I had this dream last night:
I was younger, probably in my early 20s, and was a prisoner in some strange cabin in the woods. There were other children there with me, also prisoners, and we were abused mentally and physically by multiple overseers. As the oldest captive, I felt a big-brother connection to the others, but to one little boy in particular.
That little boy served as the impetus (in my dream) for me to try and escape, and take as many of the children with me. I wanted freedom for all of us, but I especially wanted it for that one little boy. I worked up enough courage to pack a bag and wait until night to try and get us all out, but when I went into the room next to mine to get the other kids, they were gone. I searched for the little boy but couldn't find him, and my heart began breaking. It completely shattered when all I could find were his empty, discarded pajamas, still warm to the touch.
I woke up with my heart racing and nerves frayed, and realized why that one boy stood out to me.
He was my son, Jonathan.
I sat on the edge of the bed, fighting the feeling of panic. I knew Jon was okay. I knew it had only been a dream. But the sheer terror I felt at being late - even in a subconscious illusion - to save my son left me weak. I staggered to get ready for the day, and when I heard a door slam, and little feet brought a little blond-headed boy into the kitchen, I finally felt like I could breathe again.
Dropping to the floor, I grabbed Jon in my arms and hugged him. Tight. As absurd as it seems, holding him was the only way to make the dream feel like a dream. He hugged me back, then nestled his head under my chin and said, soft and sweet, "I love you, dad."
Sometimes, I'm the world's greatest parent - attentive, patient, kind, affirming. Other times, I'm the world's worst - irritable, sharp, impatient, critical. Lately, I've been the world's worst more than the world's best.
Honestly, parenting is a tough gig. I often expect far more from my children than they are able to give for their ages, a fact that reflects more on my unrealistic standards than their abilities. I thought I was alone in this, until a friend of mine said this morning, "Let's face it: none of us signed up for imperfect children."
She's right. None of us do. We expect them to come out physically perfect; we expect them to be intellectually perfect; and we certainly expect them to be emotionally perfect. I don't know why we are conditioned to believe that babies come into the world as completely blank slates (though to some degree that's true), but the idea of a child without conflict or challenges is one of the most damnable lies a parent can tell themselves.
Of course kids are complicated. So are adults. That's human nature! We are, of all the species inhabiting this planet, the most complex and confusing. We vacillate between logic and emotion, humor and pain, joy and sorrow. We can say one thing with our mouths and mean it in our hearts and still feel it completely differently depending on the day.
I think where I fail too often is in expecting things to ever run smoothly. I've never outgrown the notion that an average day should be devoid of problems and challenges. I know that sounds hysterically naive, but it's just the notion of normal I grew up with: normal, without any issues.
Life has offered me enough examples that I ought to have progressed beyond that idea, but it still stays with me. Maybe it's my dream; maybe it's the hope that makes the day bearable. Maybe I'm just delusional. Regardless, I'm slowly and surely learning that the mess we live in is normal, and those days where things seem perfect are the outliers.
That makes things a bit easier, but only by a degree.
And yet so much of who I am, and am becoming, is being shaped by this understanding that life is tough on all of us. That no one has it all together and sails above the trouble. Knowing that, realizing that, makes me far more sympathetic than apathetic; it makes me desire to reach out further, to know and hear the stories of the people around me before I pass judgment on their lives. It makes me, for those who are spiritually inclined as I am, more like Christ.
If, in the words of Jesus, we're all sick and need a doctor, then if nothing else we all hold in common the conflict of living. From the oldest of us to the youngest, we're each doing the best we can.
And so when my son spills his milk on the couch because he doesn't quite get that the top on his cup isn't hermetically sealed, there's no need to get cross-eyed. He's learning the same truth that we all learn, everyday of our lives:
Life is complicated.
Here's to grace for the journey.