When I Grow Up (or, to find where you should be, go back to the beginning)

On the way to church yesterday, Noah said, “Mom, I have something to tell you.”

If you have kids, you know the sentence after this one could go 1,000 different ways. We had barely made it out the door in the first place, after Noah spent the morning whining about having to put on church clothes (in the end, he consented only to khaki pants; I let him keep on the hot pink T-shirt and turquoise socks he had been wearing around the house) and the gluten-free pancakes I had made for breakfast (more on that later this week).

So when he announced in the car that he had something to tell me, I was expecting him to lodge an additional complaint. Perhaps add to his list of reasons why he wanted to wear “cozy” clothes (sweatpants) instead of khakis. Or possibly remind me of a specific new Lego set he wanted – maybe one he had pointed out to me in the Lego brochure that morning as I sat on the toilet. (Rory joined in too, of course, bouncing a plastic dinosaur along my thigh while he counted to ten.)

But instead, Noah said, “I’m going to be three things when I grow up.”

Okay, we have exited the battle zone.

“Really? What?”

“First, I’m going to be a runner. Second, I’m going to be a guy who jumps out of planes. And third, I’m going to be a construction worker. And I’m going to do them in a pattern. One day, I’ll be a runner. The next day, I’ll jump out of a plane, and the next day, I’ll be a construction worker. And then repeat the pattern.”

Only the “guy who jumps out of planes” was a surprise. The “runner” was a recent add-on after joining Pat to cross the finish line of the 25k he ran last month. Noah included this only after we assured him that he could run AND hold down another job. The “pattern” thing was par for the course, too.

noah pat run

We should but this picture from the race, but I haven’t yet. Hence the awesome watermarking. But you get the idea.

And construction worker is the staple. Other than an “I’m going to be a police” phase over Christmas, and the couple months when he was going to be a stay-at-home dad of five kids, construction worker has been a pretty consistent goal.

I can barely take a step in Noah’s room because of the “construction” that is constantly taking place on every square inch of the floor. A “highway” of books winds around the bed, littered with toy cars. There is some sort of “quarry” near the bookshelf. Under the window, a “house” built entirely of paper towel rolls topples every time I open the closet door.

Of course I love Noah’s creativity, and his dedication to his craft. Honestly, it makes me wonder why we ever spend money on toys, when the thing he gets most excited about is me finishing up another roll of paper towels so he can add to his collection. But his never-ending construction project (it must be a highway in Illinois) also drives me CRAZY. If I’m not throwing out my back slipping on a glossy paperback patch of road, I’m stepping on a renegade rock from the quarry or, worse, pulling one out of Rory’s mouth while Noah screams at him not to ruin his construction.

noah construction

The construction site in its early days. This particular scene was inspired by the crazy Snowpocalypse traffic jams this winter.

Nevertheless, we leave the construction alone. Because one of the best parts of parenting is watching your child pour their heart, soul and imagination into creating something from scratch. Those are the times I feel like I get the best glimpse of who Noah is and a little better idea of who he might become.

Our conversation this morning made me think back to my own childhood, and all the things I wanted to be when I grew up. “Nurse” was first. In elementary school alone, the list went on to include astronaut, thoracic surgeon and first baseman for the Chicago Cubs (I still remember the dream I had about having my own locker room right off the dugout).

The curious thing about these choices is that I wasn’t particularly interested in science, nor did I ever play softball, much less baseball. My primary childhood activities were reading, writing stories, and taking theater classes (thereby forcing my parents to sit through some very tedious children’s theater productions).

My goals got fuzzier as I got older – it was like the closer I got to actually having a profession, the less clear I was on what that profession should be. I started college planning to major in theater. (I had been voted “Most Likely to Be in a Soap Opera” in high school, though that doesn’t say much for acting skills, and may have just been pointing out my day-to-day histrionic tendencies.) I chose Marquette because they also had a good journalism program. But after sampling several majors, I ended up doing neither of the things I thought I would.

My career path after college followed a similarly winding path. In the first five years out of college alone, they included media buyer, personal assistant, flower delivery driver, ACT test-prep teacher, administrative assistant, paralegal, international student advisor, marketing assistant and advertising account manager. Because I started in advertising and then circled back to it, eventually lasting there the longest, I think it was a pretty good fit.

But if I go even further back, all the way to childhood, it turns out I’ve made an even bigger loop. All those stories scribbled in notebooks, the “news” articles from my 7th grade journalism class, all the poems and album reviews for high school and college papers. I have to believe that was my “construction.”

It all goes back to that line from The Happiness Project that inspired my first Happiness CommandmentDo what you do.” In the book, Gretchen Rubin pointed out that to find what makes us happy, we should go back to what we spent our free time doing as children.In the nine months I’ve been blogging consistently, I’ve found truth in that. Even if writing never becomes something I get paid to do, I’m glad to have rediscovered it after all this time.

And I can’t help but think forward 15 or 20 years, when Noah might be struggling to figure out what to major in or what career path to follow. I hope I remember to have him look for a clue in the intricately designed construction site in his room. I hope I encourage him to “Do what you do.”