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little kids, BIG PLANS

March 23, 2017
By Rick Epstein - Dad's Eye View ( , OVParent

"I'm going to be a cat when I get big."

For my 3-year-old daughter, Wendy, the question "What are you going to be when you grow up?" is completely open-ended.

More recently she expressed a more moderate ambition, saying she wants to be "a beautiful lady who bakes pies and cakes."

And she will marry me. I hate to boast, but each of my daughters, at age 3 or 4, has had her eye on me as likely husband material. My wife, Betsy, the only adult female who ever saw me that way, always says, "Sorry girls, he's mine!" She says it in a spirited way, too, bless her heart.

Wendy also wants to be a sales clerk in a store. She loves to play Button Store. She gets a big jar of mixed buttons, sorts them out by color, and I'm her customer. As I enter her room, she greets me with professional aplomb: "Hello," she says, "What can I do with you?"

When we visit a real store, Wendy likes to pretend she's the proprietor. She finds a place to sit and tells anyone who comes by, "Nothing's for sale. The store is closed, so you have to leave."

In contrast to Wendy's kaleidoscopic outlook, our oldest daughter, Marie, age 10, is focused like a laser. She has always wanted to be an artist, and she seems to have some ability. I'm trying to guide her toward a practical application, and she thinks maybe she'll be an art teacher.

I was trained in practicality by my dad; for most of my lifetime, he spoke to me largely in dire predictions, supported by newspaper clippings. Even his jokes had an air of grim reality.

After a field-trip to a science museum, I told my father, "Did you know: If Mars had enough water and oxygen, people could live there?"

"Yeah," he said, "It'd be just like Upstate New York - you could live there, but there are no jobs."

When I was a kid, my dad always warned that if I didn't pay more attention to my studies, I'd end up as a ditch-digger. I was a great one for digging holes, so it seemed a good trade to fall back on.

My first choice was to be a cowboy. I thought it'd be fun to be among all those horses and cows and have gunfights. It looked like interesting work. I knew my parents would never let an 8-year-old have a real gun, so I asked them for guitar lessons. When they told me I was too young, I got discouraged and thought maybe I'd be a veterinarian. I loved animals, but I was a little afraid of them. Then, when I was 9, I saw a picture of young Teddy Roosevelt stuffing a bird in a Classics Illustrated comic book. As a taxidermist, I would be able to indulge my love of animals without being bitten, pecked or gored.

I thought my big chance had come when some neighborhood kids found a dead fox. In a couple of days they were done playing with it, and I brought it home on a shovel. My mom wanted to encourage me, but the decomposing fox was unsuitable for anything except quick burial.

I scouted field and forest for my next client, eventually finding a dead owl in perfect condition. Mom put it on ice, and we got a how-to book from the library, and a scalpel and some borax from the drug store. Step One was skinning it. I followed the instructions, but the scalpel kept poking holes in the skin, and the feathery hide was ruined before I ever got it off. I buried the remains beside the fox. The same thing happened with the next two birds I found.

Discouraged, I gave up trying to preserve dead animals, and concentrated on finding and burying them. I seemed to have a gift for grave-digging, so that became my new fall-back ambition, as I turned my attention toward other prospects.

From reading the Hardy Boys mysteries, I knew detective work was fun, exciting and easy to get started in. So I trained myself by sneaking everywhere I went, and collecting cigarette butts and checking them for lipstick, the redder the better.

My 7-year-old, Sally, also entertains a shifting array of possibilities, frequently deciding and re-deciding what she'll be. Her type of agility, personality and showmanship usually lead to a career in Roller Derby. But just now she wants to become a trapeze artist, a professional jump-roper, a librarian like her mom, or all three. Raining practicality onto Sally's dreams would be a crime, so I keep quiet. Her job now is to imagine the possibilities.

But someday, when she gets serious about her future, I hope she comes to me for guidance. Maybe I can get her to throw in with me, and we'll buy a herd of long-horns.



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