A Hope Deferred

Each weekend, I keep a now long-standing tradition of taking our oldest daughter for cookies and milk. It’s the time in which she knows that she has my undivided attention, where she’s the scheduled priority, regardless of other commitments that may press in. I began the tradition by taking her to a Starbucks for a cookie when she was younger. As her love of books grew, however, she developed an affinity for the Barnes & Noble near our apartment in New England. After our cookie and conversation, we would spend an hour or more looking through books, and occasionally returning home with new reading material. Dedicated time with my daughter, and feeding her love of books. Everyone wins.

Since our re-location to North Carolina, Barnes & Noble isn’t as close by, but we manage to make it the home of the weekly cookies and milk outing about once monthly. A couple of weekends ago, after having browsed the books and moved on to the toys, she discovered one of those toys that would be really cool at about half its price. Of course, it’s a toy that she immediately wanted, for which she professed her un-dying love, and that she pined to own in a way that one wouldn’t even imagine possible for a four-year-old.

She’s ahead of the game, I suppose.

My reasons for not buying her the toy were many. The cost was less of an issue than the fact that her grandparents are able to show very little self-control in the toy-buying area, to the point that we must routinely purge old and un-favored toys in order to avoid the cost of purchasing a storage unit or a larger house. Karen and I both wish to not raise materialistic children.

That said, I also prefer to not be the guy with a sobbing four-year-old in the middle of a bookstore because she didn’t get what she wants. Parenting is a learning curve. Sometimes you end up saying things that you realize in retrospect were not the best of ideas. In this case, that went something like, “I’ve taken a photo of it. When we get home, Mommy and I will talk about it. Maybe we can buy it for you if we agree.”

The issue is that I already knew that no such agreement would come, because I could predict with certainty that Karen would feel the same as I did. It accomplished the short-term goal of avoiding the in-store meltdown, but the side effect was frequent reminders on the drive home to remember to show Mommy the toy as soon as we arrived so that we could talk about it and then make the purchase.

As promised, we discussed the toy, and, as predicted, it was not purchased. So, I was successful in deferring the meltdown until we were in the safety of our home, but I also deferred my daughter’s hope.

I don’t think that’s a good thing.

I forget…we all do…how crushing is the potential for such an event on a child of that age. I’m not speaking of not getting a toy, but rather about being given hope and then realizing the desired result still didn’t happen. Hope, you see, is a most powerful thing. Only a small amount of hope can inspire us to get through the day, to stop obsessing over that thing that is causing us such anxiety, to believe the best of a potential diagnosis, to try one more time to keep a relationship alive. Hope is a Divinely given gift, one of the best attributes of the human condition.

Hope crushed…a series of dreams that don’t come true…can achieve the opposite. The most optimistic among us can become calloused after a certain number of such experiences.

I believe that I mis-handled my daughter’s hope that day. A small thing, perhaps, a blip on the proverbial radar of her childhood (she’s already forgotten the toy by this point), but impactful should it continue. I gave her hope for something that I knew would not come true, that I knew I would not permit to come true, and I did so because of selfish motives.

I’m quite disappointed in my actions that day. I learned in that moment that realism is always the preferred approach. I want our daughter to know that hope is important because dreams and wishes do occasionally come true to our liking.

I can’t manipulate her outlook the way I did that day because of that toy.

I won’t do so again.

“What happens to a dream deferred?


      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?”

(Langston Hughes)

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