When I was a child, my dreams were three-fold: happiness, safety, and love. I don’t remember the specifics as it’s been far too many years, but I felt as if I lacked all three.
Early pictures of me show a sulky, sad, miserable little girl. Did I look that way because I didn’t get something that I wanted at that moment in time, or does my downturned mouth reflect the general state of my being? In my mind, it was the latter. I can’t recall much laughter, but that is no surprise since those years have disappeared from my collective memory.
Looking back, I should have been happy, for aren’t little kids bundles of joy? Don’t kids love to giggle and run about yelling like banshees?
Shouldn’t I have felt safe because I lived with my family? If so, why do I recall fear of punishment as the strongest emotion?
And love. Everyone deserves love. I’m sure that my parents loved me, for if they didn’t, wouldn’t they have given me up for adoption or sent me away to live with relatives? They didn’t do those things, so there must have been some positive feelings toward me. The problem is, I don’t recall being loved. I don’t recall hugs or kisses or sitting on laps or walking hand-in-hand.
A flaw in my memory? Most likely.
As a kid, my world expanded, and so did my dreams. I still yearned for the big three, but I added in pleasing my teacher and having friends as major goals. The problem was that I was not a good student and so seldom earned praise from the strict sisters that were my teachers in the Catholic School.
I did my work to the best of my ability, but it was never good enough. Because I wasn’t earning A grades, I was often held after school to clean blackboards! (Could this be why I am asthmatic?) When I got home I was punished once again. Logically, then this made me fearful. Double punishment for every poor grade.
Did it inspire me to do better? Maybe, but remember, I was already working as hard as I could!
And let’s not forget having a friend! Because I was shy, I was not the type that was included when kids went out to play. Add on top of that the fact that I wore faded, hand-me-down uniforms that made me stand out as poor. Then there is the issue of grades, as no one wants to spend time with the dumb kid in class.
Added to that was the fact that, because I got poor grades, I usually spent lunch in the tutoring room, sitting in silence while a stern nun oversaw my efforts to complete work. Sometimes she helped, but most of the time she chided.
So, no friends.
There were material things that I wished for. A new bike. A Barbie doll. Roller skates. To play on my brother’s baseball and football teams. Store-bought clothes and shoes that fit.
I eventually saved up enough money to buy myself a bike, but I never got the doll. A relative gave me skates and I never had brand new clothes. I did get new shoes every other year, which meant that the first they were too big and the second they fit, but were now scuffed.
While I was good at sports, I couldn’t play on teams. This was back in the 1960s and there were few, if any, teams for girls. So that dream did not become a reality until I was in high school.
As a teenager my dreams did not change much. I hung onto the big three and having a friend. I still yearned for the positive attention from my teachers, and because I had finally learned how to read well enough to get good grades, I was often considered the star student.
I still wanted store-bought clothes, and was able to buy myself a doctor’s shirt (yes, that was a style!) and my dad no longer made me wear oxford shoes. Because my feet had quit growing, I also had shoes that fit!
Relatives gave me clothes. It was considerate of them to do this, but there were too problems: they were a few sizes too small as I was fat and the styles were old-fashioned and not appealing to a teen. My mom, who was an excellent seamstress, picked apart the clothes and remade them into matching skirts and vests. Beautiful, but not what girls wore.
Now I wanted a boyfriend. My first, real-life boy who would ask me out for a date. Who would hold my hand and be proud to walk with me. No kissing. I wasn’t ready for that yet. But I didn’t know how to be attractive to boys, so I went dateless until my senior year when I asked the young man who lived across the street to take me to my prom.
He was a nice guy. Not real smart, but he had inherited a duplex from his mother and lived alone. He had a job as a mailman, so he had a reliable income. He was fair looking, but so was I, so we fit together.
We dated for a year, so I had a boyfriend for a year. But because he was a man, he wanted more out of the relationship than I was prepared to give. When I went away to college and found out that intelligent, curious young men found me attractive, that earlier relationship died and quick death.
In college I had bigger dreams. By now I was well aware of the world and dreamt of travel. Thanks to campus organizations I went camping in the forests, walked along beaches and stood next to a massive earthquake-caused crack in the earth. I marched in protest of the Vietnam War and participated in sit-ins with hundreds of young people.
I met a wealthy young man whose parents gave him tickets to the theater and to the opera and ballet, so I got exposed to cultural events that inspired me to see more.
My eyes were opened to all the possibilities that existed in the world and expended my dreams to include many of them, even those well beyond my financial reach.
I like to think that my earlier wishes guided my decision-making throughout my life. For example, I always held teachers in high regard, admired them for both their dedication and ability. That’s not to say that I was disappointed when a teacher was indifferent or incompetent.
Since I first attended school, I claimed that I wanted to be a teacher. That was an unwavering goal, even though I was distracted by economic factors that caused me to postpone achieving that goal until I was a parent myself. Once I became a teacher, I was determined to be not just a good one, but a great one. I hope that I was.
My desire to be both safe and loved led me to my husband who fulfills both those dreams. There has never been a time in our relationship when those feelings have been threatened. He is my rock.
My desire to have friends solidified as I have gotten older. I have made good friends through writing conferences, book clubs, soccer, the senior center and church. I am no longer lonely, although I still have problems in a crowd. Once I break through the crowd to find one friendly face, I am okay.
To summarize, throughout my life my basic dreams remained the same. As I aged, more blended in, expanding my wishes in profound and interesting ways. And as I accomplished goals, I never forgot where I was as a child, how important it was for me to feel happy, safe and loved.