Quick: name me five stories about a mom with dreams. No? Three, then.
Hmmm…. One? Can you name one? In recent memory, How Stella Got Her Groove Back may be one, and Grace & Frankie on Netflix. But neither of these is a narrative of a mom with a specific dream, a goal that is identified in the beginning that they follow throughout the story.
EDITED TO ADD: Hidden Figures is one. Any others? Hit me up!
There are a ton of stories about teens and young adults following their dreams. And there are also a ton of movies about dads following their dreams. (Apollo 13, anyone? Mr Holland’s Opus?) The dominant narrative of who gets to have dreams and who doesn’t speaks to who has “room” in society. Dreams take space: they take space to try, to fail, to lick your wounds, and to try again.
It took me a long time (and a huge breakdown) to start following my dreams as a mom. I had always wanted to be a writer. I remember sneaking a light under my bed and writing in a notebook in bed after bedtime. It was all I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
But I’m a pragmatist, and I knew I needed a stable career. After high school, I went to university and got a professional job.
When I had my kids, I quit my job and did the “stay-at-home mom” thing. I became deeply depressed. My first child was incredibly active during the day, while my second was a terrible sleeper at night. It turned into a neverending cycle of exhaustion.
My mind was on high alert constantly, my body unable to relax. It would take me hours to fall asleep at night.
And then I stopped sleeping altogether. I kept pushing forward, getting up with my youngest at night and running around with my oldest during the day. I stopped eating. My body was shaking all the time. And still I smiled for pictures, posting on social media about how glad I was to have such a beautiful family.
I couldn’t pretend any more. I asked my brother to drive me to the doctor, and got an antidepressant prescription (and some short-term sleeping aids). I looked into daycare for my children and got hired back at my old job. It was hairy and painful and difficult to adjust, but we all got used to it eventually. We got into a rhythm of days and weeks and months.
I started being able to sleep at night, now that I had a break from my children during the day. Work got easier, but I still wasn’t following my dream to be a writer. I had the beginnings of a manuscript kicking around my brain, and I would mentally toss it around while I did brainless “mushroom work” at home.
Then I saw a podiatrist.
Now, most writer’s stories do not prominently feature a podiatrist. But I am not most writers. After years of parenting and working and saving money over days and weeks and months, I decided to deal with a bony growth on the side of my foot.
My podiatrist—a tall, thin woman with a deep voice and a booming laugh—told me that the only way to deal with it would be surgery. And the surgery would require four to six weeks of recovery at home, during which time I would not be able to drive or walk. I was obviously not able to work, and I was also not able to properly care for my kids, not being able to move my body. I couldn’t even bring them to daycare.
It was me, myself, and I at home, my foot resting on a pillow on my desk, all day, every day.
Prevented from doing any work for probably the first time in my life, I set myself a stretch goal to complete my entire manuscript while I was recovering from surgery. I did it, and it turned out even better than I could have imagined. I created a world of magic and mystery (if you’re an agent or publisher and this sounds awesome to you, hit me up!) in 80,000 words– something that I had never imagined that I would be able to do.
Although I’d always dreamed of completing a full-length manuscript, I kind of didn’t imagine that I’d ever do it. Now, I had done it. So what was holding me back now? What was stopping me from following my dreams of writing? The ceilings that I had carefully placed to hold my ambition down flew off and I could see the endless blue sky. I couldn’t stop myself now.
And then Covid came. I was able to go to work exactly one day before everything shut down. And since I had a fresh beautiful manuscript, I figured I may as well keep at it. I edited and reworked and kept it up while homeschooling my kiddos (now in grades 1 and 3). The only weapon I had to keep the soul-swallowing depression at bay was a singleminded focus on my dream of being a writer.
(I later learned that this is the exact course of action encouraged by Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychotherapist and survivor of a German WWII concentration camp. He’s the one who famously said, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.'”)
Covid remained. I set up my author’s website (ever heard of it?!) and kept my nose to the grindstone. Then my marriage ended. My nose remained firmly on that grindstone.
And here I am, a mama with dreams. Almost every thought I have is either about my kids, or about my dream.
I follow my dream for myself, and for my children. I follow my dream so that my daughters will see that being a mom does not preclude you from following your dreams. And I may be the only example they’ll see; at least for a while, until we start telling more stories of moms with dreams.
Do you have a favourite story of a mom with dreams? Share it in the comments below.
Featured image was created by the author, using elements from canva.com.