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The Good Guys

It was the night of the November election. I was, by turns, doing some work I’d brought home and checking polling results on my phone.

My daughter’s first text came in about eight o’clock.

“I’m worried!”

I worry about the country on a daily basis, but my heart breaks for my daughter. Like all her generation, she was taught in school that, although our country had a shameful tradition of slavery and human rights violations, all that was behind us. With first the victories of Martin Luther King and later the election of Barack Obama, the only president in their adult lives, America had triumphed over bigotry and hatred. They were sure that we could only move forward.

While I know that there were many reasons that voters supported Donald Trump, an unfortunate consequence of that support has been the openness with which some people now express their anger and prejudice. It remains to be seen whether those reasons will justify the fallout in the end. To get the supreme court justice they preferred, or the manufacturing jobs he has promised, or the tax reforms he swears he will bring, or the illegal immigration he will build a wall to attempt to prevent, his supporters ignored the other words he has spoken or tweeted, the lies he has told, the manipulation he has strategized. Though it is not a bargain I was willing to make, I understand that, when desperate enough, voters did.

My daughter and many of her generation embraced the idealism of Bernie Sanders. The harshness of Trump’s message has been a bitter pill to swallow.

She jokes, “Will you visit me in Canada?”

My daughter is not naïve. She works with people in poverty, some of whom came to America recently trying to find a safer, more prosperous life, as immigrants have for generations. She understands much more than most of us the issues that poor families face. She sees parents every day, who range from being illiterate to having graduate degrees, working hard at manual labor to make better lives for their kids. As a child born to the privilege of education and a stable home life, she feels the need to give back. She wants leaders who see what she sees and a way to move forward to improve the lives of the families she serves.

Though we are texting, I imagine the anguish in her voice, and I want to reassure her, as mothers often try to do. I tell her to remember the balance of power, how congress and the judiciary must cooperate before too much damage can be done. I know it is a weak argument for her sorrow of this moment.

We sign off, but I can imagine her thinking, “How could Americans vote this way? We’re supposed to be the good guys.”

But I want to let her know, “Honey, everyone thinks they’re the good guys.”

 

Worrywart

 

I saw the movie Fantastic Beasts not long ago. My favorite quote from the film was “My philosophy is that worrying means you suffer twice.”

I confess I’m bit of a worrywart. If I have something on my mind, I tend to fret and plan and try to eliminate any uncertainty till the event comes up. I’m a mess in the days leading up to a vacation. But the reality is that the things I stress over are seldom the things that actually go wrong. Most of the time I don’t “suffer twice.” I just suffer once needlessly. How much better it would be, instead of fretting over events that never happen, to spend that time savoring life as it happens. But sometimes life is just scary.

Way back when, we were a childless couple with a devoted black lab and a colorful Eastern Rosella parrot we could never tame. He whistled at us and flitted from the top of his cage to the door and back. He seemed content.

I was pregnant with our first child, planning my six-week maternity leave. The first contraction woke me about 5AM. It wasn’t a work day, so I let my husband sleep for a while. I went in the other room and averaged grades and wrote my sub a final note, before the real pain started. By the time my husband got up about six, I was timing contractions and resting. I remember feeling such excitement, relief, and nervousness too, that pregnancy was almost over and I’d finally get to meet my baby.

Around 10AM labor seemed to stop and severe back pain started. With nausea starting too, I went back to bed, fearful that something was wrong. Who knows what my black lab thought was happening, but she stayed close by my side. The bird sat on top of his cage looking down at me.

While my husband called the doctor and I threw up into a trash can, the parrot chose that moment to fly around the room. When he unexpectedly landed on the floor, my retriever chose that moment to pounce. With the phone still in his hand, my husband leaped for the dog.

This moment is frozen in my mind. I see the look in my young husband’s eye as he stood over the dog, who ducked her head with the bird in her mouth. I remember the fear I felt for all of us in that moment.

“Drop it!” he commanded.

