It seems to me that in the more meaningful conversations we tend to have, dreaming about our own children’s future is the most wildly original subject we ever tackle. We care about those kids, after all, and we always want them to have better and more interesting lives than we have had so far.
Even if you’re name is Cher … or Obama … or Cher’s boyfriend.
So, I thought it might be worth my while to express a few of the long-term hopes and dreams I have for my own brood, Violet, 5, Henry, 3, and Charlie, all of 6 months. And listen, it’s really not because I think my personal vision for them is any better than yours or anything, because I truly don’t. It’s just that I feel like it’s maybe the most insightful and even useful topic to ponder when it comes to parenting. Or when it comes to wondering just what direction this mad mad world is headed in.
For whatever it may be worth to you, here’s a short list of a few non-traditional hopes and dreams I have for my kids’ futures. They might not be the ones we always tend to hear about (YAY! COLLEGE!) but if you think about it, they’re the sorts of things we ought to pay a bit more attention to.
1. An understanding of hard work. Really hard work.
As much as I really don’t mind what they choose to do with their lives, I seriously hope that each of my kids experience their share of back-breaking labor along the way. I’m so convinced that actual work work, the kind that gives you blisters the size of ice cubes and causes you to collapse in a sweaty heap of sore limbs at the end of a long day, is one of the most important differences between people who actually understand this world and have an empathy for it, versus the people who simply want to use it to their advantage.
I’ve had jobs on and off since I was a teenager in which I had to dig ditches, shovel dirt, plant things, shovel snow, clean filthy spaces, and lift very heavy sacks of stuff under a blazing sun or out in a whipping blizzard, and I can tell you straight-up that I think each of those experiences has made me a better man and (hopefully) a better person.
Look, we live in a data-driven information age and there’s no question that so many of the choice occupations out there won’t ever require a person to know what it feels like to bust their butts physically for an honest day’s wage. But still. Experiencing real work, knowing real labor when you’re a young and impressionable teenager, that can carry with you for the rest of your life, no matter what you end up doing. And that’s an irreplaceable gift, if you ask me. It’s the gift of knowledge and appreciation.
Kids that have come through even one hard summer job will understand better what so much of the world is about. Because so much of the world is really held up by people who must work their fingers to the bone for practically nothing. And we’re all better off having that knowledge in the back of our minds.
2. A love of reading. (As in, actual books.)
In so many ways the Internet and cell phones and all of this technology has pounced upon us so rapidly and with such thunderous power that many of the more traditional ways of broadening our minds have been almost instantly replaced with beams of electric light providing ALL of our knowledge.
Books in general need to survive. I don’t care if that sounds archaic to you, like I’m some old guy talking trash about “young people these days” because I’m not. I’m modern, people. I dig the new grooves we’re navigating. But I’m also lucky enough to have been raised by a single mom who always made sure that my brother and I had books to read, even when she was flat broke and struggling. It’s because of that, I look back on my life now at age 42 and I notice that so very much of my understanding and open-mindedness about the world we live in comes from the fact that I have been devouring fiction since I was the size of a decent bluefish.
Yes, reading history and poetry and just about any old thing you choose to read in your time on Earth is beneficial. No doubt about it. But try and get your kids to become fiction lovers too, if you can. Start them young and buy them used storybooks and then used novels as they grow. The value in it is that fiction offers both an incomparable glimpse into other people’s stories (and thus, their lives and their feelings) as well as the constant reminder that someone, ONE PERSON, was able to create all of this intrigue and beauty with their own mind.
So, churn out readers. Maybe churn out a novelist or two if you’re lucky. Use words and imagination to make their futures wealthier than any bank account ever will.
3. Love itself.
I think there’s this lack of emphasis running rampant through a trillion households in this world today. I feel pretty strongly that so many parents want to raise loving kids, but they’re lazy as hell about it. Even to the point where a lot of them don’t ever talk with their kids about love or romance or breaking hearts or pain or hope or joy or respect or any of the things that will certainly play a massive role in the life awaiting them.
Well, mostly I guess it’s because they’re too busy trying to keep life moving along in all the practical ways: carting people around, food shopping, getting the laundry done. It’s understandable, too. Most of us aren’t Shakespeare or whatever, spouting off heartfelt sonnets as we snarf down breakfast on-the-fly.
But each of us has a story to tell about love. Every single one of us has known the peaks and valleys that come along with family love and romantic love and even parental love and, in my humble opinion, the knowledge that we have fought for and earned from experiencing those things in our own lives is quite possibly the most valuable thing we can ever teach our kids. Still, we hesitate. We talk about so many things with our kids, but rare is the day when we plop down next to them on the couch, look them in the eye, and say, “Hey, you know what? I wanna tell you a story about the time love really changed my life.”
I’ve been trying it with my five-year-old daughter lately and I’ll admit it. She usually looks at me like I’m a 160 lb. stalk of gross celery at first.
But then after a few minutes, a funny thing happens …
I see that she is listening to me.
And right then and there, I swear to you, I recognize that my little lessons about loving and love, they’re seeping into her forehead and settling forever back in her mind.
And that, my friend, is part of my dream coming true already.
Image: Bielanko Private
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