When I was a little kid, my friends and I all wanted to be firemen and policemen if we ever grew up. Or anyway that was how we answered whenever the question got posed, though I have no particular recollection of hoping to cuff anyone or hose down fires, and might have said Cowboy or Waiter or Famous if I thought it was any less likely encourage a follow-up. And I may have answered Veterinarian there for a couple of years also because, well, I liked dogs and was reading a lot of James Herriot. The truth of the matter is that none of us really understood what it was our parents did – as lawyers, economists, suits. Once I had a friend whose father was an inventor. We all thought that was pretty cool (he worked out of his basement!) until we realized it was something widgety and inconceivable he was fussing over (microchips?), and not robots who could wash your dishes and take over the world.
Anyway, that’s all fuzzy to me now. Ten-year-olds today – I have discovered from looking at a fifth grade yearbook – mostly want to be professional athletes and computer game designers. My six-year-old is more than happy to tell anyone who will listen that he would like to play NBA basketball in the evenings and paint professionally during the day. I guess this is charming, and it suits his abilities – athletic and artistic, like music with the high and low ends turned all the way up – but it ain’t gonna happen, and I wonder generally as I am lying awake at night, imagining killer mosquitoes and people who secretly hate me and expiring dairy products – I wonder about all of the tiny compromises and disappointments that will need to accumulate before my children cannot remember where they started.
And then I wake up. Somewhere in there I managed to drift off and reboot, then comes coffee, pack lunches, permission slips, then arguing over sweaters and scarves. Worries fade to plans - Big Plans. In a book of that title by Bob Shea, a loudmouth little boy announces his intention to fly rocket ships and be President. The particulars become hilariously farfetched, but then again, maybe the child who dreams of dish-washing world-conquering robots ends up inventing the microchip. Maybe brilliance is only ambition dressing up for another adventure.
Sandy’s Circus, by Tanya Lee, tells the story of a boy who started out sketching, planned on studying to become an engineer, worked as a fireman in the boiler of a ship, and ended up constructing fantastical little circuses out of wires, junk, and anything else he could get his hands on. Ended up being Alexander Calder. Odd Boy Out, Albert Einstein, tells of a boy ill-fitted to the immediate confines of school, the army, Vienna society, all the while dreaming of wider, more welcoming vistas.
Not everyone can become Albert Einstein or Alexander Calder or President, but you might not turn into a great economist, lawyer or firefighter if you didn’t start out wanting to change the world.