This photo has absolutely nothing to do with this post, but I have to announce the purchase of my dream van. Woo-hoo! Family race and road trip vehicle– the Westfalia. And, no, there will be no bumper stickers. At least, no stupid ones.
So here’s the real post…
I keep reading that the things we do when we are little are a pretty clear indication of what it is that we are meant to do or at least love to do and should, therefore, be doing on a regular basis.
Have you ever thought about this? What did you love to do when you were little?
Basically, I pretended to be a pioneer girl living in the woods and building houses in laurel thickets. I made books out of paper and staples and tape and colored pencils. Most of them were illustrated. Some of them even came with sheet music (none that an actual musician could read, but…). I drew cartoons. Lots of cartoons. I raided the discard pile at the elementary school on teacher work days when my mom worked as a teaching assistant and took home stacks of old grade books, plan books and bulletin board materials so that I could be a more effective (and often mean, I’m sad to say) teacher to my unruly classroom of stuffed animals and ratty-haired baby dolls. I colored and painted and kept my art supplies in an old cigar box. I dug in the dirt, mostly archeological digs behind the tobacco barn. I walked miles and miles along paths through the woods and across cow pastures. I acted out scenes from old movies, wearing my grandmother’s nightgowns and scarves and costume jewelry, in front of the mirror. I memorized hours of dialogue, mostly from Gone With the Wind, but also from a variety of other classic films—everything from John Wayne to Abbott and Costello routines. I also played mommy and kept house.
Any indicators there about what my life might look like in the future?
I love examining what my kids are into in this way.
For Harper Lee, I see definite trends toward performance and competition. She wants to lead and be in charge. She also wants to be around lots of people. She has always expressed an interest in medicine, but she also loves to read and write and make jewelry and clothing. She has a flair for fashion—usually on the eclectic and unusual side. She also has a deep affection for miniature animals. I don’t know what that might turn into, but it will be interesting to find out.
Isaac has always adored collecting things. He loves motors and figuring out how everything works. He likes to build with his hands. He likes chemistry and figuring out problems. He reads like a maniac—mostly non-fiction (though a good Beverly Cleary or Kate DiCamillo book will more than suffice), and he LOVES animals (in particular, mice) and caring for them. He also bakes, (again, the chemistry—future Alton Brown?) and he could easily become a professional online shopper for obscure and valuable collectibles.
One of my favorite questions for kids is, “What do you want to be?” It’s not because I believe that what you do for a living defines you. Not by a long shot. But it’s so much fun to dream about the things you love and being able to do those things while actually earning a paycheck.
For a while, I imagined that I would like to become a professional writer or artist, but when push comes to shove, what I really love to do is teach. I love teaching writing and literature. I love introducing students to bizarre and fun stories, to ideas, to language. I love coming up with creative lesson plans and artsy-fartsy activities. I love making posters and bulletin boards. I love performing on stage. I love talking to kids and, hopefully, making their lives (or at least their day) a little better than it was before. I love learning from them and laughing with them. I love teaching.
For a while, I thought, “Is this it? Grading the same essays with the same errors every semester? All the testing bullshit I hate? Goofy state mandates? Policing bathrooms for cigarette smoke? Really??? This is my life?” And then I remember the days spent teaching my stuffed dog, Fluffy, his multiplication tables on my chalkboard that Santa brought, and I realize, “Yeah, this is your life. You are where you were meant to be.”
Perhaps, someday, I will also be writing books, complete with illustrations, or performing a one-woman show of Gone With the Wind to sold out audiences. Heck, I might even jump in the new Westfalia and drive to the middle of the wilderness where I can live off the grid in a laurel thicket and write poetry about groundhogs. Until then, I’m happy teaching and performing on stage at the Arts Council on the side.
But, like I said, our vocation does not define us, and while I am a teacher first, I still have those other facets of my life that I want to nurture and cultivate. I think those parts of ourselves that are not necessarily related to our paying job but are an integral part of who we are must be tended to as well.
This winter, for instance, I’m planning on dedicating a good bit of time to learning and practicing ink illustration. I dabbled in it for most of my younger years, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to learn more about, so I’ve put together a small sketch book and a box (couldn’t find an old cigar box, darn it…) full of fine-tip markers and ink pens and colored pencils that I plan to carry with me like my journal. I promised myself that after the play I would pick up a new project for the fall and winter, so I’ll let you know how it goes. I also plan to pick up where I left off with the fiddle during the summer.
The beauty of these two projects is that neither of them is required. I’m doing them for the pure joy of it and nothing else—much like my writing over the past six months. I think that my art and writing and performance and, shoot, even digging in the dirt are all part of who I am and may be, in many ways, related to my profession and what I do in the classroom, but even if they weren’t, even if they were completely unrelated to my work as a teacher, they would deserve no less attention from me.
Rob builds boats in our garage and rides miles and miles of mountain trails and pores over automotive websites in the evening. None of these things relate to IT or banking, but they are every bit a part of who he is. How sad it would be if he never made the time for those things.
How sad for all of us if we never made time for the things that make us who we are, because for most of us, our jobs are only a fraction of who we are in this world.
If you’ve never given it much thought, take some time today to think about the things you loved as a child. How did you spend your hours when they were yours to spend exactly how you wanted? What element of those activities do you see present in your life today? How much time do you give to those activities? To digging in the dirt? To playing basketball? To competing? To making concoctions in the kitchen?
What do you want to be when you grow up?