Wednesday, August 17, 2011

When I Grow Up

I’m thinking about that commercial. A somber-looking fourth- or fifth-grader stands in a field or by a factory or on a bridge and in a very serious tone says, “When I grow up, I want to claw my way up to middle management.” Another adds, “I want to be under-appreciated.” “ Be a yes-man.” “Be paid less for doing the same job.” “I want to be forced into early retirement.” I think about my little girl self and what she wanted to be when she grew up. I wonder if she has compromised or if she has followed her dreams.

I always wanted to be a teacher and a mother. I knew that I would become both. I never even questioned the thought. I can’t say that this was a dream really. It was more just a fact in my head. Oddly, though, I never sat around as some girls do planning an elaborate wedding or writing down future baby names in curly letters, both first and middle names together and always to coordinate with last name of boyfriend at the time. I never did this, but I knew that I would one day need to think up those names. I knew, too, that I would teach in one form or another.

The need to teach is so strong in me. Even as a little girl I would sit my sisters down to play school. I would teach them their letters and simple words. I would give them worksheets and homework and, if necessary, recess (but only when they begged). One sister would raise her hand and ask to be the teacher. I would say that school was over for the day and that now we would play grocery store. I was the teacher.

It is never enough for me to sit in a group in a chair. I fidget, and I fuss, and I clock-watch as no clock-watcher has done before. As the instructor, leader, counselor, teacher, whatever, is speaking I am secretly scheming ways to become that instructor, leader, counselor, teacher, or whatever. I am most at home standing in front of a group, which puts me in the odd position of never really being a part of any group, never being one of the gang, but facilitating, instead, that feeling of community for others.

I can’t not teach.

I was a stay-at-home mom of four for twenty years. I parented much as I teach. I took my little classroom-by-birth on field trips to bird sanctuaries, hands on museums, dairy farms, art exhibits, nature walks, the zoo, and vacations of all sorts. I explained things, asked lots of questions, and sought out new and exciting opportunities for exploring, for learning, for connecting with knowledge of any kind. I threw myself in a similar way into volunteer opportunities. I put myself in front of any group in the spirit of whatever would be the cause of the moment---breastfeeding, Christian education, the building of young girls’ souls. I sought part-time work that gave me opportunity for leading and teaching, albeit on lip colors and eye palettes, but hey, I got to stand in front of people and talk.

And, sure, I’ve had jobs that involved compromise, jobs that did not contribute to my little girl dreams, but those jobs never lasted long. I refuse to put myself in a spot that I know is not for me. I worked day care once, for a week. I sold Jockey briefs and Gold Toe Fluffies for about a year. Those socks and underwear paid tuition. So did Hallmark greeting cards and Precious Moments figurines. Sometimes we do things because we have to, not because we want to. I made sure those things were temporary. Sometimes, too, we do things that aren’t us as a way of discovering what is us. Sometimes finding out what you don’t want to do is as important as finding out what you do want to do.

Would your little girl self be glad with the way that your big girl self turned out? I heard that once. Little girl selves are free and honest and have only your best interest at heart. They are untroubled with the worries of the world and see your life with clear eyes, unburdened by shoulds and have to’s and if only’s. They want what’s best for you, not for your neighbor or your mother-in-law or your best friend. Often, I think what’s best for you IS what’s best for your neighbor and your mother-in-law and your best friend. Maybe they don’t know it, but it’s true. It’s definitely what is best for society, given of course that what is best for you is positive and not in any way harmful to others.

My little girl self was very clear on her wishes for me. I was to be a teacher and a mother. I was to lead and educate, explain stuff and put myself in front of the crowd. I think my little girl self would be pleased. I think she would say, “That is enough for today. I will have new lessons for you tomorrow. Class dismissed.”

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