I woke up to the sound of rain pattering on the metal roof alone in the house. As I made coffee, listening to the creek that flows across the street. The thought of paddling crossed my mind, but I reasoned that I could catch up on paperwork and buy tickets for a trip to New Zealand with my son in a few months.
A grey blanket settled in across the sky and I told myself that hard work now meant sea kayaking and multi-day mountain bike rides with my son on the South Island in October. I searched for airline tickets, mentally debating how long we should travel, wondering if he’d fall behind if he missed a month of kindergarten.
As I was listing out the ways my son would miss out if we traveled for that long, a friend called me asking if I was going to paddle. I started to say no, I had a pile of things to get done. He mentioned Hooker Falls in Dupont State Park, a park and huck waterfall that had intrigued me since I moved to the area.
Kayaking local runs was one of the reasons I moved here, I reminded myself, I had this dream of integrating spending time with the daily grind.
The sky opened up when we scouted the drop, a horizon line that disappeared. My stomach roiled. Chasing my dreams sometimes makes me uncomfortable. I’m talking about the discomfort that makes me puke a little in my mouth.
My friend told me to paddle left and take a big boof stroke at the lip of the waterfall.
“Follow me,” he said.
Before I could so much as nod, I watched him paddle away. I followed his line. Everything else ceased existing for me except that moment, fixating on where I wanted to be going over the waterfall. The closer I got to the drop, the bigger it looked. I reached my paddle into the meat of the falling water, and for a split second, I was flying.
I drove home from Hooker Falls in an elevated mood, so glad I had taken a break from productivity to paddle. My thoughts turned to an article I’d read about valedictorians. Researchers followed their lives after high school, finding that they all went on to lead solid and comfortable lives, but getting straight A’s doesn’t correlate with innovation or creativity. Mastering the rules of school teaches kids to comply with rules and master the system.
We tell our kids to listen, teach them to behave. Somewhere along the way we stop asking them to dream.
Even when I talk about my dreams, I can get fixated on some future state, a time when I have unencumbered days to explore with my son. I live the present days in a state of frenzy, trying to get everything done.
Maybe there is another way, that the choice isn’t between taking time to kayak or working enough that I can take a long trip to a foreign country. Perhaps my dreams don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
We have the capacity to dream in more than one dimension. I can do the daily tasks that amount to productivity, but I don’t have to make a choice between obsessive adherence to my to-do list and feeling alive.
I went home, made a cup of coffee, and booked the plane tickets to New Zealand. And this afternoon when I pick up my son from preschool, instead of only asking him about what he did during the day, I’ll ask him what he dreams about doing.