘No! what do you mean, no? I do not like hearing no!’ I thought to myself. I am sure my brow furrowed and a bothered look crossed my face because Cam did make some effort then to rationalize his answer. Still though it was the same outcome and I left the attic slightly bothered with him because I had thought long and hard about all of that. Generally though these feelings pass very quickly, and I do not even think I would recall such a strong NO were it not so closely followed by another “No, we can’t do that.” Which brings me to the next dream that isn’t going to happen.
From the moment we looked at our home to purchase I was in love with the attic. On this first occasion of seeing it, it was set up like a neat bedroom. There were two beds, and above each bed was a hand painted picture of a girl. It was not a stretch to apply a little story to the paintings of the girls. Given they were paintings and not just photographs, these girls must be considered loved ones! Instantly I concocted that they were the daughters of the owner of the house, who we had been told was an elderly lady, and since I myself was the mother of two daughters, it was like a little positive affirmation for us raising a pair of young women in this home ourselves. “Oh this is perfectly lovely, these two girls played in this space, and now our two girls will play here too!” There is something comforting in knowing the layers of those who lived in a space before you, and the paintings spoke of a beautiful life, and I was pinning my ideas of a perfection onto them, but that aside, the attic was a dream space for almost anyone. Like a giant canvas just waiting for creative expression. The white walls and grey floors made the space bright, but with small windows giving minimal natural light the room always has a softness to it. While being large and open and roomy the sloping ceilings make it cozy. My imagination instantly hung a traditional tree swing in the center, and I could see us adding a few special pieces to the collection of antique furniture that was left by the previous owners. A matching pair of white iron beds and artwork, and beautiful handmade toys that one day I would cherish as souvenirs of our daughter’s childhood.
When the house became ours, Elle was two and a half. Only recently weaned from the breast and still co-sleeping with me. With numerous stairs up to the attic, it did not seem right to put Maya to sleep up in the attic alone so we decided to set the girls room up on the same floor that I slept and after many years of Cam sleeping in the living room of our New York apartments, Cam claimed the attic as his room.
Then in the blink of an eye Elle turns six and every mother of a six year old knows, that six is suddenly older. No longer of an age to be counted on a single hand. A six year old can read and write, tie shoelaces, remember table manners and sleep in the attic with a sibling. I had quite forgotten my original ideas until one day Maya said “I wish our bedroom could be in the attic” and then like that it was a log on the fire and the idea was once again ablaze and up the stairs to talk to Cam I flew.
For almost four years we have lived in this house and during that time, Cam has become very comfortable in the attic. Like a tree that had been living in a pot and was then planted, being granted more space let him put down roots and suddenly I was standing there trying to unearth him with all my convincing might. If you have seen me in the garden fighting with the tree roots beneath the soil in our yard, you know I really put muscle and mite into it. In the form of words, and given my imagination is so strong, the vision tumbles out, with no detail spared.
“Oh Cam, the girls must have this space, they must, can’t you just see how wonderful it could be! We would have matching white iron beds, but with unique handmade quilts. One on either side of the room and above each bed will be a small antique glass front shelf that they will place all their treasures in. They will nail their art in a haphazard fashion where ever they want because these walls are not precious. There would be a beautiful artisan rug on the floor between the beds, and there will be space for them each to have a bedside table of their own. I will put the swing up in the center of the room and needle felt a vine with flowers trailing down the ropes of swing. And we will be a long branch that we find in the woods, suspended from the ceiling to hang all their pretty clothes on. We can bring the long white wooden table up here so they can sit and draw and design and the sewing machine and fabrics are already here, oh it is prefect, it would be such a wonderful and beautiful creative space, can’t you just imagine it?!”
I am pretty sure at hearing all this Cam just wanted me to go away so that he could keep working, and seeing that he was not giving me his complete attention I really insisted he stop and join me in the vision. “Are you imagining it? Are you seeing it, and isn’t is so lovely!” I require my family to fully visualize things so that I know they are exploring the depths of possibility. “Yes, I can see it would be lovely” Cam replied with a shortness, because whether or not it would be lovely was not a concern, of course it would be amazing, but the issue for him was “What about me? Where would I go?” Now to be honest at this point I really did not give two hoots about where Cam would go because there were two other rooms he could use, no make that three, three other rooms he could use and I was too busy enjoying my enchanted daydream to worry about him feeling displaced. I went on and on with the idea, presenting him with his options to move out of the attic and to each one he found fault, and to each fault I found a solution until he got so fed up with me he was stern and declared “NO, I am not moving out of the attic”
So off I went down the stairs to tell the girls I had given it all I could and Daddy would not budge and that we could not make the attic into their bedroom. Maya, was perturbed and suddenly started over reacting “Daddy is stupid!” she said, “Let’s do it anyway!” which of course then meant I had to reprimand her “Maya, we do not say stupid” and tell her all the reasons why he rightly keeps the attic space. In doing this it finally sunk in for me too that yes, he does need that space, and we need to respect that. Not a day goes by without me being grateful that Cam is sitting in the attic working for his family.
Which brings me to the final dream that isn’t going to happen and certainly the biggest, and most life defining, which is me wanting to add to our family, by having another baby.
