Monday, July 06, 2009

So many choices!

I have been thinking a lot about Michael's "No idea what to do" post quite a bit these past few days. We talked about the fact that we always told our kids that they could be what they wanted to be, and wondered if we did the right thing. Perhaps one of the problems has to do with the difference between "doing" and "being." I believe we concentrated on the being part, which is much more essential than the "doing" part. The idea of being has to do with the world within, and the idea of doing has to do with the ever-changing world without--a world that we can only understand partially and subjectively.

I remember an assignment we had when I was in third grade. We were asked to draw a picture of ourselves as "what you want to be when you grow up." Being the 1960s, most of the girls in the class drew teachers and nurses, and most of the boys drew firemen, cowboys, and, perhaps, garbage collectors. Everyone drew themselves in some kind of profession, taking the "be" of the question as meaning the phrase "do for a living." I drew a picture of a genderless, pants-wearing army officer, walking down the street and whistling, with a little dog. My tomboy dream was to be in the army, at least while I was in third grade. I was also rather athletic, and was tantalized by the idea of getting a President's Council for Physical Fitness patch. Perhaps I was a tad patriotic as well.

Eventually these things faded with time. I knew I'd never have a dog. I knew that I would never grow up to be a man, or to even look like one. And I never got one of those President's Council for Physical Fitness patches. Perhaps it was because my school didn't offer them.

I stopped getting my hair cut at the barber shop (I didn't have a whole lot of guidance in those days), and eventually embraced my girl-hood with its proscribed (gasp) future in teacher-hood, mother-hood, and nurse-hood. Once I could wear pants to school on non-gym days, the door to a productive future seemed to be a little larger than the doors to the elementary school gym, or the school playground, where I spent hours climbing on the jungle-gym.

Eventually I slipped into music, the family business, because I was good at it, because I liked it, and because it was the only thing I could do. I felt kind of envious of my female classmates, empowered by the sudden surge of the women's movement, who seemed to look towards their futures with a newly-minted element of choice. I was particularly envious of the people who wanted to be doctors, because I could not understand the lure of the profession. Perhaps many of them also went into "the family business."

Nobody told me that I could be anything I wanted to be, professionally or otherwise. If somebody had told me, I wouldn't have believed them anyway. One by one the things I thought I was good at seemed to slip away, like math, science, and athletics, and a future in music seemed like the only path for me. I had no idea that the musical world was so big and so populated with people like me; and I had no idea that the actual number of musical opportunities for someone like me was so small. I also had no idea that I would be doing the kinds of things I am doing in music, or that music would be one of the ways I would define who I am.

Our kids, now in their 20s, are good at a lot of things. And they have (or are in the process of getting) an education. They have both had jobs that they would not consider "professions," jobs that you do in order to make money in order to live. But they both know that they can "be" whoever and whatever they want to be, and I think it gives them strength and hope.

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