The Storybooks Got It Wrong
I switched off her desk lamp, turned to her closet with intent to shut its door and she said, “Leave it open. It helps me to dream.”
I was well aware of her obsession with fashion and her dreams of having a walk in closet the size of our small old house. Without comment, I left the door to her dreams open and sat next to her on her bed. I was smiling and ready for our nightly talk.
I listened as she recounted her recent birthday trip to New York City. She described each Manhattan neighborhood. SoHo was not what she expected, Chelsea was full of energy, Times Square was unreal, and Little Italy was crowded due to the number in attendance for the street fair. However, one neighborhood was just right.
She said, “the Upper East Side was everything I pictured New York City to be.”
I was in agreement that the Upper East was lovely. I added that it had one drawback--exclusivity.
Her eyes opened wide, and she said, “But I want that. Not for the wrong reasons. Mom, I can just see myself living there. Dressing up my kids in cute little school uniforms, getting them into a cab. I am wearing my Burberry coat neatly tied around my waist. And everything is just perfect. A great apartment. Everything.”
I searched for words that would not sound judgmental, but would point out my concern. I gently put my hand on her blanket-covered belly and patted it as I said, “It’s what’s in here that determines your happiness. Don’t ever forget that.”
She said, “I know. Mom, you aren’t going to cry are you? You look like you are going to cry.”
I held back my tears and smiled. I kissed her on the forehead and wished her pleasant dreams and a well-deserved rest.
As I continued my nightly routine of emptying the dishwasher and folding laundry, I clung to her words. I searched for the source of the tears she witnessed filling my eyes. I looked around our tiny house and noticed the scratched wood floors, the chipped baseboards, and the water-spotted ceiling. I was reminded that that I could not afford a plumber. My body went down with a plop to the couch--the couch I bought 13 years ago. It was old. I cried.
Her fantasy on the Upper East Side paralleled life before I divorced her dad: a lovely home at the end of a cul-de-sac, a pool, and daily commutes to a private school. The impression of her smiling mom and dad was burned into her heart. She was not an outsider gazing upon a smokescreen. For her, the vision was real.
Was I wrong to desire authenticity and divorce her dad? In doing so, I destroyed her happiness. Was she trying to recapture a time of contentment, a time she understood, by creating a picture-perfect life for herself in the future?
Later, as I tried to put myself to sleep, I saw a time when I will not be close enough to tuck her into bed. I will not be there to listen to her dreams. I will not be able to comfort her the moment when she realizes the storybooks got it wrong.