Little Kids with Big Plans
"I'm going to be a cat when I get big!" For my 3-year-old daughter Wendy, the question "What are you going to be when you grow up?" is completely open-ended. More recently, she expressed a more moderate ambition saying she wants to be "a beautiful lady who bakes pies and cakes."
And she will marry me. I hate to boast, but each of my daughters at age 3 or 4 has had her eye on me as likely husband material. My wife Betsy, the only adult female who ever had that impression, always says, "Sorry girls, he's mine!" She says it in a spirited way, too, bless her heart. But Wendy doesn't regard my wife as a real obstacle to her matrimonial plan. She has a theory that when she is big, her mother and I will be little and young, and SHE will be OUR parent. Then no one could keep her from marrying the man of her dreams. Wendy either doesn't mind that her husband would be a child, dwindling down toward babyhood, or she hasn't thought it through. Contradictions occur only to the narrow adult mind.
But what about a job? Wendy wants to be a sales clerk in a store. She loves to play Button Lady. She gets a big jar of mixed buttons, sorts them out by color, and then appoints me as her cus-tomer. As I enter her shop, she greets me with professional aplomb: "Hello," she says, "What can I do with you?"
When we visit a real store, Wendy likes to pretend she's the pro- prietor. She finds a place to sit and tells anyone who comes by, "Nothing's for sale. The store is closed, so you have to leave."
In contrast to Wendy's kaleidoscopic outlook, our oldest daughter, Marie, age 10, is focused like a laser. She has always wanted to be an artist, and she seems to have some ability. I'm trying to guide her toward a practical application, and she thinks maybe she'll be an art teacher.
I was trained in practicality by my dad — for most of my lifetime, he spoke to me largely in dire predictions supported by newspaper clip-pings. Even his jokes had an air of grim reality.
After a field-trip to a science museum, I told my dad, "Did you know that if Mars had enough water and oxygen, people could live there?"
"Yeah," he said, "It'd be just like Upstate New York — a great place to live but with no jobs."
When I was a kid, my dad always warned that if I didn't pay more attention to my studies, I'd end up as a "ditch-digger." I was a great one for digging holes, so it seemed a good trade to fall back on. But my first choice was to be a cowboy. I thought it'd be fun to be among all those horses and cows and have gunfights. It looked like interesting work. I knew my parents would never let an 8-year-old have a real gun, so I asked them for guitar lessons. When they told me I was too young, I got discouraged and thought maybe I'd be a veterinarian. I loved animals, but I was a little afraid of them. Then, when I was 9, I saw a pic- ture of young Teddy Roosevelt stuffing a bird in a Classics Illustrated comic book. As a taxiderm- ist, I would be able to indulge my love of animals without being bitten, pecked, or gored.
I thought my big chance had come when some neighborhood kids found a dead fox. In a couple of days they were done playing with it, and I brought it home on a shovel. My mom wanted to encourage me, but the fox was de- composing and unsuitable for anything except quick burial.
I scouted field and forest for my next client, eventually finding a dead owl in perfect condi-tion. Mom put it on ice, and we got a how-to book from the library and a scalpel and some borax from the drug store. Step One was skinning it. I followed the instructions, but the scalpel kept poking holes in the skin and the feathery hide was ruined before I ever got it off. I buried the remains beside the fox. The same thing happened with the next two birds I found.
Discouraged, I gave up trying to preserve the dead animals and concentrated on finding and burying them. I seemed to have a gift for grave-digging, so that became my fall-back ambition, as I turned my attention toward other prospects.
From reading the Hardy Boys mysteries, I knew detective work was fun, exciting, and easy to get started in. So I trained myself by sneaking everywhere I went, collecting cigarette butts, and checking them for lipstick. Red lipstick was in style and practically everybody smoked; it was a great time to be a detective.
My 7-year-old, Sally, also entertains a shift-ing array of possibilities, frequently deciding and re-deciding what she'll be. Her type of agility, personality, and showmanship usually lead to a career in Roller Derby. But just now, she wants to become a trapeze artist, a professional jump-roper, a librarian like her mom, or all three. Raining practicality onto Sally's dreamscape would be a crime, so I keep quiet. Her job now is to imagine the possibilities.
But someday, when she gets serious about her future, I hope she comes to me for guidance. Maybe I can get her to throw in with me, and we'll buy a herd of long-horns.