But she held onto her prize.

“Drop it!” He smacked her rump.

Finally, she let go. The parrot dropped limply to the floor, before flapping the dog drool off his wings. My husband held the dog by her collar and put the birdcage on the floor. The bird climbed up the side and in, miraculously unscathed.

Seven hours later at the hospital, with my husband at my side and two animals safely separated at home, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl and the world returned to joy.

There were so many things to worry about that day and it was just Luck that not one of them came true. Thank goodness.

Eating Crow

Bias is a funny thing. Sometimes it’s glaring, and other times we are blind.

One late spring day, my husband and I stopped for lunch at a popular family restaurant in a nearby town. The place was packed so we sat down in their U-shaped waiting area, taking a seat against the far wall. It was a typical Midwest small town crowd: white people, diverse only by age, whose families had lived here for generations.

To my right the nearest couple was somewhere about 80. Around the corner to my left was a family of five. The dad, mom, and teenage daughters looked typical of the area. The adult son was the one that caught my eye. Dressed simply in a T-shirt and jeans, his other adornments stood out. He had tattooed sleeves and multiple piercings, including a tongue stud and gauged ears.

My first thought was, “Ow, that must have hurt. Why do that?”

I kept my face neutral and tried not to stare.

About then, the elderly woman to my right, sitting directly across from the son, spoke to him.

Looking him in the eye, she asked, “Didn’t that hurt?”

His family, a bit stunned, paused in their conversation. I mentally shrunk down a bit, embarrassed that she would speak my thought.

The young man returned her gaze and said, “A bit, but not too bad.”

She wasn’t done. “Why would you do something like that to yourself?”

He smiled at her, still speaking in an even tone. “I like it.”

“Don’t you worry about what people will think of you?” she asked.

Still calm, he answered, “What do you think people think of me?”

“You’ll never get a job looking like that.”

At this, the young man’s dad spoke up. He turned to the woman angrily and said, “My son is a fine young man. He has a good job and makes a good living. What he does and how he looks are none of your business.”

“I didn’t mean anything by it,” the old woman said.

We settled into an uncomfortable silence for a minute or two before conversations began again around us. Soon the elderly couple were seated to eat, and others moved on to their meals, including us.

I’m embarrassed telling this, a story of how I judged a person by his appearance. I want to think of myself as someone who is careful not to have biases, who treats everyone equally. But clearly, I’m a mere mortal. We all have biases.

You don’t?

Let’s try this again. What if…

The young man who caught my eye was a young black man.

The young man was Asian, Latino, East Indian or any other race or nationality that doesn’t match your own.

There was an old man with a walker, slowing you down.

The young man held another man’s hand.

A man in a wheelchair blocked your way.

A man with cerebral palsy sat to your left.

A young man with Down syndrome spoke to you.

To your left was an attractive young woman with tattoos.

The woman was wearing a hijab.

The woman was heavy or sloppily dressed or unattractive.

The woman was middle aged with graying hair.

Or what if the woman to my right commenting on the piercings was young and attractive? Would her comments have sounded the same?

Would it be different if the old woman’s husband spoke, instead of her?

This is by no means an exhaustive list. But if we pause and check our reactions, it’s likely that we can identify at least one situation where we feel uncomfortable just because we are confronted with someone who is not like us. This is a natural human reaction. But if we can be honest about this, we can also recognize we are wrong.

After lunch, my husband headed out to the car while I stopped at the restrooms. I passed the young man as I went in. I smiled and nodded at him.

Coming out, I heard two middle-aged men talking in the corridor.

“Did you see that freak with the piercings?” one asked.

“Could you believe it?” the other answered.

As I walked past I said, “Actually I heard him talking. Seemed very polite. I think he’s a really nice guy.”

Then I went on my way.

I welcome constructive criticism.

In the City

I have now lived longer in a white farm house on two acres, surrounded by corn and bean fields, than I have lived in cities. I’m settled here, and you can see from my blog photos that I enjoy the view. But there are things about cities that I miss a bit too.

