What do you wanna be?

What do you wanna be?

I remember my kindergarten classroom pretty clearly. I was a “morning student” – a subject I remember the mothers around me talking about as they anticipated our first school assignments of teachers and times. Mrs. McPike administered both my first public embarrassments and triumphs. And she opened the universe to me as the letters joined to create something bigger to me. Reading was a code, and I was primed to crack it having grown up surrounded by books and adults who would read to me frequently.

Recently, I found myself revisiting kindergarten in my memory when we were asked ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’

This question leads and follows us through our lives – sometimes a friend, sometimes a bully.

I watched with curiosity when this question began to shadow our kids. Their answers ranged from playful possibility to panic as the growing up countdown got shorter and shorter. What had begun as a ‘cute question’ for 5 year olds bore heavy responsibility for our young adults. Even if they had a sense of “What” they wanted to be, to study in college, to pursue for work, the precipice of pursuit and responsibility felt (feels) so steep for each of them. For me, too. It still does.

Laughing with people recently, I have admitted I must finally face this persistent question. But it’s really not that funny. I still feel the weight of when I was 18 years old – when I wanted nothing more than to be independent. Or when I was 20 years old – when if a job as a full-time camp counselor had opened up to me I would have jumped at it. At 22 – when I became a wife. Or 26 – when I became a mother.

My future still feels foggy. What I do see clearly are the observations and wisdom I’ve collected during the first 50 years of my life. I have begun to learn what to hold tightly, and what to let slip by. I have begun to understand my Who-ness in the contexts of my many ‘What-nesses’. I have begun to laugh more generously at and with myself.

The challenge of being asked “what do you want to be” throughout our growing up years is that we begin to assume that there will be a final answer, that a solid form will become clear to us and we will be ready to devote all that we are to it.

But even if my dream was to be a camp counselor, and I was living in that role every happy day, would I be done my growing up and becoming? Camp Counselors, emergency workers, business leaders – they are all just an address where we live while we continue to grow up.

I might not know what I want to be when I grow up until I look backwards. And I’m almost okay with that.