“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
It’s a question children hear often. I could tell you that when I was in fifth grade, like my daughter is today, I wanted to be a doctor/lawyer/gymnast. I had it all figured out in my head. Four years of med school, two years of law school, and by the time I was 28, I would be a practicing paediatrician who could represent herself in a malpractice suit. I wasn’t planning on being sued, but I thought it would be a good idea. I would save a lot from having to retain a lawyer!
And being a gymnast? I planned to compete in the Olympics for my country, of course.
It was right around the time when Team USA beat the Soviet team in hockey at Lake Placid, and I wanted to represent my country. I loved watching gymnastics and thought it would be cool to perform on the high bar and do the rings and pommel horse. Forget about the years and years of training, I was going to do it!
I’m so grateful my parents never discouraged me.
When I unveiled my grand plan, my mum and dad never told me I couldn’t do it. They didn’t point out the flaws in my plan — like that most gymnasts begin at about half my age to start training or that to be a doctor AND a lawyer would take not only more time than I was figuring, but would also be incredibly expensive to pursue. They just told me to study hard and get good grades, and I could do whatever I wanted.
As I got older and closer to graduating high school, I realised the financial burden it would take to just go to college. Even applying was expensive! I came to the conclusion on my own over the years that my plan had some real problems, and instead I devoted myself to one field. I ended up applying to a really good school that I was pretty confident I would be accepted to, and two schools I hoped to get into; I felt blessed when I got into all three and that with the help of my parents, I could afford to attend them.
Watching the movie Zootopia really brought all of that home for me. I related to Judy’s enthusiasm as she dreamed of being the first rabbit police officer. Even when her parents told her that rabbits have NEVER done that, her attitude was, “So I’ll be the first!” Along the way, she meets Nick, a fox with an attitude. She learns that Nick has had a very different experience growing up; he was embarrassed and ridiculed at a young age for wanting to be something different, and unlike Judy, he decided to forget his dreams and give in to what people expected of him.
I want my daughter to have a “Judy experience” instead of one like Nick. Right now, she isn’t sure what she wants to do, but she’s thinking of being a veterinarian (even though she’s allergic to bunnies, horses, donkeys, cows, and a bunch of other animals). Her bed is filled with stuffed animals she can’t get close to in real life, but loves anyway. At the same time, she wants to open a chain of bakeries and she’s flirting with the idea of being a marine biologist. She wants to go to Harvard as her first choice and Stanford as her second. She might “settle” for UCLA as her third choice (her dad’s alma mater). I love that she has big dreams.
Are they realistic? I don’t know. It might be tough being a vet who’s allergic to animals (although she isn’t allergic to dogs, so maybe she could specialize?). Being able to afford sending her to Harvard or Stanford, let alone UCLA, might be difficult too, but if she gets in she’ll probably be able to get a ton of scholarships. I’m just not going to worry about that for now.
Instead, I’m going to let her dream big like my parents let me. Over time, she’ll figure out on her own what works for her and what doesn’t. In the meantime, I’ll be as supportive and loving as I can. What she needs from mum and dad isn’t a dose of reality — not at 11 years old and not when we don’t know what might happen. What she does need is to know that we believe in her. The rest will work itself out. Somehow.
Stylist and concept: Annarella Caruso
Assistant photo Basilico Roberto