I live in a microworld where having a vehicle is your only way to get where you’re going. Cities have public transportation. Whether you’re talking buses, subways or el trains, these things have schedules and I don’t have to park them or drive them through traffic. When visiting a city, I often try out the local routes, with good results. I once got from downtown Denver to a nearby suburb with two transfers, just on the say-so of the other passengers.

Which brings me to the interesting people you meet while riding buses and trains. You can’t have much conversation while packed into a subway car. Too noisy. But you see the single moms with kids in toe, bags of groceries on the side. Commuters with newspapers stare right past you as though you aren’t there. There are homeless people sometimes, riding to get a little warmth. Groups of friends get on giggling and couples hold hands. Society in miniature gets off and on at each stop.

Hollywood may romanticize taxis (think Sex in the City), and I’ve had some interesting taxi experiences as well. But if you want to see real people living their lives, take the bus.

Cities are the many people who live there. I love the diversity of language, clothing, culture as I stroll a city street, my olive skin and dark hair melding with any crowds of Indian-, Latino-, Greek- or Italian-Americans who pass me by.

Another plus that cities have is the actual expectation that people will walk to places. Hence sidewalks. Whenever I travel to a city to stay, I take a long walk on sidewalks to check out the neighborhood, stretch my legs after travel, breath the fresh(ish) air. Someday I will be old and not driving. Wouldn’t it be nice to live close enough to hobble over to the grocery store?

One of my favorite things to do in a new city is randomly find a locally owned restaurant with food that I love, chat with the waiter and other patrons, and people watch while we wait for food. While I have my favorite eateries in nearby towns and cities here, larger cities have so many more options, so many more choices of cuisine. I loved the papaya salad that I got at the restaurant around the corner from our hotel in Seattle, the fish tacos at the lunch place in Juneau, the beignets at Café du Monde in New Orleans, and the bulgogi at the little storefront Korean Restaurant in Chicago.

Cities also have museums, zoos, theatres and stadiums to explore. Although the truth is that when I lived in cities I didn’t actually go to museums, zoos or live theatre any more often than I do now. Life is busy everywhere and, when it isn’t, city people sometimes like to stay home too.

But people watching, city restaurants, culture, and sidewalks are just minutes to hours away. Here, my commute is a quick ten minutes. I can see plenty of green without going to the park. Friendships and family are close by. I’ve put down roots and branched out here, so I’m not moving anytime soon.

But it’s sure nice to visit.

Edited with input from a Scribble of Writers

Through My Dad’s Eyes

I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot lately. When he died thirty-five years ago, grief was rough and raw. With time, it has evolved to wistfulness, occasional wondering what he’d think of this or that, wishing he could be here to see the young women my daughters have become.

I remember being small enough to reach up for a door knob. I ran to the door, calling, “Daddy’s home!”

All through my grade school years, Dad followed with his camera, for every concert, every event.

I remember his deep voice reading to us from outside our bedroom doors, long after most kids have bedtime stories, choosing books he loved more than we did like The Wizard of Oz series and The Last of the Mohicans.

I spent my teen years fighting against his overbearing control and his temper. I saw him as overprotective, always needing to control us. I rebelled. When he bellowed, I yelled right back. Where I might have side-stepped a question or avoided a conversation, I didn’t wait for him to ask. I was in-your-face honest and dared him to disagree. Which he did, of course.

My mom would say, “You’re just like your father!”

I didn’t want to have a tinder-box temper or make others feel the way he could make me feel.  Gradually I changed.

In college, I chose a field that he thought was a mistake, but the choice was mine. He had loved his college years and loved launching us on ours. My siblings and I knew he loved us and was proud of us by what we heard him say to others.

At the time Dad died, I was 21, fresh out of college and starting my first adult job. In the last few months of his life he helped me buy my first car, find my first adult apartment, start out my new life. I suspect that if Dad had lived longer, he would have continued to tell me how to live my life, but at the time he died, it felt as if he had let me go.

