Wednesday, June 27, 2018

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

Last night, I watched "The Notebook", one of the most romantic movies ever.  A particular scene set off an "aha" moment for me.  Allie (Rachel McAdams) was engaged to be married to a handsome, wealthy man whom she loved.  But then she reignited a romance with her first true love (Ryan Gosling), a boy she had met during the summer she was 17 and hadn't seen or heard from in years.  In this scene, Allie and her fiancee were discussing her dilemma, trying to understand her feelings and make a choice.  She said, "It's like I'm one person with him, and another person with you."  

Children are authentic.  As children, we are our true selves .  Who we were before we graduated high school is who we are now.  Your childhood friends know you and understand you in a way that's hard to replicate with friends you meet as an adult.  And the bonds we forge with friends in our youth last forever.  Even after decades of not seeing each other, reconnecting with an old friend feels like picking up where we left off.  Old friends make us feel "at home", because they remind us of who we really are.

Before we graduate high school, we are "just kids".  We typically spend our days with a core group of friends.  We have few responsibilities beyond school work, chores at home, and maybe a part-time job.  After high school, we have to make decisions and choose what we want to do. And we come to be defined by the roles that result from those choices:  our jobs, our marital status, our religious and political affiliations, whether or not we have children.  But what I've come to understand is that these roles describe what we do, not who we are.  These choices we've made as adults inform how we spend our time.  I teach, I take care of my children, I advocate for human rights... .  And when we meet new people, these roles are the criteria we use to describe who we are.  But that's not who we are; that's just what we do.  Who we are goes much deeper, and is hard to articulate.  Most of us are at a loss to describe who we are; sometimes our friends know us better than we know ourselves.  Yet friendship takes time; it takes time to really know a person.  And time is a rare commodity for most adults.

 This idea sheds new light on the age old question we ask young children, "What do you want to be when you grow up?".  It's a fun question, hopefully giving insight to a child's interests and particular way of thinking.  But it's important to understand that a child is not becoming something.  A child already is.  As parents and teachers, our role in a child's upbringing is to study, appreciate, and support his authentic self.  Interestingly, just as old friends know us better than anyone else, I have found that as a teacher of young children, when my former students become adults, I know them better than most people, even if I haven't seen them in years. Because I knew them when they were "just kids"; just pure souls whose only role was to make their way through life.  So the real question behind "What do you want to be when you grow up?" is "Who are you?".  Let me know you now, so I can know you forever.