"Is that what you wanted to be when you grew up, Mommy?" my eight-year-old asked me at the breakfast table after I told him exactly what it is I do on the computer and phone all day, until 5:30, when, if they are home, they are allowed to turn on the TV and sometimes later at night when they are supposed to be sleeping.
"Oh, gosh, no! I didn't have the words for what I do when I was a kid. What I do now wasn't even possible then." (I manage a corporate marketing program, remotely, for a technology company.)
"What did you want to be, Mommy?"
"Well, when I was about your age, I thought I would like to be the President of the United States. But I didn't like the risk of being assassinated so I decided I might rather be a jockey because I loved horses so much. But then I got too tall, so I thought maybe a veterinarian. Or an artist, or a hairdresser... I really wanted to be a hairdresser..."
"Why don't you go to school to be one?" my oldest chimed in.
"Well, hon, I can't just drop out of the workforce and go to school...how would I afford school, never mind anything else?"
"You could save up a lot of vacation time..." my middle son suggested.
"Well, that sounds like a good idea but in our company you have to use it or lose it by the end of the year, so that wouldn't work. And besides, when you take vacation, you're expected to return to your job afterwards..."
We all sat in silence for a few moments and I wondered exactly when it is that our childhood career dreams die and we have to get practical. Certainly not everyone's die: There really are plenty of veterinarians, hairdressers, policemen, doctors, nurses and firemen in the world, as well as numerous professional athletes, musicians and actors. And, of course, I will encourage my kids' dreams as long as they have them.
However, dreams do change as we move along our life path. I thought about one time in the car when two of my sons were playing the Game of Life on one of their electronic devices. One had asked the other to "spin" for him and he wound up being a salesman. He wanted to quit the game because it wasn't fair: He had wanted to be a doctor or lawyer. I listened to them argue in the back seat before I said, "Sometimes your career takes a detour that you might not have imagined, but it winds up being the best thing for you."
My oldest will be going to high school next year, and there are choices that have to be made. The reason we were having this discussion in the first place is that some of his classmates had gone to tour our local technical school the day before.
My middle son had perked up when we started talking about the technical school. He's familiar with it because I have taken both his brother and him to different open houses there and they have friends from church who are enrolled there. He likes the idea of learning a trade such as carpentry and having a choice whether to go on to college right away or not. I like the idea of him doing something creative with his hands, something that cannot be off-shored, something that will always be in demand and around which his own business could be built.
My oldest, however, has made the informed decision to choose the traditional high-school-as-a pre-requisite-to-college route and is applying to a private Catholic school. Why, I do not know, since our public school system is among the best, but perhaps it's because one of the Catholic school's cardinal rules is "it's cool to be smart" (my son has been called a nerd because he reads on the school bus and he's planning to participate in an after-school math competition).
I wrote about this in my first book, "MotherMorphosis," more than 10 years ago: I hope and pray my children are the people God wants them to be and that they are happy and productive members of society. I can encourage, nurture, socialize, care for, teach and love them, but ultimately who they become is not up to me.
There are many paths to success.
The mother of three sons, Caroline Poser lives with her family in Groton. www.CarolinePoser.com.