Think left and think right, think low and think high.
Oh, the things you can think up if you only try!
If you were to have a conversation with yourself when you were seven or eight, and you quizzed yourself on what you wanted to do when you grew up – who you wanted to be – what would little you tell big you?
If this were a conversation with a little Aila, she’d probably have had at minimum a half-dozen answers. I wanted to be an astronaut. A doctor. A park ranger. A veterinarian… mind you only the kind who saved doggies and kitties, never the kind who put them to sleep. I even wanted to be a travel agent. (Thanks for ruining that, Priceline.)
Unfortunately, the one thing you probably wouldn’t have heard me say is writer or artist. Looking back on it, it wasn’t that my parents didn’t encourage me artistically or creatively, but I think back then everyone pretty much steered their children away from the arts as a whole. Without explicitly saying it, I assumed there was no way to make a living from it, therefore, it wasn’t worth pursuing. Instead, I did as many creative types do, and I grew up and forged ahead in the working world, suppressing my creative tendencies.
Enter lots of desk jobs that choked my soul.
Luckily for me, I eventually found a path with a creative outlet: culinary school. I will toot my own horn here and say I was really quite fabulous in culinary school and by the time graduation came, I was recruited by several promising employers. The one that broke my heart to turn down was Disney, but that’s a story for another time perhaps.
Allow me to skip a few of the tedious bits and get right to the heart of it. I have a unique job which allows me to do something I love, grants me time to write, but also I work with kids… which surprises me how much I enjoy that last bit.
Not too long ago, a child approached me who was having a rough week. I could see it all over her face before she ever spoke. Her eyes were tinged red, her cheeks a little swollen, her forehead had obviously been creased for some time and she had that telltale red streak across her whole face, like she’d been resting her head on her arm for a while. Poor thing was a pitiful sight for a girl around seven years old.
When I asked her what was wrong, she evaded at first, as kids often do. I don’t have kids of my own, but I learned really quickly in this job that many children are afraid to admit what’s wrong because it is used against them, as a weapon for humiliation. It took some skilled and gentle prodding, but it didn’t take her long to open up. All I had to do was ask her a question.
“So, tell me, what is it you think you might like to be when you grow up?” I asked.
“Well, that’s alright, you’ve got a long time to think about it. What’s your favorite subject?”
I chuckled and showed her my secret weapon. A calculator. “It wasn’t mine, either. I’m sure you’re better at it than I was. I bet you don’t even need one of these things.”
She shook her head and thankfully began to smile. “I like art class.”
“Oh, art was my favorite. And music.”
“I like to draw. I want to write a kid’s book and draw my own pictures.”
And that, folks, is when it dawned on me what was wrong with this sweet child. I don’t get to spend much time with the kids, so I always try to make sure the time I do get to spend with them matters. Now obviously I didn’t downplay the importance of math and science – I happen to find them very important – but I did encourage this child to always keep that spark of imagination alive, to write and draw… and then I practically begged for some original artwork for my office, which I received the next day. In fact, my office is filled with drawings and notes from the kids I work with, some of whom live harder lives than most of us can fathom… and I cherish each and every piece.
Why do we stifle young creative minds? That girl never came out and said it, but I would be willing to bet that somewhere down the line, be it a teacher, parent, grandparent, older sibling, someone had told that child that drawing and writing are worthless.
I have seen with my own two eyes a child give their parent a picture they worked hard on, a smile plastered on their face, only for that parent to crumple the drawing (and the heart and soul of their child) into a ball and toss it in the nearest garbage bin.
What message is that sending?
She said, “I want to write.”
So I told her she can.