As my kids were born and grew, I grew to understand some of the mystery of my dad’s parenting choices. I am not the parent he was. But maybe I would have been if I had lived the life he did before I was born, instead of the secure life I did live. Maybe I would have made more of the choices he did.

When my daughters were born, I remembered Dad’s love of babies. He’d jingle his keys and try to get any little ones in his vicinity to smile.

When the moodiness and rebellion hit in my daughters’ teen years, I didn’t yell at them, but I understood how my dad might have wanted to.

When I let my kids stay up a little later and later as they got older, I came to understand the 9:00 bedtime my dad set even through my high school years. In a house with three bedrooms and six to eight people, getting us to bed had to be a relief.

When I waited up for my teenagers, I remembered Dad falling asleep as he waited up for me, clear through college.

Maybe I am thinking about him more because I am his age when he died.

I have been married longer than my parents, and more happily, I think. I parented with more freedom of choice, and my daughters turned out well. I made different choices than my dad might have chosen for me and I have few regrets.

But when I look in the mirror, I see his dark eyes and the same dark circles beneath them. I see his nose. I see hair almost as dark as his, but without the curl and not nearly as silver as his by this age.

When I look through his eyes, I see a daughter he’d be proud of. When I look through his eyes, I can feel his love.

*Edited

Double Date

I get a late start. Usually, this is a project for just after the new year. I take the 2016 calendar off the wall and grab the new one.

There was a time when I needed one of those calendars that had a column for every member of the family because the typical little boxes couldn’t fit everything we had to keep track of. I don’t use the wall calendar for much of anything anymore. These days my work life is on Google, while my home life is saved to my phone. But every year we get a new calendar and I copy all the important birthdays and anniversaries from the old one to the new one.

Now here we are nearing the end of February. I begin with the back-to-back birthdays of two of my best friends from high school. I sigh. Maybe next year I’ll remember to call.

Some dates are written on the calendar. Others are just written on my heart. We are coming up on the date that my dad, marching through a field during World War II, was suddenly blown up in the air. He woke up to find one leg was broken, while the other was partially gone.

It was Dad’s decision that he and my mom would marry on that same date, so he’d have something happy to remember that day.

Now on to March. My friend’s and our nephew’s birthdays go on the calendar, but the date that catches in my memory is my mother’s birthday. Mom was born on Easter, but her birthday landed again on Easter only once in her lifetime.  I remember asking her if she was up to celebrating her birthday the year after my father suddenly died on her fiftieth birthday. She was.

“It was my birthday a long time before he died,” she said.

On to April, where I write down our niece’s birthday. I remember my granddad’s birthday that month and that Mom died on Earth Day.

I write my sister-in-law’s birthday in May, skip writing my own, but stop to think that my cousin’s birthday is the same day as mine.

In June I write my father-in-law’s birthday and remember that my dad’s birthday was earlier the same month.

Turning to July, I hesitate over the two friends’ birthdays that I always confuse, being on either side of the 4th of July. I’m pretty sure that I’m writing them down correctly.

Our anniversary in August is the same date that my grandparents were married. I remember when we were picking a date, choosing their day as a good omen since they had been married almost sixty years.

Our nephew’s birthday stands out in August, before the onslaught of family birthdays in September and October. There are my daughter’s birthdays, nine days apart, but separated by different months and a few years. I write my brother’s and my mother-in-law’s birthdays in September, remembering my grandmother’s birthday as well.

In October I realize we’re missing one brother-in-law’s birthday. I text my mother-in-law for the date, grateful that I still have parents-by-marriage to ask.

My sister-in-law’s birthday is all alone in November, but followed by a slew in December, including my husband, my sister, another brother. Poor December babies, their birthdays always get mixed up with other holidays.

