“Mommy, did you have a bad dream?”
I don’t really know how to answer since she’s only 4, and my crying woke her up. To her, a bad dream is the only explanation. So I tell her yes, and it’s just a dream and to go back to sleep. What’s funny, like funny in the odd sense and not the ha-ha sense, is that in a way, she’s exactly right. I am struggling with my dreams. As in how to make them happen.
I always struggle at New Years. For some reason I find myself standing at the starting line for each new year wondering why even when given another year, all the things I was unable to make happen, rather than looking fondly over the memories that were made. It is just in my genetic makeup that every January 1, I am staring down another year not with hope and optimism but with resignation at thinking that this shiny brand new year is also equally unlikely to end with me having come any closer to fulfilling my lifelong dreams of wanderlust and travel, food and writing, leaving my cubicle life behind for good.
As my oldest gets older, I find it harder and harder to quiet my growing cynicism that maybe it’s really a lie, that maybe we can’t do anything we dream. Ever since I was tiny, I dreamt of how I would go places, see things, experience ways of life in far flung places. And yet, I haven’t. I’ve never had the money. In fact, it remains a complete mystery to me how anyone ever does find the money or the time off, and my current financial situation certainly makes those dreams an ever more distant memory by the day. I want so badly to champion the notion that my children will be able to do anything their hearts desire, and wish I could lead by example. But today I stare at our monthly bills and see nothing that can be cut, nothing that can make room for travel, or even more humbly, for time off for us to just be, to find our footing, to at least plan for a life and future that are lived by choice rather than financial necessity and make space for travel…someday. So to lead by example, to call in a resignation from my job is also to demonstrate an irresponsible choice, to choose myself at the expense of the immediate and long-term needs of my family.
I spent the morning collecting and analyzing our bills and recent purchases in an attempt to see what can be trimmed to make room for saving. I didn’t come up with anything. We are barely scraping by as it is. Examining our families’ choices provides no useful data to help make an informed decision. At one end of the spectrum, dreams for retirement so long gone that I honestly have no idea what they ever could have been. No matter, whatever they once were, they were first derailed by paying for their children’s colleges and since then, obscured to the point of having been overwritten by the enormous but inescapable costs of health problems associated with aging. In other words, the takeaway message there appears to be: once you have children, surrender your own hopes & dreams as the practical needs will always prevail. I’m not convinced you can’t make room for both, but the only other familial model available to us appears to be: don’t help your kids with college to make room for your own goals while you stand by watching your kids struggle for long after college thanks to the enormous burden of student loans. Again I think there has to be some middle ground here. I want to show my kids that we (their parents) matter too but you have to balance your goals against the needs of the family and I have no idea how to do that. Mostly I came away from the family conversations about money realizing that it’s a flawed exercise to try to follow in the footsteps of your elders. Their choices and decisions were made in different eras, surrounded by different economic conditions, and influenced by their own expectations and experiences. You really are on your own with this stuff.
So I have no plans yet. No solutions. Can we afford to consider a bigger house or cutting back on my work this year in the interest of my sanity, and which of those to choose anyway since those two are at odds? Or do we double down on our efforts to live frugally because we’re committed to playing the long game? And are those our only choices anyway? For today I’m going back to sleep and dreaming that tomorrow or the next day, we will figure out how to get to a plan that lets us have it all- our own goals and dreams matter but so do those of our kids.