O to dream like a child! 

My wife has often told me that her dreams border on a reenactment of real life. And nothing luxurious either (not that there is much in the vein of luxury to draw on). If you were given your druthers to choose a memory from the subconscious to dream about, you might imagine it would be our honeymoon to Italy, or a rousing impromptu game of laser tag in a small backroom of a warehouse in Niagara Falls. As it is, you don’t get to pick. C’est la vie. 

If not the platinum experiences that we wished we could dream of, the remainder of what our unconscious mind can conjure is the mundane. For her, it’s even worse than that. An unremarkable dream about cooking a meal or walking your dog through the woods would be an acceptable choice for a boring dream, were we asked our opinion on what ought to happen when we close our eyes. 

For her, she is often doing rounds at work; walking bed to bed asking what foods the patient can’t eat (I can stomach awful flavours if pushed, but I would feign being allergic to anything the consistency of mush). God forbid, I’ve even heard tell of her having to do the same paperwork she did earlier that day in her working hours.

There are of course dreams that aren’t quite so banal, but not necessarily preferable. If I’ve been paying attention, the theme of my wife’s more dramatic dreams often include the need for escape or some terrible news of a terminal illness. Apparently, the other night she had to blow into a lung cancer test. The first result was purple – an allround unremarkable positive. Consequential blows were orange and then red, the worst of the diagnostics colours. 

Most of the time, hearing these dreams, I am wholly surprised by the difference between hers and my own. Her dreams have detail, coherence, boredom, and a longer shelf-life of memory in which she can recount them to me before they fade out of existence, as dreams do from our waking minds. 

Perhaps the reason I’ve never dabbled in hallucinogenic drugs is for the sake of avoiding reduplicating efforts. What I find when I sleep is more of a fever dream than what my wife recounts to me. I’ve had many of the classics before: being chased, naked at school, falling from the sky, teeth falling out of my mouth. Most of my dreams that you wouldn’t find in a dream book are marked by being both incongruous and incohesive. 

A proud dream I hold onto like a badge of honour is a rare victory over my antagonist. I find myself on the second floor of a warehouse – nothing like the laser tag warehouse which had only a single box strewn floor – this one has high rounded steel railings. I look down to find the object of my teenage affection, Kelly from 90201 (if you were born after the early 90’s you’ll have to Google her – think a more dainty Rachel from Friends). And who has a hold of my love interest other than the Phantom of the Opera, that dastardly fiend. Luckily, I too have a mask. In fact, in a now out of body view of the scene, I find that I am dressed as Tuxedo Mask of Sailor Moon fame. Moreover, I am in a large metal cauldron. Did I step into the cauldron? No. Wasn’t I just walking a moment ago? Yes. How did I get in here? Who placed a large cauldron at the lip of this perforated metal walkway, just at a break in the railing, and attached a chain from it’s outstretched handle to the ceiling, and why? But minor details. This is a dream after all. I see myself suavely lean into an arcing dive, my support chain taut. To the great surprise of the Phantom, I grab a hold of Kelly around the waist at the apex of my descent, pull her close to me and, in an affront to the laws of kinetic energy, land my cauldron safely on the walkway across from where I started. I have no remaining firsthand memory of the dream, but I believe there may have been a kiss rewarded. 

I don’t dream quite like a child, but I’ve always been thankful I don’t dream mundanely. And then it happened. A few nights ago, I dreamt of the last thing I thought of before I went to sleep. Into the eye of my subconscious floated… a pop up ad for a mobile game. Lately, my slothful escape of choice has been online backgammon. Like most, I have succumbed to the demonstratively negative habit of making my phone the only thing I hold tightly in the minutes before I drift off into sleep. 

My mother told me recently that in the Tetris-craze generation I belonged to as a child, most avid players had dreams of slipping a four-block line into the perfect geometric receptacle to clear the screen. I remember years ago having my dreams filled with the equally addictive patterns of Candy Crush. This had been acceptable, even therapeutic maybe. But this was too far. I draw the line at watching the 20-second bar creep across the bottom of the screen while I am peddled the opportunity to win millions playing online poker against some famous European soccer star. This is below even my dreams.

My three-and-a-half-year old son offered me an unwitting olive branch at breakfast the other day. My wife and I aren’t exactly windwalkers, but I guess we have been discussing our dreams enough that he has caught on. Over Cheerios, he let me know he required my rapt attention – a big ask for six a.m. – since it was now his turn to tell me about his dream. His wide eyes bored into mine and then drifted to the side to enter the realm of imagination as he searched for more details to fit into his dream. It was in this inspired searching that I realized he wasn’t recounting a dream at all. He was creating a vision for what might have been fun to have in a dream if he did have one to relay to me. 

Thinking on it further, it occurred to me that this wasn’t the first time he had told me about his dreams. In a bid to get him to go to sleep faster, I had even offered him the challenge of telling me about his dreams in the morning as a first order of business. On some of these occasions, his retelling seemed to be a more sincere recollection of an actual dream. In either case, when my son dreamed, it was exciting. His dreams, real or conjured at the breakfast table, were intrepid adventures full of monsters, travel, princesses, journeys, and friends and family he’d like to include.

Here lies the opportunity. What if I took his wild disjointed offers as writing prompts to see how all the elements could fit together? To tap into pure creativity and exuberance as merely an observer, knowing that some part of me can no longer travel to Neverland to find the childlike treasures now only available to him? So I’ve begun a journal where I am recording the dreams verbatim to see if I can work them backwards into short stories. My first epic is in the works. 

I don’t dream like a child. I dream as most adults do, to process the happenings of my life, or so the leading theory goes. God forbid, I’ve even started to dream mundanely. But it is a writer’s prerogative to vicariously borrow from others in the hopes that the inhabitation is not only performative, but actual. Perhaps it’s not too late for me to become a little child. 

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