I was a dreamy kind of kid. If I wasn’t reading the made-up stories in my books, I was making up stories in my head. I could sit for hours and imagine what it might be like to perform on a stage like Janet Jackson or how important I’d feel standing in a courtroom doing my Perry Mason thing. I could so clearly see myself walking across the floor and coolly posing the case-clinching question to a shivering witness on the stand. I saw myself cabbage-patching across the Louisville Gardens stage in my Rhythm Nation military outfit and my wild, thick hair tamed into a slick ponytail.

Don’t judge me. Lol.

Even well into my young adulthood, I had this way of envisioning myself in places I’d never been, doing things I’d never done. In fact, I’ve always believed that deep down in all of us is this awesome, God-given second sight that drives us to be the creators and innovators that we all are in some form. So between the will and grace of God and my own work ethic (mostly the former), many of the things I’ve envisioned for myself have come true.

And… many have not.

That’s a truth we all must accept, I suppose. Even in achievement, life rarely shows up the way you think it will. Some dreams come true. Others don’t. Some do, but look nothing like how you dreamed.

Sky is the limit and you know that you can have what you want, be what you want. – D-Train Click To Tweet

D-Train said it best in their hit song, “Keep On”: Sky is the limit and you know that you can have what you want, be what you want. But can we, though? Or, are there very real limitations that we all must face, even as we keep our eyes on our dreams?

I still think there is great value, joy, and peace in being able to envision ourselves accomplishing our dreams even before we actually do so. Peace, you ask? Yes. Dreaming is one of God’s secret peace-giving activities. Dreaming is a stabilizing force in our lives. I know this because as I got older and stopped dreaming, my peace left me in many ways. Once the bills came and the family came and the rejection letters came, there was a point in my life where I thought, “What’s the point of sitting around dreaming and envisioning something so far-fetched when I got all this real life stuff right in front of me?” And I must say… those were (and are, whenever I slip back into that mode of thinking on occasion) the saddest, most anxiety-ridden periods of time in my life. Yeah, I still had my work ethic. I still prayed that I was operating in the will of God as I navigated school and careers. But the missing component, my refusal to dream, my inability to “see,” made everything feel rote. I was uninspired. I’d truly lost my joy.

My limitations were real. The possibilities were not necessarily endless. That’s real right? Bills exist. Family obligations exist. Not everyone is going to like my work so yes, rejection letters exist. And yet, personally, in order for me to have joy, peace, and feel a sense of value, I have to maintain my ability to dream, to see myself doing the things I desire, despite all those very real obstacles.

Oh what a paradox.

The reality of this all became crystal clear for me recently during some time with my sweet girl, K. An everyday toddler discovery ended up having great meaning for me.

K has been on a Tinkerbell kick lately. She’s fascinated by anything that has to do with fairies and wants to watch the Tinkerbell movies over and over again. It’s just her thing. Like Doc McStuffins a couple of months ago and all things Frozen up until last week.

A few days ago, I was on my laptop and Dad was in the kitchen. K was playing and, of course, watching Tinkerbell. All of sudden I see in my periphery her two Afro puffs fly across the room like tumbleweed as she jumps two inches in the air. Not satisfied with whatever she was trying do, K huffs, puffs and growls, then returns to the opposite side of the living room. She then runs and jumps into the air again, once again only getting about two inches off the ground. Still frustrated with her results, she repeats this a couple more times before, exasperated, she folds her arms in typical toddler angry mode and says, “Mommy, Daddy, I can’t fly! Why can’t I fly?”

Umm, okay. Lol.

At first I was thinking, “No more Tinkerbell for you, kid.” I looked at my husband like, she’s joking, right? Surely even at three she knows that she can’t fly.

But does she?

It’s not like we’ve had any explicit conversations on how gravity works. She’s “flown” on a plane and as brilliant as my child is (mom brag much?), I’m fairly certain she knows nothing about aerodynamics and what it takes to keep a plane in the sky.

All K knew was that she wanted to fly like Tinkerbell. She could “see” herself flying. But she couldn’t do it. She was limited.

Maybe I’m super sensitive to this kind of thing, but something broke in me when I heard her ask, “Mommy, why can’t I fly?” Because one day, I know it’s not going to be just about flying. Maybe, God forbid, it’s, “Mommy, why can’t I get into that school?” or “Mommy, why can’t I be a little taller, shorter, skinnier, etc.?” She will be faced with any number of real and perceived limitations and obstacles.

Just like I was. Just like we all have.

So at what point does a mother talk about failure and limitations to a child? And how do you do that without quenching their spirits or inadvertently stopping them from dreaming the biggest, most fantastic dreams they can? Is there a way to talk about very real obstacles while still encouraging them to shoot for the moon anyway?

I believe that what is actually impossible today can be totally possible tomorrow. There is too much evidence around me to think otherwise. But there is still the reality of today, we all must contend with. And that is a hard conversation to have with a toddler who is genuinely sad because she cannot fly.

But I have it anyway. I tell my sweet girl that flying like Tinkerbell is not physically possible.


But tomorrow? Tomorrow, I say, hold all kinds of possibilities.

I want my baby to know that limits exist but they should never be the reason to stop dreaming. Click To Tweet

I want K to know that failure and limitations exist but they should never, ever be the reason she stops dreaming. Dreaming, if nothing else, will give her great joy and peace, no matter what life serves her.

And for now, that’s all I got.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

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