I’m standing in the kitchen, flipping through my planner, when I realize it doesn’t go past June. My husband David and I have just booked a vacation for July. I want to write it down. I toss the deficient planner aside and yell, “I’m going to Staples!”
“I want to go!” my nine-year-old, Autumn, calls, running down the stairs so fast I think she’ll fall flat on her face. She gleams at me expectantly once she reaches the bottom stair.
I take a deep breath; I was hoping to go alone. But arguing about it will be more work than allowing her to come along. “Alright, put some shoes on,” I say. “Maybe you can help me choose one.” A huge smile illuminates her face as she shoves her feet into an old worn pair of black boots.
We arrive at the store and head straight to the planners. I can’t find one I want—something simple yet pretty, with lots of blank space for notes. I rifle through what they have, not noticing that my daughter has walked to the other side of the aisle. She comes up beside me with a sparkly notebook, covered in so many jewels it looks like it’s been bedazzled. “Mama, can you buy this for me? I’ll pay you back.”
“Why do you need that? Don’t we have notebooks at home?” The moment I speak the words out loud, I realize their irony. I have two other planners—at home—that I have deemed “not good enough,” yet here I am, looking for another.
“Well, yeah,” she replies, looking down at the floor, “but I want to write a story.” Her voice is a whisper, as if she’s afraid to even speak it out loud.
I hear the trepidation in her voice and I get it—my daughter is beginning to dream a big dream. For weeks I’ve been hiding away with a notebook and a pen, writing stories that have been swirling around in my head for years. We rearranged the house to create a writing nook; we rearranged our schedule to allow me the time. She’s been watching me fill my notebook in spare moments. Now she wants her own.
The last thing I wish to do is squash an idea before it begins to flourish. I want her to plant this dream seed, to nurture it, to watch it grow. I shift my tone and reply with excitement, “A story?! How cool!”
She looks up, surprise written across her face, eyes glittering. In a slightly louder voice she says, “It’s based on Harry Potter. What if he had a sister?” Her whisper returns as she drops her gaze to the ground. “It’s just an idea I had. It’s not a story I want to share with the world, it’s just something I want to write for myself.”
I gently put my finger on her chin and raise her head. Looking into her hazel-brown eyes, I say, “That sounds like a really cool story and I’ll buy you a new notebook for it. Are you sure this is the one you want?”
We abandon the planners and walk down the aisle to browse the notebooks. I try to guide her to a bigger one—something more functional—but then I remind myself that this needs to be her decision, not mine. She settles on a small three-pack. They aren’t sparkly, but they’re bright, just the right size for her to carry around.
“Those are perfect. Are you ready?” I shift my stack of possible planners to the other hand.
“Um, I guess.” She’s hesitating, so I pause. “Are you sure?”
“Well, I only have pencils at home. Pens look so much nicer. Do you think I could buy some of those erasable pens you have?”
Knowing the power of a good pen, I lead her to the clearance section where I remember seeing the pens she wants. “Blue, black, or red?” I ask. “Black,” my daughter replies. “It’s more fancy.”
We head back to the planner section so I can make my own final decision. I settle on a generic weekly one with a pretty purple cover, studded with cutout flowers. There’s no specific section for meals or to-dos, but the squares for each day offer plenty of room for household chores and a great deal of blank space to write. It will do. Armed with our new supplies, we head to the cash register. “Just tell me how much I owe you, Mama. I’ll pay you back.”
Walking to our car, I turn to her. “I tell you what. You don’t have to pay me any money, but you know what I want you to do?”
She stops and gazes up at me, then speaks inquisitively. “What?”
“Write the story,” I reply. “That’s how you can pay me back. Write the story that’s in your head.”
And that nine-year-old girl starts writing the moment we get home. She works on her story for weeks. With every free moment she can find, Autumn sneaks away to write in this notebook that feels like her first grown-up dream.
A few days later, I discover my six-year-old daughter, Eden, hiding under her lofted bed. She’s writing in a tiny notebook she found lying around the house. “What are you working on?” I ask. She turns to me with a startled look on her face, “Oh, I’m writing a story about a groundhog. I’m on chapter four.”
It seems this thing has caught on: we’re a family of writers now. A family of dreamers, with our pens and our notebooks. And it all started with two things: my notebook and my dream to be more true to who I was created to be.
I have always held this longing to write, but I placed my own goals on hold when I became a mom. I told myself, “I’ll get to it later.” “When the lessons are done.” “When everyone’s been fed.” “When the house is clean.” “When my kids are grown.” It was easy for me to box up my dreams because it was so hard to find the time.
Last year, I decided to chase the desire I had kept buried for so long. It hasn’t been easy, my dream-chasing. It has meant leaving chores undone for days so I can finish one more draft. More centrally, it has meant unearthing the fears I have buried for years. The fear of what other people might think; the fear that I might not measure up; the fear that no one will ever read anything I write. But taking the risk to chase my dream has also meant that I am happier. That I am more fulfilled. That I am a better person than I was before. I am more intentional in my interactions with people. More patient. Less irritable.
As I started chasing my dream again, I realized that pursuing my passions also serves my family. For nine years, I’ve been so focused on being Mom—on providing meals, giving encouragement, teaching lessons—that I didn’t realize what my kids need most of all is to see me dream, too, and to witness me taking steps to achieve it. Watching me change our routine ever so slightly, dedicating just an hour or two a day to my own goals, I’ve shown them that having dreams is a part of life. And that while chasing them is a risk, it’s one that’s always worth taking. That even when we’re feeling scared, going after our deepest dreams is what we do.
A couple of months after beginning my new writing routine, I glance out the window to see my daughters with one of the next-door neighbor kids. Months ago, I found an old plastic picnic table and set it up in the woods for the kids to use as a mud kitchen. It has transformed into a writing desk. The three of them sit in silence, each with a notebook and pen.
I watch their tilted heads, bent in concentration. After a moment, one looks up to say something. The others turn their heads to respond. In my peripheral vision, I see another neighbor coming from her house, notebook in hand.
“We started a writing club,” the girls say when they come inside. “But we didn’t get much writing done. We mostly talked about ideas, but it was fun!”
I pour a cup of tea and breathe in, allowing the soft chamomile scent to fill my lungs. I’ve heard all along that kids imitate our behavior. Now I’ve seen it firsthand. My children need me to reach for the moon. They’ll never know how to do it themselves if they don’t see me try.