Armchair dreams - FamilyEducation

Armchair dreams

March 20,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Lately I seem to be experiencing lots of armchair wanderlust. I've been daydreaming about travel, about new places and old ones, too. I'd love to visit my sister in Rhode Island, my cousin in Boston, my closest girlfriend who lives near Seattle, my old roommate in LA. All week I've had encounters with people who drop by my office to tell me about faraway places and there I am listening, almost knee-deep in papers and book orders, on the edge of my seat, lost in thought for myself and excited for them.

For instance: on Monday the adjunct French professor here dropped by my office in search of my colleague and sat down to talk for awhile. He's applying to graduate schools and just found out that he's been offered a great fellowship at a school in Colorado, and an equally exciting fellowship at a local school here.

Colorado! I exclaimed, thinking immediately of bright blue skies above snow-capped mountains, and hiking in the summer, oh--and lots of skiing in the winter, glorious skiing. I haven't been skiing in years! I was almost there, in my mind, whooshing down a slope, the snow spraying about me like icy foam. The French teacher is leaning towards this local school, though. I tried to talk up Colorado, but I had to confess to him that I've never been there; in the end he looked curiously at me, probably wondering why I seemed so excited about a place I'd never visited--why I was so keen on sending him off to Colorado.

I don't even ski, he said.

One of my favorite students, who happens to be from Eastern Europe, is applying to graduate school, as well. Only forget Colorado! She's applied to and been accepted at three schools in the London area.

Oh, London! I exclaimed, when she told me the good news. I studied abroad in London my junior year in college and I can't think of anything better than to be a student in London, surrounded by theater, museums, and history in every corner. I am thrilled for her and, I admit, slightly envious. I gushed about London to her for much longer than she probably expected, or even wanted me to, but I couldn't help it. I loved England. I cried on the airplane home when I left London; at twenty, heading back to my final year of college, I was filled with a million dreams and plans and was so certain I'd be back there in a matter of months. Now, almost twenty years later, I've only managed one stopover at Heathrow.

And finally this week--yesterday, in fact, another student of mine shared some good news with me. She's an older, "non-traditional" student, in her fifties. She worked hard for years as a single mom to raise her son, putting off her own college education to make ends meet. She is still working long hours--working nights as a home health nurse--to pay her tuition bills, and to save money for all those dreams deferred. Her son is safely through college now and she herself will be graduating soon. Finally, this summer, she will realize her life-long dream of going to Paris. I can see her there seated at a sidewalk cafe, or roaming through the Sorbonne, with her friend--the one who made it there years ago, while she was left behind to daydream of a place that for so long remained just out of reach, tantalizing, like a vision in the distance.

I think travel dreams are the most rewarding of all. Those dreams are usually attainable in the end, with hard work sometimes, and sacrifice, and years spent hoping and indulging in armchair daydreaming. Most of the time the places we dream about end up being exactly as we had hoped--better even--and there's nothing quite like that feeling when you step out of an airplane, car, boat, or train, at your final destination and feel the thrill inside as the reality matches up with the dream. I imagine my student in Paris, feeling the weight of all that hard work and those years slip away from her. I hope she finds Paris all she wanted it to be; somehow, I think she will.