During the 70’s, in a fit of what I can only call bad judgment, my parents inexplicably bought a set of encyclopedias. I’m sure that when they bought them, they were imagining their children serenely sitting around together in a sunlit room, reading silently, occasionally sharing little tidbits of interesting facts. It was the 70’s, and there were (obviously) a lot of drugs.
They weren’t bad to have around, as these were the days before Google could bring me such searches as “mommy wants to run away*,” “what to make me loss total bladder control*” or ” best nursing nipples.*” They were helpful when doing research papers as I got older, and as I got even older, I was able to titillate my friends by looking up such terms as “boob” and “weenier” (some things never do change, do they?). They made excellent catapults and projectiles, and I can tell you from personal experience, those motherfuckers HURT when you got whacked with one, but they left a satisfying enough bruise, that the pain was a moot point.
*Yes, these are actual search terms that, along with a plethora of vodka related terms, have brought people here.
But when I was younger, I fell in love with the only section of the encyclopedia that was any color other than poo brown or grey: the anatomy section. In it, you’d be able to overlay the different organ systems onto a skeleton, and I loved it. You might imagine that I’d have had a stunning career in medicine by the way that I coveted this particular section at such a young age (you’d be wrong), but I have my suspicions that my adoration was a direct correlation to it’s shininess.
When I was in kindergarten, as a class project, we had to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up. Amidst a sea of astronauts and firefighters, I alone drew a picture of an obstetrician. Although it seems mighty advanced, once you learned that I come from a family of physicians, it made far more sense. I was less a child protege and more just apt to spit out whatever I had heard someone talk about at home.
During my next years of school, I noticed that adults, with an alarming frequency questioned children relentlessly about their future choice in occupation, and I began to think that it was stupid. I mean, I was more interested to see if my turtle would turn into an attack turtle if I played it The Sex Pistols on repeat than I was spending my days painstakingly charting out my wonderful life as a grown-up.
Seriously, as far as I was concerned, being a grown-up was much less awesome than being a kid. As a kid, I could fart loudly at the table and get away with it, whereas if my father did the same thing, he had to put a quarter in the “flatulence jar.” Maybe it was because my quarters were painstakingly saved to buy play dough and plastic earrings, and therefore off limits but it didn’t seem to be something to aspire to.
In 5th grade, on our end of year picnic, my teacher once again posed the question to the lot of us. “What are you going to be when you grow up?” she asked us each to answer, and when the question came to me, I had no idea how to answer it. Every time I mentioned whatever it was that I was “going” to be, most of the adults smiled condescendingly and told me that I needed to do a lot of school to go into that field.
Sure, if I’m saying “doctor” that’s the case, but seriously, did I look stupid enough to not be able to be the next person who pumps your gas? And last time I checked “school” wasn’t a prerequisite for being a trophy wife.
So by the wizened age of 11, I had already learned that truth was relative to who you were talking to. I promptly panicked. My greatest aspiration at that point in time was to see how long it takes for a Twizzler to completely dissolve in a can of Cherry Coke, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t what she was asking for.
“Um...” I stammered, “I think I’m going to be an actress...” (this was truly a lie, but my brother’s girlfriend was one, but no one had to know that I was copying her) “…or a secretary….” (I had no idea what a secretary did, but I knew two things about that occupation a) they got manicures which was as close to godliness as I could imagine and b) it would drive my parents bonkers) “or a marine biologist!” I promptly finished with (which was as close to the truth as I was going to get in front of 25 of my classmates and my teacher).
“Oh,” she perkily replied, “you’re going to need A LOT of school for that!”
Wow, I thought to myself as I gritted my teeth, even when you’re lying through your ass, the adults STILL distrust your plans for the future.
Kids, or at least myself as a child, simply couldn’t win. I think what bothered me most about this realization was not that the adults couldn’t be supportive of whatever I spit out, but that they cared so much about something I wasted almost no time concerning myself with.
Poor Ben seems overtaken with worry about what he’s going to be when he grows up, I suppose the German in him cannot imagine a life not expressly dictated out ahead of time. He thought for a moment about being a nurse (something, I’m not proud to say I quashed), until he mused that he’s not a girl, so he can’t be one. Rather than point out that men can be nurses, I changed the subject. He’s currently considering a career on American Idol, which is probably not much better, but hey, I’m not going to say a word about it.
And as for me, I occasionally field a question about what I’m going to do with the rest of my life when my kids get older, and sometimes I’m so caught off guard that I let the real answer slip off my tongue, rather than claim that I’m going to be a naked homemaker or an atomic bomb diffuser (hey, I’m sure that SOMEONE has that job) or a prostitute wet nurse.
When I tell them the truth, I’m always met with blank stares and the eventual reply, which never, ever varies.
“Wow! Well you’re going to need A LOT of school for that!”
I suppose that in this case, it’s just me.