One of the most amusing things when you're a parent is hearing your kids talk about what they want to be when they grow up. Like most little boys, when my son was 3 he decided he wanted to be a fireman one day. But soon after he turned 4, someone asked him the question and he announced a dramatic career change.
"I wanna be a gas station attendant."
My husband and I quickly covered our mouths and pretended to cough while we snorted with laughter.
"Really," I said. "Why is that?"
"You get to put gas in the car and clean people's windows and that makes them happy," he said definitively.
We nodded our heads in agreement. "Well, that's great, Sweetie," I praised him. He grinned and ambled away.
"Very altruistic of him," said my husband.
"Hey, think of all the money we'll save on college," I replied. But kids being kids, my son had another career change the following year.
"What do you call someone who studies bugs," he asked me one day while I was working on the computer.
"Um, an entomologist, I think," I told him, without looking up.
"Well, I want to be an entomologist when I grow up," he announced. "See!!!" He thrust his hand under my nose displaying a huge, quivering beetle in his palm. This time, my response was not as supportive.
When he was 6, he went a little more mainstream and decided he would be a doctor.
"You know all that money we were going to save on college when the kid said he wanted to be a gas station attendant?" I said to my husband.
"Yeah..." he said.
"Well, now we'll have to double it for medical school."
But after he went for a check-up and had to get a booster shot, my son decided that doctors are meanies and he'd NEVER be a doctor... even if they do get all those lollipops. Sometime later at a big family gathering, he said he had a big announcement to make.
"I'm going to go into my dad's business and take over his company when he retires."
My husband beamed. Congratulations were passed around.
I leaned over and whispered in my husband's ear: "Don't hold your breath, Last week he was going to be a writer, like me."
We went along like this for another couple of years. One day he was going to study marine life, another day. he was dreaming of being a cartoonist.
And then when he turned 10, I realized he hadn't talked about it for a while. I thought maybe he had hit an existential crossroads. Did he want to go into big business and be a corporate leader or do something to help humanity? Was he thinking about a future in politics or did he crave the excitement of professional sports? For ten years we had told him the world was at his doorstep and he could do anything he wanted if he put his mind to it. Now that he had a little more maturity and wisdom, I was curious what path he thought he might take.
So finally, one day, I asked him.
"Hey Kiddo, what do you think you want to do when you grow up?"
He paused the video game he was playing and looked at me thoughtfully.
"I dunno," he said. "I think maybe I'll just sponge off you and Dad."
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