The Agonies of Parenting, Part II

Copyright (c) 2008 by Kenny Felder

Two nights ago, I had one of the most emotionally overwhelming dreams of my life.

Joyce and I, our four kids, and my mother and Marty were at a carnival or fair of some sort. The adults decided to fantasize that it was seven years ago: Mary was seven, Benjamin was five, Jack three, and Shannon was not born yet. We all knew that we were just pretending. But there was seven-year-old Mary, eager to be picked up, to say silly things, and (of course) to play with her Daddy.

I'm looking (through two windows, into another room) at 14-year-old Mary as I write this. In the dream, that little girl was looking up at me as clear and visible as the big girl is right now. She wanted to be picked up and hugged, and she hugged me back.

So we played with the imaginary kids for a while, and then I decided to return to the real world. (Not out of the dream, because I didn't know it was a dream. But out of the fantasy game.) So I said "Good-bye, little Mary," and she smiled at me and waved. I said "Good-bye, little Benjamin," and I ruffled his hair, and he nodded but was intently concentrating on a bug or something else at his feet. I said "Good-bye, little little Jack," and he looked up with a characteristic Jack look that seemed to convey full understanding of the whole situation, including the fact that he didn't need to be sad that I was going away, since he was only make-believe.

Then I walked over to the carousel where the real, today-age kids were, and I started to tell them about the fantasy game. But as I told them, I dissolved in hopeless tears. I kept apologizing and telling them I didn't mean to cry, but I couldn't help it. I could barely talk.

When I woke up, Jack was already awake. So we hugged and played games and read stories for a while, and then I told him about the dream. And in real life, just as in the dream, I broke down crying. Later that morning I told Joyce about the dream, and I broke down crying again.

Right now, as I am writing this two days later, Mary is sitting at her computer, probably having three Facebook chats and watching a TV show at the same time. (She kicked me off her Facebook "friends" list, but she tolerates it if once in a while I walk by and kiss her head.) Benjamin is at Elijah's house, and Jack and Shannon have friends over, but Shannon has asked me several times if I can stop working and play with her. Instead, I'm writing this essay about a dream that happened two days ago, and I once again have tears streaming down my face. This dream is just not fading the way most dreams do.

Later that day, after I wrote everything above, was a Cub Scout family picnic at Umstead Park. Of course Mary and Benjamin both had better things to do, but Jack and Shannon and I went to the picnic. We played Poohsticks until they got interested in chasing one particularly large stick downstream. Then they splashed through the stream, freeing the stick when it got caught, and Jack gave Shannon stone-skipping lessons. When Shannon had to go to the bathroom, she made sure I stayed right by the door until she came out. Then she asked me to pick her up and carry her, although she wasn't tired. We all agreed it had been a great picnic.

Now I'm writing again. Mary is still at her computer, eating Pringles and commenting on photographs. She and I used to go to Umstead Park and play Poohsticks off the same bridge. Her beloved pink pillow is gone, lost when she was three years old. Her Dream Dollhouse was never lost, and it sits folded in the corner of the living room, its elaborate stories long forgotten.

Good-bye, little Mary.

Shannon never really got into the dollhouse, but she still wants to play with me every chance she gets. It's not good-bye yet, little Shannon. I'm going to hold onto you as long and as hard as I can. I'm not the kind of person who cries this much, really.

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