Monday, May 16, 2011

Life Choices

When I was a little kid, my intended careers had nothing to do with anything more than what I thought was cool at the time. My dad was a science teacher and he raised me on the Apollo space program (which was still active in my youth). My first LEGO set was the Apollo 11 moon landing, which was fairly awesome. I remember it had a grey moonscape base and the LEM lunar-lander. My dad helped me build it, which I really enjoyed. So, naturally, I wanted to be an astronaut.

Firemen were also intrinsically cool. I seem to vaguely recall owning a dress-up kit with an axe, fire extinguisher, and air mask that I liked to play with. I wanted to be a fireman.

I REALLY, and no, those caps don't do it justice, REALLY loved the short-lived TV show S.W.A.T., despite only being four years old when it debuted. I had the plastic M16 rifle, the belt with holstered sidearm, the bullet-proof vest with badge, the handcuffs - the whole set. I even had a blue cap that I turned around backwards when I was being the sniper. I spent endless hours running through the yard yelling the awesome S.W.A.T. theme song at the top of my lungs and shooting imaginary bad guys. I wanted to be... whatever the heck a S.W.A.T. guy was. I'm certain that I didn't recognize them as police officers. They were way cooler than regular police officers. But whatever they were, I wanted to be it.

When I grew up, I discovered that I didn't know what the hell I wanted to be. After two years of community college (with a straight-A average), I was no closer to figuring it out. I seemed to be best at English and it sure was easy, so I majored in that when I got to my four-year school. At some point I sort-of settled on "writer," but I don't remember how. I think I might have figured out that the two main things you can do with an English degree (aside from "nothing productive") are to write or to teach, and I sure as hell didn't want to teach.

Then I didn't get into the MFA program at SU (the fools!!), which left me with the option of heading off to the cornfields of Iowa or some damn place, leaving my brand-new fiancee' behind for a few years while I waxed poetic about corn and, if I was lucky, learned how to make a career as a writer. I sure as hell didn't know how. I tried sending query letters to a handful of magazines and such, and was roundly rebuffed. In some cases, it was clear they had entirely failed to appreciate the brilliance of my proposal. I don't have any of those submission letters, but I've found a few of my old resume cover letters and egads was I a pretentious prick. I've no doubt that my proposals were written in similar vein - as pompous and condescending as possible.

But the response terrified me. What would I do to support myself if these fools in the editing rooms weren't going to receive my work as the divinely-inspired work of unabashed brilliance that it clearly was?? So... I became a teacher. And, truth be told, I'm not convinced I was especially great at that, either.

Luckily I found my way into Information Technology and things went pretty smoothly from there for most of the next fifteen years or so. Ultimately, some of my choices panned out - I just didn't always get it right the first time. And as a kid, I definitely never said, "I want to be the guy who makes the corporate computer systems operate to effectively support the business objectives and day-to-day needs of the company." Though I might have if there'd been a TV show about somebody doing it, preferably with a really kickass theme song.

Yet my kids... my kids are taking a very different approach. My daughter waffled between dentistry and veterinary medicine, neither of which is a typical "When I grow up..." sort of choice. Okay, you could make an argument for vets because people love pets, but the only one who's ever wanted to grow up to be a dentist was that freak elf from the Rudolph cartoon. You know - the one that teaches kids that everyone hates a freak.So that's pretty different. But my boys are even weirder.

My older son has always really liked science. He likes what it teaches him, but he also likes the idea of investigative understanding of the way the universe works. When asked to consider what he might like as a career, he has actually responded thusly: "What was it that Albert Einstein did?" My response - "He was a physicist." To which my son replied, "Then yeah, I want to be a physicist." In elementary school, his role-model is Albert Freakin' Einstein. And yes, I do believe he knows who Oppenheimer was, though I'm less sure about Fermi, Szilard, and the others. Now, granted, he's not a boy-genius as far as I can tell, nor does he like to read quantum physics texts at bedtime (he very much enjoyed the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books and is currently reading Beast Quest number I've-lost-track). But still, that's a fairly uncommon career choice for such a young man. His brother's just as weird.

My youngest son, you see, has - at least for now - decided on engineering as his chosen occupation. He's something of a math whiz - certainly far better at it than I ever was in elementary school. He has, on occasion, been know to help his sister (who is five grades ahead of him) with her math homework. He's definitely better than her at adding and subtracting negative numbers. He's also the one kid in the house who will sit and build a LEGO set, according to the directions, from start to finish. I actually think he could be a very talented engineer just based on what I've seen in his admittedly short life. But really, what kind of little kid longs to be an engineer??

I worry - do my kids lack imagination? Are they too serious? Are they too grounded in reality? Then I watch them play pirates or spaceships and I know they're fine. If I'm lucky they're more than fine - they're way, way smarter than me. I'd rather they be really smart and very happy than that they just long for careers of glory the way I did. Yeah, that would be just fine by me. But now I've got that damn S.W.A.T. song stuck in my head!

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