From Teacher to Baby
I woke up this evening (yes, I'm on nights again) and my eldest son had a revelation for me.
"Mom," he said, "I think I...maybe instead of a teacher I'm gonna be a baby."
Out of the blue, with no context. "I don't know what that means, Willy." I moved to close the door, cutting off the conversation I was too busy waking up to have. Then, slowly, I stopped myself.
Willy smiled. "I'm not gonna be a teacher any more. I'm gonna be a baby...a baby-sitter."
Ah, the light comes on. "Well, Willy. You're seven. Soon, you'll be eight. Maybe, when you're eighteen, then we'll worry about it, okay? That's ten years away, okay?"
"No, I'm just going to be a baby-sitter, Mom."
Well, I thought as I closed the door, at least he's not trying to choose between being a train and a fire truck any more.
When I was Willy's age, I wanted to be a teacher. I idolized my teacher, Mrs. Rogers, then. She gave me a white, stuffed money that made monkey noises. I was recovering from surgery, too frail to go to school, and she came to see me. She brought me homework and taught me lessons. She didn't have to, but she really, really cared about "her" kids. She came to see me several times a week while I recovered, and she gave me a stuffed monkey. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up.
When I was Brandon's age (my step-son), I wanted to be an author. We had a special day in school, where we came in the costume of what we wanted to be. Having no idea what an author would look like, I dressed up in a frilly dress, curled my hair, put a bow on my ponytail and wore my uncomfortable, i.e. dress, shoes. My teacher, Mr. Walker, was a good man, a good teacher, and he laughed (kindly so) and told me that authors generally wore jeans and a t-shirt because they worked from home. With a smile I thought about my uncomfortable shoes, and I wanted to be an author that much more when I grew up.
Two years later I was reading A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle. I loved that book. Not only was it something I could share with my mother (who was never a big reader, though now the Bible is a daily pastime), but it had a great story about a little girl who seemed far too much like me, except happily more dramatic. Her mother was just amazing. She was a chemist...or something, and stayed home, working in her lab upon occasion. Meg (the girl) grew up, in later stories like The Arm of the Starfish and A Swiftly Tilting Planet, to be a mother and a marine biologist. And, that was what I wanted to be. Going to exotic places, with my husband and my children, and having adventures. And then, of course, I'd write about them, because I'd still be a writer, too.
You learn, as you get older and actually step out into the world, what it means to have 24 hours in a day. As a child, 24 seems like a lot. You have time to go to school, climb rocks, deliver papers, play football, join the army, defeat the paratroopers, have dinner, and do your chores. Marine biology, child-rearing, and writing about it afterwards...sure, I could do that!
But, you grow up. You realize, in biology class, that dissecting pigs is not fun. It stinks, makes you queasy, and you split open the liver...so, obviously, you're not very good at it. You realize, in chemistry class, that maybe science isn't your thing when yours is the one project in the whole class that needs to be re-done, because it didn't get all frothy. And, when you finally graduate, after learning all the things you aren't good at, you marry, move out, have actual kids, and realize that 24 hours is not long enough to guarantee yourself a shower everyday, let alone time to write, let alone time to have adventures then write about them.
I don't speak five different languages. I've never been outside the country of my birth. And I've never touched a dolphin. However, I can still read Madeleine L'Engle and remember the dreams of youth, without regret. I can read Narnia, and read grown-up stories, and I can dream and write. And, someday, perhaps my stories will reach the mainstream and publication. Someday, I might inspire someone else to dream. And, for me, that's even better than living an adventure.
So, next time my son tells me he wants to be a teacher, a baby-sitter, or a fire truck, I'll take the time to hear his dream, to truly listen, and to help it come alive in his soul. He may never be a teacher, a baby-sitter, or a fire truck -- he'll definitely never be a fire truck -- but that's no reason not to dream. Perhaps, when he's older and on his own path, he'll look back and smile. Perhaps, he'll think of his dreams as a stepping-stone to where he is now. I can help with that. And, you know, that is truly better than living an adventure.