You know when you read something and it changes your perspective forever in a beautiful way? That happens to me when I read Sarah’s words at Toddler Summer. Her post last year about why she will miss the princess aisle sticks with me. I think about it every time my girl slides on her sparkly shoes and requests that I call her Cinderella. Sarah is a little bit ahead of me in this journey of princesses and little brothers but we approach things so similarly and I love that.
Her post here today about inspiring her girl to be brave speaks right to me. And I know it will speak to you too.
She has a recurring dream. She’s in a car that she cannot drive with stuffed animals who somehow manage to take the wheel and drive the car to far away and unknown destinations. She never expects the car to move until it does, until she is driving along with something or someone who shouldn’t be driving and she doesn’t know how to stop it or where she is going. Some nights she dreams that the car comes to a stop or that she manages to jump out. But then, free of the moving vehicle, she cannot find her house. “I can never remember our address, Mama.”
She’s just like me, really. I used to dream about cars too. Cars that had stalled out and couldn’t be restarted. Cars that stranded my family and I on the side of the road waiting and waiting for help. Some nights, the good ones, the dream ended with my grandmother, completely ucharacteristic of her real-life self, riding up on a motorcycle to save us. But the nights that she didn’t show up I woke up feeling helpless.
I don’t remember when or why I would dream my car dream, but I know it used to come often. Nora’s dream comes up when change is looming, when she is going to have to go out into the world and be brave about something she’s still not so sure about. And I don’t need to be a psychiatrist or dream symbol expert to know exactly what this car out of control dream says about her feelings, about her fears, about her urge to control her environment when things seem to be moving too fast for her.
These days we talk about change a lot. We talk about the ending of her five years at her beloved daycare. We talk about a summer off, the adventures we’ll have. And we talk about kindergarten, new friends, new teachers, a new building. A whole new beginning.
We talk too much about it and she dreams of pandas driving her in a car that spins out of control.
We talk about it and I take deep breaths and do my absolute best to hide my own anxiety about it all, about new phases, unknowns. I don’t have a dream about a car anymore, but that doesn’t mean I’m much more of a friend to change than I was in my childhood days. She can read me well, always has. And in my voice I know she hears my own apprehensions no matter the lengths I go to shield her from them.
“You’re brave,” I tell her. “You’re smart and brave and kind and thoughtful. All the best things you can be. Whatever happens. Wherever you go. You’ll be just fine.”
“I’m brave?” she asks. And some days I’m not so sure she believes me. But I know she wants to.
Recently we went to the petting zoo, bought our two dollar bag of food and headed out to give the goats and sheep, deer and llamas their morning snacks. Every time we’ve done this in the past I’ve been the one who ended up with my hand full of animal food, palm up, rough tongues reaching out through the fence to lap it up. Nora’s had intentions, sworn that this would be the day. But it has never been. No matter how many times I tell her she can do it, that I assure her she is brave enough, she just hasn’t done it. She hasn’t felt brave.
But this time? This time she started slow, with a tiny handful held out to tiny deer. They reached out for it and instead of flinching or dropping it, instead of being fearful, she was confident.
She asked for more food to feed the goats – the animals she most feared because they are the biggest and the hungriest and the ones who beg most to be fed.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Yes.” She said.
In front of the fence, food in hand, she hesitated. She looked at me and almost said no, almost changed her mind.
Next to her an older gentlemen began to talk, calmly, without his own fear or anxiety, without the apprehensive baggage that I inevitably carry with me and leak out in every suggestion or urging I push on her.
“Just hold out your hand like this,” he said. “They’ll be gentle with you.”
She looked at him and then at me and then at the goat.
And she held out her hand. Brave.
Sarah is a mom of two great kids, wife to a serial remodeler, and a full-time English teacher. To keep her sanity, she writes about weathering the many changes of parenting and her constant quest to find balance on her blog, toddlersummer.com