Thursday, March 1, 2012

Those Kids Could Dream

Stop Stealing Dreams (by M.A. Reilly, 2.29.2012)
 “Everybody has a secret world inside of them. All of the people of the world, I mean everybody. No matter how dull and boring they are on the outside, inside them they've all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds. Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands maybe.”  
Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 5: A Game of You

My father was a dreamer. You know the type. Distracted. Black socks with sandals. A man who studied flowers, represented labor, deeply loved my mother. One summer we trekked across the country and slept each night in a tent.

Each stop was a story. Each stop was an occasion to meet someone we did not know and to listen to them tell a piece of their life.

That summer, my father passed along the capacity to dream to my brothers and me.  It would be his finest gift to us.  He did so by dreaming out loud: finding the wonder in the ordinary and laying it down with words we could follow. My brothers and I were born at the tail end of that generation that Seth Godin writes about:
When the economy hit its stride after World War II, it led to an explosion in dreams. Kids dreamed of walking on the moon or inventing a new kind of medical device. They dreamed of industry and science and politics and invention, and often, those dreams came true. It wasn’t surprising to get a chemistry set for your ninth birthday—and it was filled not with straightforward recipes, but with tons of cool powders and potions that burst into flame or stank up the entire house.

A generation dreamed of writing a bestseller or inventing a new kind of car design or perfecting a dance move.

We look back on that generation with a bit of awe. Those kids could dream
. - Section 59. Seth Godin.

Garrowby Hill
I can still remember the night when men first walked on the moon.  I was 10 and it was summer and we were driving home from visiting friends, up and down winding hills with all of us tucked into the Country Squire, passing house after house, one after the next, each lit with the soft glow of a television screen.  Years later I would see David Hockney's Garrowby Hill, and think, "Yes, this is like the road we traveled that night."

It would be the first time I heard Walt Whitman's homage to the perfect silence of stars and the first time I
looked up at the moon and saw it as something not made of cheese and myth. 

"Mary, up there men are walking. Anything is possible," my father would tell me.

In the basement of the house where I grew up, thousands of miles from the Dublin orphanage where I first lived, was an elaborate chemistry set that sat on top of several large sheets of green spray-painted plywood.  It was a complicated concoction that grew year to year as we each took our turn as alchemist.  It was a time when all things could be reused, reimagined, reinvented.

The discarded appliance box was a fort, a carriage, a rocket.
Sheets drying on a line were spirits to dance with, a tent to crawl beneath, a passageway to the East.
Bottle caps were the currency in a game you newly invented.
A stick of chalk and a sidewalk were the opening to possible worlds.

We were bricoleurs, making do with what was at hand. As such, a thing could not be limited by what another had intended. And perhaps that was the deepest secret I was to learn: Do not limit what you imagine by another's definition. 

Tonight, I want to take solace in the moon.  Hoping for full and settling for what is: first quarter. Looking up, I see that we have traveled so very far from that night when we all walked on the moon, from when kids dreamed big dreams and schools, like home, were wonderfully imperfect. Then there was time for getting lost, for wandering about, for doing nothing.

Now we are told that bigger and better and more precise reckonings of what children need to know and be able to do have been defined.  Each age is the age of the unimaginable and yet now we have the list of things to know. Everything has been defined for us.

We can purchase the list, the clever frameworks, the myriad of tests, the packaged PD, the scientifically-proven research, the white paper, and with all of it, the secret promise to not be left behind.

But know this: beneath those endless products, we purchase certainty at a cost for we have been given a recipe with the intention that we follow it, precisely.

I think my father would be sad tonight beneath this quarter moon. A man, such as he, who dreamed would find it hard to breathe in this sterile place that we are forever perfecting, where the stuff of school is a möbius strip of endless intent.

There's no way out, the children whisper.

My father would see that with all the perfection and the rushing about that there is no time for dreaming, no time to wear cardigans, to meet the unexpected traveler, to wonder. 

In schools, our children practice being very fast, very first, very certain.  They know there will be a test and then another for they are a möbius strip.  And these tests will tell them their worth, their true measure, and fear not--they will tell us our measure as well.

"We will measure," the new bards tell us.
They mouth this song without sound.
"Nothing else is possible," they sing.

We are without stories. Instead, we have data.

The distance between the window in my son's room and the moon feels far tonight. It is late when I lean down and whisper, "You must not forget how to dream. When you dream you open a small hidden door."  I whisper it as he sleeps, an incantation of hope from a mother to her son.  A hope that he might hold up to shield himself from the certainty that frames his waking life.

Long ago men walked on the moon. Beneath them a daughter held her father's hand and knew all things were possible.  The same light that found me then, finds me tonight.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you Jolie. Once I finished making the art,t he words wrote themselves:)

  2. This is one of your greatest posts. As a father who often wonders about how to nurture the natural explorer and scientist in my daughter, it brought tears to my eyes. I will keep this for inspiration for our vacations and summer days together as a reminder of the power I have in this whole, awkward equation.

    1. Roderick, thank you so very much. My mother and father remain my greatest teachers. I find that becomes truer as I age. How lovely to think of the holidays you and your daughter will compose. Thank you again for your kind words.

  3. I am stilled here, in Galway, in the midst of a busy day. Thank you, Mary Ann, for your powerful art and deeply touching story. I also was 10 in the year of the first moon walk and remember it vividly, as a child remembers. And I also thank my parents for being my greatest teachers... about dreams, stories, hope, love. Again, thank you.

    1. Well, now when I think of looking up at that moon and am recalling my ten year old self, I will think of you Catherine--home in Galway looking up too.

    2. Thank you so much for sharing this, Mary Ann and Catherine! I've thinking a lot about my Dad lately and the influence he's had on me, my siblings and his grandchildren. Your post might just prompt me to write some of it down.

      I also love the idea of the idea of 'meeting at the moon' - Imelda May wrote a song about it - for her mother

      I'll see you both there :)

    3. Great recording. I do hope that if you get around to writing, you'll share it. Thanks:)

  4. This is wonderful and moved me as a father of 2 young children. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    1. You are very welcome Grant. Glad the work resonated.

  5. Thank you so much. What a great story.

    Some of us were fortunate enough to have parents who taught us to think differently than the crowd. I am forever grateful to my parents for this. I only hope I've done the same for my children.

  6. == It is late when I lean down and whisper, "You must not forget how to dream. When you dream you open a small hidden door." I whisper it as he sleeps, an incantation of hope from a mother to her son. A hope that he might hold up to shield himself from the certainty that frames his waking life.==

    For this to happen best, parents can consider allowing their children to leave school. So many of us have been conditioned to believe that school is something we all must do. First, it isn't. Second, school has become something that is doing children more harm than good. Children can live a life without school and be even better prepared for the college, career, or making a difference in their world.

    This is something more and more parents are discovering and something which all parents should consider if they want what is best for their children.

    1. I imagine we will travel that road, Lisa. It helps knowing others have walked it before us.

    2. Terrific. I have a group of hundreds of parents who are doing it and loving it at

      Look forward to having you join the conversation :)

  7. I loved this reflection. It speaks to time, and light, and caring about all kinds of important people and things.

  8. Mary Ann, This is beautiful and speaks so directly to the dreams I have for my children. That they might be adults, one day, able to look back and remember the moments where they learned to dream, and my own hope that I might have had a part in helping them find the dream world within themselves.

    1. Just saw this Amy. Our capacity to dream is enormous. May our children experience the same.