It all started a few months ago when I was attending the Wild & Free Homeschool Conference. I was one of the speakers at the conference and by accepting to do this it meant I had an entire weekend away from my children. I have only ever done this once before to attend a wedding and perhaps it was the combination of really missing my family, and the fact that when I walked into the conference room just before I was to speak, I was hit with the unmistakable smell of breastmilk. I am pretty sure not everyone would have gotten this sense, but for me it was a like stepping into a garden of blooming mummies and the aroma activated a powerful olfactory memory. A feeling washed over me, an instantaneous chemical reaction in my brain and click, there is a flashing neon sign in my mind that said “I want another baby… I want anther baby… I want another baby…” Now for any mummy that has nursed her babies for years on end, you will know this smell. It is deep and sweet and if something could smell warm and like love, breastmilk is it. Not every women in the room was a breast feeder of course, but homeschooling mammas are a special bunch and it won’t surprise you to hear that homeschoolers are quite often also the natural birthing, co-sleeping, attachment parenting, extended feeding type, and at the back of the room, expertly located near the doors were all the nursing mammas that had brought their babies with them to the conference. As I entered the room, I had to pass through the zone of maybe two dozen milk makers… and just like that I was zapped. That is how it works you know. Wanting a baby is biological and hormonal, but wanting a baby is also contagious. You can be like me and think you were done with all that and then boom, those amazing inspiring beautiful women with a baby nestled into their front will get you with their aura.
All round the Wild & Free weekend away was an opening and an awakening and confirmed my deepest desires. When I arrived home from the conference, I had two things on my mind, I walked in the door, hugged my children and whilst embracing Cam I looked up to his happy face and said with gushing enthusiasm, “The conference was so amazing Cam, it was life changing. I realized I really need to start wearing Birkenstocks again and that I want to have another baby!” Cam looked at me a comical suspicion, knowing I was up to something. I thought that if I causally mentioned wanting another baby along with a new pair of shoes, he might see how simple and straight forward my requests were. He had no choice but to join in with me by saying something equally silly in response.
“Where have you been and who have you been hanging out with?” Cam said in his pretend stern fatherly voice. When I put you on the plane you were a good Poppet and now you have come home talking about another baby. Obviously I can not let you go to a conference like this again and hang around these women!”
Now I don’t want anyone to think for a second that my husband controls me, or tells me where I can go or what I can do, but he does like to pretend he is the boss and be a fatherly figure to me, and given I grew up without a father, it actually delights me that someone would care what I do and him saying these things should be interpreted as pretending, not patronizing.
In the days after Wild & Free numerous times I light-heartedly mentioned wanting another baby, and each time Cam, responded in the same playful way that he did not want another baby. Cam and I try to keep things light with one another because so much of life is serious that having fun in your marriage, is really important, but after a week of him telling me no in this way, I felt like it was time to get serious and up the attics steps I go…
“Cam I realize you do not want another baby, but I need you to understand that I do, and while it is easy for you to say no when we are being silly, I need you to think seriously about it and know that this is something I want, I really really want.” Cam listened but the timing and delivery of his answer was not at all what I hoped for, he was far too quick to say “We are not having another baby, seriously we are not” Hearing Cam say such a decisive short ‘no’ to having a baby was a blow alone, but in addition to that, there I was once again, sitting in the attic, and hearing Cam tell me ‘no’ about something I that felt so right about or I had put a lot of thought into!
So much of life is about timing and if these three NOS (or noes?) had been spread out over the course of a year, I might have felt differently, but in the space of a short time three NOS to three dreams felt like three strikes, and I was a little put out by Cam. “You are saying no to everything!” I protested and stomped down the stairs. I started muttering to myself, “Who is he to say no to me, I can decide my life anyway!” and the stubborn me could be heard saying, “I can do what I want!” and then the female warrior me could be heard saying “I will not be beaten, I will fight to have my way” and then finally the manipulative me, decides to just deny Cam his choice to not have another baby as an option, because he said no to having baby Maya too, therefore, “No can actually mean yes!”
In all honesty though I felt and respected his no, and I understand why he does not want another baby, and it is a big deal, and a life changing decision, and by no means do I want to force a baby on Cam. Convince maybe, but force no. Regardless, of understanding and sitting with his no, it still does not change in me, the daily feeling, of wanting another baby, and even though I tried a few tactics, jovial coercion, reasoning with him, anger, and then finally tears… his answer was still the same.
We were standing in the kitchen, hugging and I looked up to Cam and said, “I know you do not want another baby Cam and I understand your feelings and I respect them, but I need you to understand, that wanting a baby is something that is inside of me, a feeling that arises and rumbles, like hunger. I could be walking around the house and suddenly there it is, like an empty stomach grumbling, but it is in my heart, not my tummy. Should I just tell you when I feel it, so that you can give me a hug?”
My words touched that part of his soul, and feelings flickered behind his eyes and it made all the difference to know, that even though we were divided on this, we were still whole. It is not a great feeling when you and your partner want different things in life. I am conscious that I do not want to break our marriage and one of us has to give and let go and accept the other’s choice. We have two daughters, and so while having another child would add much joy to our life, we are already blessed and I can not argue with that and I chose to put the dream to rest.
It was not easy to let go of this dream. To help myself I had to visualize letting go and as a form of therapy, in my mind’s eye I imagined a baby flying away on wings into the atmosphere. I literally had to see this baby in my imagination, leaving me, floating away into the air, flying on wings. It was then that I was struck with how powerful this was. “A baby with wings is a cupid” I marveled to myself. There I was, staring at a cupid, and I realized “Oh yes, a cupid, that is perfect, that is love…” The pain and beauty mingle into the gift of living life. Tears of sadness and healing rolled down my cheeks as I sat with the truth of not being able to have another baby, and the realization that I want to love my husband, not just be married to him.