When I started in real estate in 2012 my son, Oliver, was fighting epilepsy daily. He was experiencing regression cognitively and developmentally. He was losing his ability to speak and sing, which he had for a few brief years. I didn’t know this then, but I was hearing “I love you” for the last few times. These days, I can’t bear to watch videos of him singing or talking. It makes my heart feel shredded — not broken, but shredded.
But also in 2012, I got a real estate license and a new career, both so different from being a stay-at-home mom and a social worker. I loved it from the start and couldn’t believe how complex the practice of selling real estate turned out to be. I loved the challenge and I didn’t even mind being new to the field… I just needed something for myself.
To be honest, I was losing myself in Oliver’s medical issues. My emotions were tied directly to the quality of his day, how many seizures he had, the delivery of another diagnosis. I had so intertwined my life (and future) in him that I lost the ability to dream for myself.
Motherhood has this weird way of taking you as an independent person and almost fusing you to your child, especially in a crisis. I think this is natural and for a short time, it works. But when you have years of crisis ahead of you, it just isn’t sustainable. Finding work that I loved and that challenged me helped me rediscover my own personhood.
I went from being a wispy, see-through ghost to having flesh and blood and enthusiasm again.
Early on in a real estate workshop, the speaker asked the audience to write down a few personal dreams. I put my pen to the paper and my mind was just blank. It was like I had been asked to solve a complex math equation.
I thought to myself, “Okay… um… I am sure I have some dreams in here.” But every dream I came up with was some spin on seizure freedom for Oliver, the ability to travel as a family, finally feeling rested, getting away with Andrew and not being worried constantly about Ollie’s health. All of my dreams were wrapped around his medical condition.
Living in survival and crisis mode for so long made it really hard to dream of the future.
I’ve noticed kids dream just fine. They have outlandish ideas and wonderful creativity and they do this from a place of safety. They don’t worry about how much it will cost to build their castle or if the reality of being a rock star is even a remote possibility for them. They don’t censor themselves and the world hasn’t broken their heart yet.
I wanted to get back to that kind of dreaming, but I feared the little girl in me, the one who was so excited for the future, was gone… or worse, dead.
My childhood, until I was about 7 or 8, was great. My mom, dad, brother, and I moved from our trailer to a little house on a piece of land my dad bought when he was 18 from my great-grandmother. My grandparents lived across the highway, as did my great-grandmother (the one who owned the land). We had 9 acres and I roamed around like every inch of that red North Carolina dirt was my kingdom. I often wore my dance recital outfits to play in the woods, much to my mom’s frustration. I never saw the reason to leave the sparkles inside (and I still don’t!). We had go-carts we raced on a track my dad made around our 1-acre garden on top of the hill. My brother “accidentally” shot me with a BB gun in the heat of playing “war.” I would drag my giant boom box out to my playset, pulling the long extension cord out there with me to play the Dirty Dancing soundtrack or the country music station. I played alone and performed for our pet rabbits and goats for hours.
But inside the house, the fights grew louder and longer. My brother and I would sit together as we heard the shouting. When I think back, I can feel the knots in my stomach even now. By this time, my brother (six years older than me) was getting kicked out of schools, going to jail, and basically imploding. This didn’t help the dynamic at home. My dad and brother had a very volatile relationship that escalated almost instantly when they argued. I was always on edge. By the time I was 9, my mom was living with my grandparents across town and my parents’ bitter divorce was in full swing. Court dates, meetings with judges, conversations with counselors… it was a lot to put on a 9-year-old’s shoulders.
My dad won custody of me, which was quite unusual for the time, and so he bought a book on how to braid hair. We ate Dinty Moore Beef Stew from cans and more grilled cheeses than I can count. He was trying to figure it all out and going through his own emotional roller coaster.
Co-parenting as we know it today wasn’t a thing back then. I only saw my mom every other weekend and on holidays. Both my mom and dad remarried (and are both divorced now from those people too). I honestly don’t remember a whole lot of my childhood after that. There are flashes of things in my memories, but overall it was a roller coaster of emotional pain and trying to navigate parents who still had so much anger for one another.
My guess is many of you can relate. (But as a sidenote, I’m happy to report my dad and mom now get along about as well as I think you can when you’ve been divorced. It took them until my wedding to get there, but I’m so grateful they did.)
I share all that to say the dream factory I had when I was little, of being the next Reba McEntire or making music videos for CMT or being on the 6 o’clock news at the anchor desk, just dissolved. The factory closed and the reality of growing up fast took its place.
Crisis shuts down dreaming.
We have all been in a crisis of one kind or another over the last year.
But you can learn to dream again, even in your darkest days. The dreams may have disappeared, but the factory (aka your mind) has always been there. You can fire up that factory TODAY.
We know we are ruled by hope and not fear when we can dream vivid dreams for ourselves.
This year, I hope you find some time to dream for yourself again. It can even be a small dream, like a day trip, a class you want to take, or a gift you’d love to get yourself.
So what are your dreams? Are they big, small, or medium-sized? Free or expensive? Immediate or long term?
Your life, even if it isn’t exactly how you dreamed it would be, is FULLY worth investing in. Your dreams matter and they aren’t accidental.
And never forget: Sometimes dreams are the seeds of something even greater… your calling.
So go find the key to your dream factory. Turn on the lights and dust stuff off. We’ve got some dreaming and planning to do. I already have the coffee brewing in the break room of my factory, and trust me, it is hot pink in there and I’m blasting Reba’s “Fancy” over the loudspeakers, and of course I found an outfit with sparkles to wear.
Thanks for being a part of one of my dreams — The Inspiration Lab! You helped me bring it to life, from an idea to an actual community of women loving, supporting, teaching, and sharing in our lives together. I’m so grateful for every single one of you who read this blog! Let’s dream big for the future together… I can’t wait to see what you’ll create.