As I’m getting the last dates on the calendar, I realize I’m grateful to be in 2017. I’d like to go back to visit some years past, but not others, and not to live. I carry my daughters’ childhood years, but wouldn’t want to give up the adults they’ve become to get them back. I miss my loved ones who are gone, but I’m content to live right here in the present, feeling richer for the past I carry with me.

 

Valentine

 

Valentine,
Will you be mine?

We were young when we fell in love. I remember the calm and peace when I was with him and the uncertainty when he wasn’t there. Young love is urgency. An urgency so ironic when you really have all the time in the world.

What do you call two birds in love?
Tweethearts!

Barely a year after we met, we married. Outdoors by a lake, loved ones in folding chairs before us, we said our vows. Holding hands, looking in his eyes, time stood still for a moment when I said, “I will.”

We divvied household chores, responsibilities, nights to cook. We worked, we played, we were adults with the joy of kids, our separate interests counterpoint to a shared life. Love was my cold hand in his warm one as we jumped into our life together.

What do squirrels give for Valentine’s Day?
Forget-me-nuts!

Ten years in, we had two tiny girls. My world flipped. His flipped a bit later. Now parents and partners, we were a united team. Putting the kids first, always before ourselves, we had to remind ourselves to be sweethearts as well. We were connected by the tiny hands we held.

The children grew and life spun faster. Weeks filled with work, homework, rides to dance, scouts, lessons, cheering at games, photos, always photos, commemorating each event. Date night became more regular and more important. I often thought about how I couldn’t have done it without him. Though I didn’t always remember to tell him, love was knowing he’d always be there.

What did the calculator say to the pencil on Valentine’s Day?
You can count on me!

Twenty years in, we took an anniversary trip. Five days away from work and stress, kids and parenthood, responsibility and daily life. Five days to remind ourselves how important it was to be together.

It was the dawn of the turbulent teen years and our united team cracked a bit under the strain. But the years passed, as years always do, and we came out the other end. Love was standing arm-in-arm, admiring the young women our daughters had become.

What do farmers give their wives on Valentine’s Day?
Hogs and kisses!

Thirty years in, the nest is empty. My husband has retired and roles have reversed. I come home in the evening to a quiet house, shopping and dishes done, dinner simmering on the stove.

Love is the way he knows my moods. Love is the mangos and avocadoes that he can’t stand, but he buys because I love them. Love is the small treats he leaves by my spot on the couch and the texts he sends to make me laugh. Love is thirty-three years with the same man and wanting thirty more.

Valentine,
So glad you’re mine!

Snowstorm

After weeks of rainy gray days that almost pass for early spring, it snows. For a couple of hours there are whiteout conditions, especially if you are in the car following a plow. I slow down with a sigh.

It’s packing snow, the right kind for snow balls, snowmen and forts, and I know kids across the area have been waiting wistfully for the chance to go sledding. At least someone will enjoy it.

Once home I look out the window and think back to other winters, other snows…

…I’m ten years old, content to huddle inside with a book on a cold winter day. I’m lost in The Long Winter, dreaming of being snowed-in on the prairie…

…I get the call early in the morning before light. Snow day! I’d love to crawl back into bed, but my little girls are up. After breakfast, we bake chocolate chip cookies and I make a pot of vegetable soup. Then we bundle up and head outside, to battle with half-hearted snowballs and build a snowman taller than all of us, sacrificing a hat and scarf to warm its frozen neck and head…

…I’m eleven. My dad takes all four of us to a park with a great sledding hill. We take turns on two sleds, gliding down the slope at breakneck speed, coasting to a stop and trudging back up to go again. My dad takes a few turns belly-flopping down the hill, my little brother on his back…

…I am thirty-seven, learning to ice skate for the first time, in a class with my daughters. I take joy in gliding around the ice and take comfort in the instructor’s instructions on how to fall. A little girl in the class looks at me doubtfully and says, “My mom wouldn’t do this…”

