Tuesday, January 01, 2008

When I Grow Up...

Editor's Note: This blast from the past somehow seems appropriate as we start a new year, and I start a new life as a single person.

"When I grow up, I want to be a lawyer, a veterinarian, a singer and a mommy," my seven year old proudly announced one morning at breakfast.

"A lawyer?" I said, puzzled at such an out-of-the-blue notion at seven-thirty in the morning. I am one of those few parents who actually discourages their children from becoming a part of that jaded profession. "That's a new one, Baby. But won't it clash with your future "Spice Girl" image? And what about vet school? It takes a few years to be an animal doctor. I'm not sure you'd want to go to law school on top of that."

"Yeah, but lawyers make lots of money. I'll need lots of money to be all the things I want to be when I grow up," she replied with a big smile.

Good point. Who says a seven year old's logic isn't as persuasive as an adult's? But a lawyer for pity sakes? How did she ever come up with that idea? The nightly news? Nah, it couldn't be . . . She only watches PBS, Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel--is it their fault?

My almost twelve year old has never given me this kind of worry before. From age four on she has said she wanted to grow up to be pretty much the same thing: "A dinosaur person". At first, I thought she meant she wanted to dress up like a dinosaur--as this was around the time Barney premiered on TV--but she made it clear from early on that wasn't the case.

"I want to dig up dinosaur bones and look at them, Mom," she informed me at age five, using perfect pronunciation and complete sentences as was her wont. "I can work in a big museum."

"Oh, I see," I replied, trying desperately to remember what you called a person who dug up dinosaur bones for study. "You want to be a scientist. That's great. When I was a little, girls weren't encouraged to pursue an interest in the sciences. I'm proud of you."

"Paleontologist" was the word for dinosaur person we soon discovered. Amanda isn't much of a speller, but there's one word she can spell: paleontology. Her bookshelves are lined with books on the science of digging up bones and putting them back together--simple picture books from Pre-K on up to fully illustrated reference manuals filled with lots of funny Latin terms. Recently, she has expressed an interest in astronomy as well. Her math and science grades reflect her enthusiasm on those topics.

"My daughter the scientist." Doesn't that have a nice ring to it?

But my daughter the lawyer? I don't know. Aimee is a compassionate child--very sensitive to the feelings and needs of others. While her sister talks about spending most of her young adult life in school receiving advanced degrees without the distraction of a boyfriend or spouse, Aimee has always advocated the philosophy of being a "homebody". She even has names picked out for my grandbabies already. (And yes, she has said she would be married first before having children--whew! That's a relief.)

Aimee genuinely loves animals and enjoys taking care of them, too. While I would love to say, "Let me introduce you to my daughter the DVM," I guess I would be supportive of her career path no matter which one she winds up taking. There's no rush about choosing college programs yet, however. She's only seven years old.

What did you want to be when you were seven--a firefighter, a race car driver, a police officer, a doctor, a nurse? How many people can honestly say they became the professional star athlete they wanted to become in grade school? And if we all became the fire fighters or doctors we hoped to be, there wouldn't be enough fire stations to house us all and all disease would have been wiped off the face of the planet by now. Seven year olds are entitled to change their minds.

A deja vu experience happened to me this past week. It got me thinking along these lines of, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I was being interviewed over the phone for an article on being a cyber columnist by an AP wire service reporter from Dallas, and I was asked what I considered myself to be--a "stay at home mom" or a "writer". This is a stumper of a question to me. However, as anyone who's ever met me will attest, I would rather die before letting on that I am at a lost for words. So, I babbled on as usual and told her that I considered myself a mom who stays at home who happens to be a freelance writer as well.

It was an odd feeling admitting to a total stranger why I considered myself to be anything other than the mother of two girls and just me essentially. When I was seven, I'm sure the only thing I wanted to be when I grew up was a mother like my mother. Sure, even back then there were some inklings that I might become a writer. When I was about five years old, my mother took dictation from me on a self-illustrated story about talking vegetables and salt and pepper shakers which came to life every night and partied on the dining room table after the family went to sleep. In seventh grade, much to my surprise, I won a statewide poetry contest. And, miracle of all miracles, I took an advance placement test in the twelfth grade and was given eight hours of English credit, essentially exempting myself from taking any further composition courses in college. ("You can write a complete sentence, stick it in a paragraph and string several paragraphs together in a coherent fashion," I was told bluntly. It seems this was a rare ability for graduating seniors of my generation.)

Still, I had only vague notions of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew I didn't want to go into any field dealing with mathematics or blood and guts. (The irony is, of course, returning to college in recent years, I was obligated to take both Statistics and Anatomy and Physiology to obtain my psychology degree. Never say never.) When forced to pick a college major at age eighteen, I chose a field void of numbers or specimens--film studies. Two years later, I happily received my "Mrs." degree and dropped out of school. A lot of people were disappointed, but I always felt creative people needed to "live" life--not just sit in classrooms discussing how Fellini's films demonstrated Italian society's need to re-establish a unique identity in the post-war world. (Which they did.)

While it appears that my daughters possess firm goals of what they want to be when they grow up, I openly admit that I haven't. I'll let you know what I decide to be in a few years. I may be all "grown up" by then, but--knowing me--I wouldn't count on it.

Copyright © 1998 by Cindy Appel, all rights reserved.

1 comment :

Robin Bayne said...

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