Thursday, December 5, 2013

What Did You Want to Be When You Grew Up?

One of my favorite childhood memories is my grandpa's stories.

My maternal grandfather was not an easy man. A first-generation Italian-, nay, Sicilian-American -- a distinction he never failed to impress upon our young minds -- he was raised in a time of world wars and the Great Depression, a brilliant mind trapped in a chronically ill body.

He was a demanding husband and an overbearing father. But he was a great grandpa.

He spun stories of his early childhood in Oklahoma, where he lived for the first decade of his life. Politically incorrect stories of cowboys-and-Indians interwoven with traditional tales of cops-and-robbers. He recounted stories of places he had never seen -- and never would -- places I would one day go, but not until after his death.

Baby Moo Cow with Grandma and Grandpa G.
(And you thought plastic-covered couches were just an urban myth.)

I relished his stories. I would ask for the same ones over and over and correct him when he got the "facts" wrong. When he was lying in bed because his back ached too much from the arthritis that wracked his spinal column, I would curl up next to him to listen to the magic.

And night after night, I would ask permission from my mother to "think" before going to sleep so I could spin my own stories.

Stories have always been important to me. I devoured novels until very recently, now that my schedule rarely permits such a luxury; I studied anthropology in college -- a discipline that essentially seeks to understand the story arc of a given culture. But I never thought of myself as a storyteller until I took a fiction workshop at NYU the semester I gave birth to Henry. There I learned that endless stories were groping for air, pushing to explode forth from my brain, if I would only let them. Six months later I started this blog.

When I lived in Italy in the nineties, I was critical of their education system, which shunted kids off as early as high school into discipline tracks: lawyers, doctors, journalists, and so on. How could you possibly know what you wanted to be in your life that early on? I would ask my boyfriend.

These days, I am reconsidering my criticism. Besides languages and writing, the other field I was always interested in as a child was science, particularly biology. I went off to college pre-med; alas I was unprepared (academically and otherwise) for the grueling curriculum and abandoned that aspiration after only one year. Today, I am not a doctor, but I do work in hospital administration. I am also a lapsed yoga teacher with a keen interest on how Western anatomy corresponds to the spiritual practice.

All of which is to say that, had I simply followed my talents and interests as early as five or six years old, I might be in a totally different place today career-wise. Perhaps even a happier place.

I suppose the parenting lesson here is to encourage your children not to over-think things too much, to explore their interests and options and see where they lead.

Did you grow up to be what you wanted to be when you grew up?  

This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post: "One of my favorite childhood memories is..."

Finish the Sentence Friday
Image credit David Castillo Dominici //