My daughter was two-years-old, and we were in the grocery store when I spotted a former colleague who had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Despite his ailment, he recognized me when I waved to him and called his name. After we chatted for a minute, he turned his attention to my daughter. “What do you want to be when you grow up, little girl?”
She paused and looked him over. Clearly, this bozo missed the obvious—that’s what she had to be thinking. “Bigger,” she said with the most dead-pan delivery.
I laughed so hard I almost wet my pants. I was nine months pregnant and so it didn’t take that much to send me running to the nearest restroom. So, maybe it’s not as funny as I think.
Four years later, my daughter wants to be a teacher. Or a chef. Or a paleontologist. Her brother wants to be a farmer. He has a sanitized understanding of farming thanks to Fisher-Price’s Little People and Old MacDonald. He may change is mind once he figures out it isn’t all feeding animals and riding tractors.
Kids are like that. They change their minds frequently, and I think that’s okay. When I was working as a museum educator, I had a very enthusiastic student with a bright red hair and a country accent tell me, “Mrs. F, you done got me all confused. The Lord is a-callin’ me to preach, but you got me a-wantin’ to be an archaeologist.”
“Sweetheart, once you start working, you will probably be working for a long, long time. There’s no reason why you can’t do both,” I replied. I hope my answer was a-pleasin’ unto the Lord.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a teacher, an archaeologist, a museum worker, and a writer. I’ve been blessed to dabble in all of those professions. In college, my career goal was to do public relations for a private non-profit. I did that, too–twice. I’ve also worked as a retail manager, cocktail waitress and a commercial crabber. So, you can see why I would say no one has to work at any one job for the rest of his or her life.
Still, stay-at-home-mom was never on my list of youthful career aspirations. In fact, I didn’t even want to be a mom. Then, I met my husband, fell in love, and he said, “Let’s make some babies,” and I said, “Okay,” ‘cuz people get crazy-drunk on love, don’t they? They do things they normally wouldn’t do. At least, that’s true of me.
I have no regrets, of course. My children are kind, funny, and smart…they are the type of people I would want to know even if they weren’t my children. As for the stay-at-home part of my parenting life, I’m not always so sure that it’s what I want. I’m always certain, however, that it’s what works for our family right now.
Yet, I really do want to go back to work. I miss having a paycheck and I’d like to use my God-given talents–and education and 20+ years of work experience–for something besides making soup and wiping butts. And I know I want interesting work—something fun. I don’t care if a job is great paying and offers an outstanding benefits package–if it’s boring, I’m not interested. That’s just me. I want a job that gives me something to talk about besides my family, what books I’ve read, and what I’ve heard on NPR.
I occasionally see a job opening that appeals to me, and sometimes, I even apply. As I do, I ask myself, “How would that work? Me with a full-time job?” I know other people do it. They manage to put in 40+ hours at the office every week and still shuttle kids to and from soccer practice and piano lessons, but how? I don’t know.
Just last week, my daughter’s Daisy Scout leader asked, “Is everyone okay with changing our meeting time from 6 pm to 5 pm?” I nodded. Yes, that works for me now, but would it work for me if I had a job? Or would I be telling my child, “Sorry, no Scouts for you?” That seems harsh.
And what about my mother-in-law? I won’t lie—my fantasy about working full-time involves finding a way to put her in a nursing home. Of course, if she is in a nursing home, maybe I won’t want to work full-time. Maybe I will enjoy being at home again if she isn’t here 24/7. You can see the conundrum that creates.
It’s all hypothetical anyway since no one has offered me a job. Why worry about a problem that doesn’t exist yet? Why not just trust that in the event that I do find a job, all these little details will be worked out?
Perhaps an even greater question is “Who will hire me?” I’m slowly—I want to emphasize how very, very slowly here— inching my way towards 50, and I haven’t had a real job in almost seven years. Yes, I’ve done contract work, but none in the past two years. I’ve been asked to serve on both a museum board and a historical society board, but have said no for fear that I could not follow through with those commitments. I was president of my mom-club for a year, but when my mother-in-law moved in with us, I didn’t serve a second term because I wasn’t sure that I would be able to make it to all the meetings. That was a smart move. My attendance has been spotty at best.
So, while I’ve kept busy, not much of what I have done has been résumé-worthy. And the few things worth mentioning in a job interview feel very incomplete to me.
I think that if I dwelled on these two questions—“How would that work?” and “Who will hire me?”—I’d probably get a little depressed.
Instead, I’m going to put my energy into a different question—What do I want to be/do? The need to take time off from paid, professional employment happens. This isn’t just about being a stay-at-home-mom—or a stay-at-home-dad. People get laid off. People get ill. People get burnt out. People have to care for sick or elderly relatives. People go in and out of retirement. There are a gazillion reasons one might reach a proverbial crossroad in life and be forced to reinvent oneself—or at the very least, reinvent one’s career.
When doing this kind of soul-searching the follow-up question to “What do I want to be?” is “What is possible?” Let’s be honest. I can say, “I want to be an astronaut,” but at my age and with my lack of a science background, I’m not going to be admitted into NASA’s training program. I need to scratch that option off the list.
And there is an even bigger question of “What would people be willing to pay me to do?” or “What skills do I have that are so valuable to others that they would pay me to use those skills?”
I don’t have any answers to those questions. None. Nada. Zilch. But I don’t feel discouraged. I believe I am at a place in my life in which I have the opportunity to explore and ponder and come up with some answers. And I know I have to be open-minded about this and consider career-paths that I may have ignored in the past. It’s not a bad feeling. Really.
So, what do I want to be when I grow up?
I’m fairly certain my answer is not, “Bigger.”