…I am twenty-five, driving an almost new Mazda on the dry interstate, on the three-hour drive to the city I grew up in, when the snow starts. It’s sticking to the road and I slow down to forty-five. Travelers fall back, suddenly cautious like me. Two cars ahead of me, the driver loses control and goes into a spin. I let off the gas and cautiously try to switch lanes, guessing I won’t stop in time. Then I am spinning, swerving backwards and to the side, heading for the guardrail. I tense for an impact that doesn’t come. I come to rest a few inches from the guardrail, facing the wrong direction and parallel to the car I had been following. He in turn is stopped nose-to-nose with the car that went into the spin, which is also facing backwards. They are mere inches apart. The guy in the car next to me gets out and runs to my window. Hands on the roof, he leans down to see me better.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

I say yes and he runs to the other car to check on the driver. Next, he is standing on the highway directing traffic so we can both turn our cars around and be on our way. I’ll forever be grateful and wonder if he was an off-duty police officer…

…We are playing in the backyard, trying to train our husky mix to pull a kid’s sled. She doesn’t like being hooked to the rope, but likes to take the rope in her teeth and pull. My little girls are taking turns sitting on the sled to be pulled. It’s big sister’s turn and little sister is put out. She stalks off to the edge of our property, little arms crossed in a snit because her turn wasn’t long enough. Our dog looks at me, waiting for me to go after her, but I can see she’s fine and I set her older sister up for her ride. I stand back and big sister gets the ride of her life as our husky takes off across the yard to herd little sister back to her parents…

…I am seven.  Where it typically snows inches, this storm has snowed feet. Once the adults in the neighborhood have carved out paths where sidewalks should be, the side walls are so tall I can barely see over them. My sister and I circle the block, walking tall from drift to drift…

…My daughter is just one, wearing her new snowsuit for the first time. Proud parents, my husband and I take pictures and build her a snowman just her size. She’s most impressed by his carrot nose and soon wants it for her own…

…It is now and I think back to other snowstorms, snowmen and forts, sledding and snowboarding, ice skating and skidding down highways, as the sun comes out and the snow starts to melt.

 

The Bus Ride Home

It was Christmas break, my freshman year of college. A large group of us stood on the platform, waiting for the bus to take us home. A group of strangers, we stood making small talk, all relieved to have finals over and break about to start.

The talk lulled and I turned. I had to rush. The bus was here.

Like a wave, the crowd moved to where the bus was stopped. The bus slowly filled, leaving about twenty of us on the platform, laughing and joking to cover the worry that we’d have to find another way home. Right before he pulled away, the driver told us they’d be sending another bus for us.

More students came, the camaraderie increased and by the time the second bus showed up, we filled it with a laughing crowd.

I sat a few seats from the front and a guy from the group I’d been talking to slid in next to me, continuing the conversation.

Then he changed topics.

“I’ll bet I can guess your nationality,” he said.

I grew up in a big, diverse city where second- and third-generation immigrants identified themselves as Swedish-Americans, Greek-Americans, Japanese-Americans, etc., so I didn’t think anything about it. Being short, with dark hair and an olive complexion I’ve been mistaken for Greek, Puerto Rican, Portuguese, Native American, and Indian. I didn’t think he could guess. I said okay.

“Greek?” he guessed. “Italian?” He went on, but never got it.

Finally I listed my ancestors’ heritage, but he didn’t comment on anything until I mentioned a Jewish relative.

“You know,” he said, “Jews are trying to take over the country and the world.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“There’s a Jewish conspiracy,” he said.

My dad had repeatedly warned me that I’d run into antisemitism, but this was my first encounter. In retrospect, I’m sure this guy had a litany of complaints against many groups.

“I know a lot of Jewish people,” I said, “and none of them are trying to take over the country.”

He started listing his “evidence” and I realized I was trapped on a full bus, stuck sitting with this guy for the next three-hour ride. I didn’t know enough back then to quit a losing fight, so I kept trying to talk sense to him. He kept going.

