My Heart Aches For The Dreams And Mystery I felt As a child

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My Heart Aches For The Dreams And Mystery I Felt As A Child
Adulthood is not the trip I thought it was

“Do you remember what it was like to be that carefree?” the question lingers on the air and drifts to each of the parents sitting at the table.
Our children are running around the living room, throwing a balloon up into the air. They have been playing the game for ages and their joy has not ebbed one bit. Their laughter rings throughout the room, covering the empty silence of the question.
I look around the table, taking in the exhaustion hiding behind eye bags, the stress lurking just below the surface. I know this is mirrored in my face as well — the not-so-hidden toll of adulthood.
“Barely.” I reply to my friend. “But I sure wish I could go back to that.”
My memories of childhood are filled with love, laughter, and happiness. I remember long summer days that felt like they were filled with endless possibilities. I remember the excitement of waking up each morning on summer vacation. I would go out on the porch, still in my pajamas and feel the warmth on my skin. I still remember the calm I felt, imagining the rest of the world just waking up and knowing that today was going to be a great day.
Picnics, beach days, bike rides, playdates, baseball, the days stretched on and on into perfection. I was at peace. I was free. Oh, how I wish I had fully appreciated it then. I should have basked in this idyllic time, but like any child, I dreamt of being “all grown up.”
I imagined what my life would be like as an adult. Like most children, I thought being an adult was the greatest thing ever. You had freedom, you could drive, there was no bedtime or rules. Jobs seemed exciting and they paid you with real money. Adulthood seemed like a trip.
My parents instilled in me at a young age that I could be anything I wanted to be. I floated through my childhood wanting to be a professional baseball player, a garbage truck driver, a forensic anthropologist, an architect, a teacher, and a psychologist. My dreams were vivid as were the possibilities that I saw outlined for myself.
In each of these scenarios I was happy and successful with a husband and children surrounding me. This was the future I dreamed of. It was nothing fancy, just what I saw my parents have. I didn’t want to be rich or famous, just happy and comfortable.
On paper, my childhood self would be happy with the adult I have become. I have none of the careers I wanted as a child, but I have a husband, a son, a house, great friends, hobbies, and by all intents and purposes, life is good. Then why do I feel this nagging feeling that something is missing? Why does watching the sheer joy in my son’s face when he plays with his friends bring me both happiness and a sense of loss?
Why do all of us parents, sitting at the table, feel so removed from our childhood? We can laugh and play and imagine with our children. We can join in their games and for a short time experience their joy, but something is missing. Something that can’t be overcome by building blanket forts and playing hide-and-seek.
Our dreams, that were once so vivid and lucid in childhood, have been suffocated by responsibility. We may have what we imagined we would want as a child, but we were too young to realize that what we had in childhood was far more valuable. We still had our dreams. We still had our joy. We still had things yet to be discovered.
“I want to change my job,” my friend says beside me. She works overnight in a long-term care home. It is her passion, it is what she went to school for and what she wanted to be.
But bureaucracy, abuse both from her co-workers and residents, long hours, staffing shortages and the weight of life have gotten to her. Stress lingers behind her eyes. I know even sitting here at the table, smiling away at her children, her mind is in turmoil thinking about the shift she has that night.
Her daughter comes running up to the table, “time for your shots” she yells at us with glee. She runs around the table poking each of us with a crayon, pretending it is an injection. The rest of the kids run behind her laughing and cheering her on. They imagine all sorts of concocted diseases that they are saving us from. They applaud themselves on what good doctors they are.
My friend’s daughter has no concept of any of the things her mother suffers from, she only knows that her mommy helps people. She doesn’t know that her mother goes into the shower to breakdown when she can’t handle it anymore. Just like my son doesn’t hear the conversations my husband and I have about my job at night when he is in bed. He doesn’t see the sleepless nights I spend tossing and turning, stressing about my work.
He only sees the occasional virtual meeting where everyone says “Hi” to him and laughs with him. He only sees the fitness challenge we do each year. He only sees the fun parts. Just like I only saw the fun parts of my parents’ jobs. It was all a big exciting mystery for the future.
As an adult, this mystery is gone. We don’t have any big mysteries left. I think this is why we yearn so badly for the innocence of our childhood and the simplicity that came with it. There are many things as an adult you can do to have temporary excitement — vacations, day trips, trying new restaurants, or picking up a new hobby for example.
But they don’t hold the same excitement as they do for a child. We know at the end of each, there will be a return to reality. The rose-colored goggles have come off and I see no way to put them back on. I desperately yearn for the innocence of my childhood. I want to be carefree and free of stress. More importantly, I want this for my son as long as possible.
I want him to fully enjoy his childhood, to eke out every last ounce of joy he can from it.
“Mommy,” he calls, “Can you help us build a bus? We are going to drive to Greece.”
I put a huge smile on my face and mirror the joy and excitement I see on his face, “Of course I can, buddy.”
“Let’s build the best bus ever.”
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