What I Want to be When I Grow Up
When I was in pre-school (it was called nursery school way back then), I started to seriously think about what I wanted to be when I grew up. My focus on the future was due, in large part, to my teacher, Mrs. McCasky, a woman whom I adored and whose word was gospel to me. One day, right before nap time, she surprised the class with the announcement that we would be hearing a short story that she had penned. It was a tale about what each of us would be when we got older. I don’t recall the story’s specific plot, theme or moral except that at some point in the narrative, I appeared in the guise of (drum roll) –a mail carrier.
Ouch! The power of suggestion. The great oracle had spoken. Mrs. McCasky, soothsayer extraordinaire, had decreed my professional future, and it was pure postal.
At first, I was greatly disappointed. After all, one of my classmates was ordained to be a fearless fireman. Another was destined to be a doctor. Still another; a baker. Hey, I loved doughnuts. How come my destiny wasn’t in dough?
After careful consideration, I came to accept my fate. In fact, I convinced myself that there was no better job in the whole world than that of a mailman. What other profession offered daily exercise (mailboxes were located near front doors and mail carriers walked from house to house), the chance to deliver goodies and good news to people (who knew about bills?) and, best of all, the opportunity to wear shorts to work all year!
I studied the intricacies of letter-delivery: How to sprightly bounce up porch steps, how to proudly wear a leather mail bag over one’s shoulder, and how to avoid irritable dogs by avoiding their irate irises. I was about to tell my parents about my destiny to deliver-da-letters, when a mysterious, much older cousin arrived in Omaha. My dad’s nephew was also named David Hoffman, and he was a dentist. I was so in awe of the fact we shared the same name that almost overnight, my ambitions of becoming a mailman came to a molar grinding halt. By Jove and bicuspid, I too would become a dentist!
And so, despite the fact that my love of dentists equaled my love of boiled liver, I started down the path toward dental school. I studied the various brands of toothpaste at the drug store, I made a list of the toys I would offer my young patients as they exited the office, and I started flossing my teeth on a regular basis. All was going well until I realized, through a series of classroom experiences and report card grades, that my destiny was not dentistry.
In the ensuing years, I decided to become a cotton candy maker, the fifth Beatle, a professional dreamer (I think they’re called philosophers), a magician, and a limerick writer. (There once was a poet named Dave, whose critics did nothing but rave. He sold one poem a day, earned very small pay, and soon a new job he did crave.)
I, like most of my friends, began college with an undeclared major. I became interested in psychology, history, and music and settled on a degree in Journalism in order to graduate in four years. I ended up going to Law School for many different reasons, the least being that I was interested in law.
And then one day, while standing on the southern rim of the Grand Canyon, putting everything into grand perspective, I realized I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up.
And so I became a second grade teacher until I became a fourth grade teacher until I became a first grade teacher—until I became a principal.
I am still trying to decide what to be when I grow up. That’s part of the joy one derives from this journey called life.
As parents and educators we need to keep sending our kids the message that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. The sky truly is the limit. We know that some of our children will hold jobs that have yet to be created. Some will play a part in creating those jobs. The bottom line is, we want them to have choices concerning their life’s work, and we want them to be happy with the choices they make. That means working together to make sure they are successful in school, kind and accepting of others, and physically and emotionally healthy. And, while we want to help them believe that the world is their oyster, we also need to equip them with the skills and experiences to endure the oyster’s occasional nips as they search for its pearl. Eventually, if they want to become a baker—more power to them! I will be the first standing in line to buy a doughnut with sprinkles.
Mrs. McCasky’s true legacy was not that she instilled in me the short-lived desire to become a mailman, but rather she inspired me to write. Her little story stayed with me forever, and when I became a teacher, I too penned narratives for my students. Each year, I wrote my kids an end-of-the-year tome wherein each child’s professional dreams were realized. As I read the story to them, I saw their faces light up when I got to the portion of the plot where their character was introduced. “Yes,” Tom would say, pumping his fist, “I get to be a professional soccer player.” “I knew it,” Anna would cheer, “I knew I would become an ornithologist.” And so it went, as each student’s dreams came true on the printed page.
Author Tom Robbins once wrote, it is never too late to have a happy childhood. I would add that it’s never too late to be what you want to be when you grow up.
As we near the end of another wonderful school year, I hope your child(ren) have gained valuable insights, perspectives, understandings, intuitions and visions from their daily experiences that will help guide and shape their destinies. May you and your children continue to dream big, and may those dreams continue to come true. Here’s wishing everyone a safe and happy summer. See you in September.