Mama, I Just Want to Be a Person
My late-summer Facebook feed was filled with back-to-school posts. My organized friends’ children posed behind signs with their names, grades, and choice of future profession: veterinarians, teachers, wrestlers. The children stood, excited and awkward, on the cusp of something big.
My oldest, who just started kindergarten, has never talked much about what he wants to be when he grows up. When he was four and went through his obligatory dinosaur kick, he was thrilled to learn that some people dig up dinosaur bones for a living, and he decided that would be a good choice. But his dinosaur phase passed, and a new profession did not take its place.
In one of our last days together before kindergarten started, he was sitting in the sandbox digging while I idly sifted sand through my fingers. I thought of his four-year-old archaeology dreams and those beaming children, memorializing their hopes for the future, and asked, “Do you still want to be a bone digger when you grow up?”
“No,” he replied casually, continuing to dig.
I have no aspirations for what my son will be. When I was his age, I wanted to be an artist, which is funny when you see my artistic ability. And then a ballerina, which is even funnier when you see my dancing ability (which, for everyone’s sake, I hope you never will). At his age, what you want to be is more about what you love to do – to draw, to move. I wondered what he loved so much that he could imagine doing it for the rest of his life.
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“Do you know what you do want to do?”
He paused, then looked at me. “Sometimes,” he said, “maybe some people just want to be a person when they grow up.”
His answer, and the way he phrased it – almost apologetically, like it wasn’t what he necessarily wanted, but what some hypothetical person might want – gave me pause. And I’ll admit, my initial instinct was completely boring and adult. Being a person ain’t gonna pay the rent, son. But the more I thought about it, the more I loved his answer.
I recently went through a career shift, back-burnering my legal degree. It was a hard decision, in part because I felt so wrapped up in my lawyer identity. I spent 20 years in school. I went through the trials of big city law firm life. I found my way out to the other side working for a legal nonprofit. After a lifetime spent working toward where I was, it was hard to figure out who I would now be.
But my son’s aspiration – to be a person – made me realize that I am more than a job. I am a lawyer, yes. I am also a writer. I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend. I am a knitter, a runner. I am a lover of words and chocolate, of Care Bears and cats. I am a whole person, not defined solely by what I do, but also by who I am.
My son is an artist, an architect, an athlete, a comedian. He is a friend, a brother, a nephew, a grandson. He is a lover of music and mashed potatoes, of new shoes and muddy puddles. As he grows, his interests will change, his focuses will shift.
My hope, though, is that he stays true to his five-year-old aspiration. That he will find what and who he loves, that he will be kind to himself and to others. That he will be, in his words, a person.
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