Dreaming My Children Safe

by Jack A. Urquhart,  ©2012 (477 words)

Lately I’ve been dreaming about my children.  I say ‘lately’ but it’s actually more of a long-standing thing, almost habitual.  Several nights a week they scamper across the landscape of my subconscious, practically careless, still small children, still obsessed with learning how to tie their shoelaces, practicing the latest breakdance moves, making igloos out of a spring snow in the back yard, squabbling over whose turn it is to feed the dog.  For those few small dreaming hours, they are no longer the grownups their years dictate.  And I can look out for them.

Then I awaken.

Then the real world closes in—that place for which I am increasingly fearful I’ve ill prepared my babes.

I encounter the evidence of this secondhand these days from the other side of the continent—a host of problems posted via e-mail, text message, Facebook, that I can’t ease away (as if I ever could).  It seems my children struggle in ways I never did, forced to make a go of it in a world governed by the things I failed to teach them—lessons that I encountered early on in the classroom, on the playground, on the job site, in Sunday school.  Want to talk about a failure of the education system?  Look no farther than the homefront!  I see the consequences of my negligence now—how my children flail in the absence of survival skills I might have drummed into their pliant, young heads.

Like the times tables of a rote intelligence; the ever useful craft of simulating respect where it isn’t deserved, or the expedience of abiding rules that ought rightly to be broken.  And, of course, the fine art of invoking God’s will toward any ends.

Silly me to have been so remiss.

Instead, my poorly educated children struggle to make ends meet by making art instead of stock portfolios, by attempting music instead of marketplace cacophony, by parsing the lingo of the street instead of spouting superstitious scripture.  Instead of brandishing parchment credentials, they parade their worldly ignorance, their emperors clothing, before the ogling eyes of the world as if were the latest fashion.  Or at least, that is how it often looks to these distanced eyes—as if I’ve sent them naked and ill-armored, no more than serfs, into a world that lords it over vulnerability, over naiveté.

Yet somehow they survive, if not exactly thrive.  Somehow they cope, even managing to display occasional acts of valor.  And how miraculous is that in today’s world?

And yet in the still of the night, I go on dreaming.  I go on dreaming my children safe.  I go on  despite awakening day after day to the same old sun-up questions.  Like:

Who would’ve guessed it could be this difficult, this excruciating, this inescapable—paying quotidian witness to the evidence of parental oversight?  Who would’ve guessed it could be this painful—watching from the sidelines as children become themselves?

Not me.

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About jaurquhart

Jack Andrew Urquhart was born in the American South. Following undergraduate work at the University of Florida, Gainesville, he taught in Florida's public schools. He earned a Master of Arts degree in English, Creative Writing, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he was the winner of the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Award for Fiction (1991). His work has appeared online at Clapboard House Literary Journal, Crazyhorse Literary Journal, and Standards: The International Journal of Multicultural Studies. He is the author of So They Say, a collection of self-contained, inter-connected stories and the short story, They Say You Can Stop Yourself Breathing. Formerly a writing instructor at the University of Colorado’s Writing Program, Mr. Urquhart was, until recently, a senior analyst for the Judicial Branch of California. He resides in central Florida.
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7 Responses to Dreaming My Children Safe

  1. adauphin04 says:

    I completely identify with this, Jack! OMG, my son (27) told me the other day that I should have prepared him for how nasty and down-right mean people are for no reason. He works in retail and gets customers who take out their pain and frustration on him because they weren’t “smart” enough to plan ahead so they’re not buying suits for weddings they knew about four months ago. “Like it’s my fault they’re procrastinators!” he exclaimed.

    Also, me “pounding” into his head that regardless of how people act, he should always treat them with respect; treat them they way he wants to be treated. “Do you know how hard it is to be nice to someone who’s being a jackass?!”

    I tried to teach him to be the “better man”, only to have his feelings be hurt be people who were apparently raised by feral dogs. (I won’t say wolves, because even they are more respectful of each other!)

    Beautifully written essay on the difficulties of raising children!

    • jaurquhart says:

      Hi Traci. We try to teach the ‘right’ lessons, ignore the ‘wrong’ ones, and looks what happens! A passel of trouble and disappointment for our progeny and generous helpings of worry (and guilt) for ourselves. You think we’d have signed up for parental duty if we’d known what was in store? Yeah. Probably. :-)

  2. I agree that this is a beautifully written piece that only hints at much that lies beneath the surface. I have very little experience to bring to it since I never had children and am an only child myself who grew up in households almost entirely without male influence. It was the ’50s but somehow I never became imbued with antiquated ideas. Maybe it was because, having amost no familial male interractions, it never occurred to me that as a woman I should feel oppressed or that I couldn’t do anything I wanted to do in life. Not that I’ve done so much, but I’ve always felt that if I didn’t accomplish great things, it was nobody’s fault but my own.
    Well, how did I get into that? It doesn’t sound like you did such a poor job raising your children, Jack. I’ll take honest and empathic artists and musicians any day over grubbers in the temple of the almighty dollar!

    • jaurquhart says:

      Hi Lorinda. Thanks for stopping by. In some ways, yours seems a blessed childhood — one free of many damaging constraints. I tried to do that for my kiddies, but then they went out into the real world. I remember my son telling me once when he was about eleven or twelve that “parents always lie to their children”. When I asked for clarification, he said something along the lines of “They always tell their kids how wonderful they are, how smart, how much potential they have. And then the kids go to school and find out they’re dumb.” I remember how heartbreaking the moment — and how inadequate my reply: “Depends on how you define ‘dumb’,” I think I said. Oy.

  3. Natasha says:

    HI Jack, I really loved this essay which was beautifully written. Initially, at first I was hesitant to comment because I’m wa,y too young to have kids so I don’t have that exact experience. However, I still read the essay, saw the point you we’re trying to make and felt that I had to comment just to let you know how much I enjoyed enjoyed reading this. Thanks.

    • jaurquhart says:

      Hi Tasha. I’m grateful for your comments, happy that you understood and liked the piece. Parenthood. Oy! I was thirty when my first was born, and I wonder sometimes if that wasn’t still too young. Please know that I always enjoy your blog posts. — Jack

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