“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I think that’s the most stupid question I’ve ever heard. I always lied when someone asked me. I had plenty of practice from years of making up sins in the Catholic confessional, because sinning was a requirement as a child. Lying made it all the easier the following week when confessing to the priest that I had lied. Vicious cycle. Anyway, the answers I provided were always ones I thought the inquirer wanted to hear. But in my gut, I hadn’t a clue. How would I know? I still had to be reminded to brush my teeth and yet these well-intentioned, although misguided people, expected me to have a future plan. What in the world were they thinking? For some kids it may have been simple to wistfully dream of a future. Other kids hadn’t the luxury of such folly. Surviving one day at a time and meeting the basics in life had much more priority than butcher, baker or candlestick maker. I’m still not quite sure how to respond to this question.
I remember friends wanting to be nurses when they grew up, and they admirably are. And friends wanting to be mothers and wives when they grew up, and they respectfully are. Or friends wanting to be teachers when they grew up, and they honorably are. I never saw myself as a paper doll on a cardboard tripod stand. Fold over the tabs and dress me in the world’s corresponding outfit that will serve as my name tag – nurse, teacher, mother, wife. Relax, they are all important professions, and I am most grateful for each one. It’s a shame I even have to offer that disclaimer, but the times we live in, well,…. here I am, offering a disclaimer. Back to the question – I may have answered with an expected response, rewarded with a glowing smile of approval from the adult, but I didn’t mean a word of it. Me, I left my options open.
“To be” is a verb. It imples action, actually doing something. For me, there is no “to be, just “be.” I already am, so there’s no one else I need to be other than me. Why do I even have to want to be anything? And does being something have to mean we change who we are? Does the “me” change when I become an adult, or am I still “me?” And do I have to be just one thing? Just one? Oh dear. Say it isn’t so. Please don’t make me stop at one. The world is full of spices, and I intend to sample as many as I can. Throughout my life I have been bank teller, retail clerk, janitor, restaurant manager, executive assistant, floral designer, horticultural specialist, catering director, activity director, volunteer, music store associate, business proprietor, church secretary, certified yoga teacher, paraprofessional, author, home health aide, and I’m certain there’s something I’ve omitted. If I knew then what I know now, when asked “what do you want to be when you grow up,?” I would have answered “jack of all trades.”
And furthermore, who determines that exact moment when one is considered “grown up?” Is it the day you move in to your very own apartment and have to pay the security deposit and rent with your own money? Unless you’re one of those who let Mom and Dad pay it for you? If so, does that still qualify as being grown up? Is it the first time you do your own laundry? Is it the first time you have sexual intercourse? Or maybe it’s the day your last parent ceases to breathe and you now realize how freaking, painfully alone life can feel. When is one actually a grown up?
I think we should stop expecting children to have the answer. It’s a worthless question. It’s in close running with the nauseating interview interrogation “where do you see yourself in five years from now?” I’m still working on an answer for that one, too.
I say, just be you. And love that.