“What would you like to be when you grow up?”

I was going to be an English teacher when I grew up (that was my answer when pressed to share information that felt like my business and not a conversation piece), until I couldn’t stand within the school’s thick brick walls another day.

A sophomore history teacher talked to a point above my head, more bored than I was with a false version of the world’s story. After class, when I came to him with a concern, he dared to speak to me as if I were a pitiable inconvenience, dismissing me before answering my questions.

I was in his class less than a week (his name, an insignificant detail, forgotten almost immediately). I didn’t realize that afternoon was the deciding moment until years later. I left school at sixteen and have never regretted my decision.

Almost everything else I wanted to be I already was. A writer, ice skater, gymnast, actress, friend, caretaker of small children, funny, thoughtful, generous. Time would tell if I would get to be a mom.

I was already a teacher too, but missed the fact since I didn’t have a degree from a larger institution made of several brick buildings. I taught ice skating to a little girl whose mom paid me in pocket change, cookies, and fruit punch for weekly lessons. I taught people to draw no arbitrary lines when making friends, and later, I taught friends how to free their voice, to let it out on the page, to trust their mind, their imagination, their capacity to create.

Now I’m grown up. I have two children.

When someone who means well asks them, “What would you like to be when you grow up?” I try to hide my irritation. It’s not rational. My experience is not theirs, and the questioner is simply looking for a way to relate to another whose life experience is currently very different from their own.

Lately, my eleven year old son has been seriously considering the answer. His external meditations show maturity, but are (sweetly) peppered with comments like, “Maybe I could create a machine that stops bad guys from doing harm,” between considerations like, “I love manipulating matter, so I can see being an engineer, or an inventor, but I want to do more than that. I’d like to write and tell stories as well.”

My eight year old son doesn’t even take the questions seriously.

“I don’t know. Mom, I can figure it out later right?”

“Yes honey. Just enjoy being a kid.”

These thoughts aren’t meant to make a point or come to a particular conclusion. Really I’m just talking to myself out loud.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

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