“The movie industry is brainwashing everybody. MGM really stands for Metro Golda Meier.”

He went on and on. Finally about the time he was complaining about being forced to buy kosher tuna fish, because all the major brands had a K on the label, the girl in the seat in front of me couldn’t take it anymore and came to my rescue.

Turning around and kneeling to look over the seat at him, she said,”I’m Catholic and you are terrible!”

I hadn’t thought about that bus ride for a long time. Events in the news and fake news lately have brought back memories I’d happily put behind me. Too many people are willing to skirt the surface, accepting headlines and sound bites as facts, expecting simple solutions to complex problems. It’s much easier to scapegoat a group of people than analyze a situation to look for a multi-faceted solution. It’s much easier to read the headlines, maybe the first paragraph, than dig down and read the details, look for the reporter’s sources.

We all need to read multiple sources before we believe what we hear and read. We need to pay attention to the difference between objective evidence and opinion pieces. We need to beware of conspiracy theories. We need to read what people who don’t agree with us have to say, with a mind open enough to ask whether any of what they have to say is valid.

If you think that an entire group of people can be all good or all bad, you are wrong.

If you think that Americans who speak up in protest are whiny or should be arrested, you need to read the constitution and some history.

If you think that all right-wingers are greedy, close-minded bigots and xenophobes, you are wrong.

If you think that all leftist liberals are unemployed criminals looking for a handout, you are wrong.

If you think that Fox News is a hard news network, you are wrong.

If you think that CNN is without bias, you are wrong.

If you think that Donald Trump can save the country single-handedly, you are wrong. The issues are too complicated for even the best president to do alone, and I do not believe we have the best.

If you think that Donald Trump can destroy the country single-handedly, you are wrong. A lot of people need to sit by and do nothing for that to happen.

And if you think that a single person can’t do much to help, think of the girl who turned around to join the fight. She may not have changed one idea of the bigoted bully next to me, but she supported me with her presence and gave me an ally for the rest of the ride.

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

When my oldest was about three, I started planting the idea of college in her brain. I remember a particular conversation we had.

“What happens when you’re five?” I asked.

“I go to school,” she answered on cue.

“Where do you go after grade school?” I asked next.

“High school,” she responded.

“Where do you go after high school?”

“College!”

Then I asked, “What are you going to be when you grow up?”

Smiling, she told me, “A clown.”

Great, I thought. Clown college!

I’ve been thinking about that question we always ask kids. What do you want to be when you grow up? I think we’re asking the wrong question or expecting the wrong answer.

I’ve been a teacher for over 30 years and I definitely hold Teacher as part of my central identity. But not everyone is lucky enough to have a career that they love, much less one that can be part of their character. Some of us have a passion for what we do, but many, many more simply have a job so that they can pursue their passions, or sometimes just so they can survive. We need garbage collectors, car salesman and account managers, and all those jobs provide services modern society needs, but none are likely to make people feel like that is who they are in life.

According to US Labor statistics, people my age have had an average of 11+ jobs. The millennial generation is likely to switch careers even more often. No one will “be” one thing through their lifetime. Maybe what we should be asking is, “Who do you want to be when you grow up?”

Do you want to be smart? Everyone’s intelligence can be improved with hard work and perseverance, qualities that would be valuable for any occupation.

Do you want to be strong and brave? Start practicing now, child. Exercise those muscles and face your fears.

Do you want to be adventurous? Then, parents, it’s time for some child-sized freedom or they’ll never be up for a challenge.

Do you want to be athletic? You’ll need some genetic talent, but then practice, practice, practice.

Do you want to be kind? The world could use you right now.

Do you want to be creative? Don’t be a follower. Pursue your art.

Since my husband has retired and taken over many of the chores I used to do, I’m trying self-centered on for size. I think this is what has freed me up to try adding Writer to my psyche. It feels pretty good.

Who do you want to be? Try on a new label and see how it feels.