“What should I be when I grow up?” she asked, crossing her ankles and looking at me hopefully.
I smiled at the question. She smiled back.
“I dun’no, mom. What do you want to be?”
My mother asks this question every now and then, in different forms. I always like when she does. It’s sweet, and it’s vulnerable, and it makes me feel like we really aren’t so different.
We are different, of course. She’s an employed, secure, middle aged woman; I’m brand new to the big girl scene. She’s rocking the house/husband/kids/dog combo while I bounce between internships, roommates, and take out in the fridge. Maybe that’s why it’s nice to have something so simple and juvenile in common: Neither of us can see the future. Neither of us “know” what we want to “be” when we “grow up.”
I remember the first time she shared this. I was young, still under the impression that “my parents have everything together all the time!” (even if I liked to disagree with them some). I was sitting on my mother’s office floor with a Fisher Price boom box, interviewing her onto a blank tape. “When you were a kid,” I asked, putting on my best TV voice. “What did you want to be when you growed up?”
She laughed. “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”
At first, this terrified me. What do you mean you don’t know yet? Will you ever know? Will anybody ever know?
Answer: Probably not.
[Insert prepubescent panic here.]
As I get older, however, that answer feels less and less scary. At this point, it’s practically comforting. “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.” Of course you don’t. Of course I don’t. Look at those loaded words, momma, look: “know,” “want,” “be,” and *shudder* “grow up.”
A few days after the conversation with my mother, I turned the “want” “be” “grow up” question loose on a 7 year old friend of mine, a bubbly little girl who had stayed late to help me clean up the Sunday school classroom.
“I dun’no what I wanna be,” She responded, then shot me a goofy smile. “Something where I can sit in a hot tub and relax with my friends sometimes.”
I briefly thought about responding with something moralistic; ‘Oh honey, it shouldn’t be about material things.’ Maybe I should bring Jesus into it somehow, because that’s what a Sunday school teacher is supposed to do, right? But honestly, Jesus didn’t say much about 7 year olds who think hot tubs are kinda cool (which they are). So I just smiled back at her. “Maybe you could sell hot tubs for a living, huh?”
“Hey, yeah! Lots of people buy hot tubs. My mom has one.”
“You wanna be like your mom when you grow up?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, she has a hot tub.”
“Awesome. In that case, I want to be like your mom when I grow up, too.”
It wasn’t the deepest conversation, but it made me think back to my own mother; beside me on the couch, half watching TV, crossing her ankles and asking me what she should be when she grows up. We all have little moments like that, I think–whether we’re 7 years old kids, 20 something college students, middle aged mommas, maybe even as we trek through the much later years. Wondering what comes next. Working through what we do, but optimistically unsure of where we are going.
Maybe we never “know.” Maybe the process of figuring “it” out can take a whole lifetime or longer.
But maybe, that’s the best part.