- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 8, 2005

You can learn a lot about children by asking what they would like to be when they grow up.

Back in kindergarten, my son told us he wanted to be a priest. I thought this was wonderful — a reflection of his budding spirituality and faith in God. Turns out he was simply attracted to the idea that he wouldn’t have to get married.

“I don’t want a wife telling me what to do,” he said — as if he had ever seen such a wife. Hmmm.

As he got older, his goal changed. One morning over breakfast, he said he no longer wanted to be a priest. “Really?” I asked. “What made you change your mind?”

“I want to be the bishop. He doesn’t have a wife telling him what to do, plus he’s the one to tell all the other priests what to do. It’s a better job.”

That goal lasted about a week. Next thing we knew, he declared his plan be become the pope.

“Oh, I get it,” my husband said. “He wants to go into politics.” We all started calling him “Il Papa” for a while, until his dream evolved again.

Now he wants to play in the NBA. Of course, because he’s just 10, anything is possible.

At dinner recently, I conducted an updated survey on the career plans of our four children.

This is a good way to get a handle on their sense of purpose, not to mention that it’s a reality check on our college savings plan. We figure anyone older than 11 who considers the medical profession as an option might be serious. That would make things more expensive for us than, say, having a child who longs to sell insurance.

Unfortunately, none of them ever talks about selling insurance. I don’t know why not. Some of the happiest and most prosperous people I know are my insurance professionals. Plus, they play a lot of golf. This seems like a great career.

On the other hand, having a child in the medical profession would be convenient, to say the least. Who wouldn’t want her son or daughter to be a doctor, especially at 10:30 at night when your sinuses are clogged and the idea of a trip to the urgent care center brings tears to your already watery eyes?

But medicine is out. When we told them how many years of school it would take to become a doctor, they all said, “No, thanks.”

Unless you count my youngest daughter, who still talks about becoming a veterinarian. She might be well-suited to this job, as she’s the only one who can stand the smell when we walk into our vet’s office. Mostly, I think her dream of becoming a vet is a reflection of her love for Scotty, our dog.

In any case, being a vet is just a backup plan, on the outside chance she doesn’t make it as a runway model. She recently started practicing her “strut” around the house.

The dinner-table conversation yielded this update: One ubermodel; one Detroit Pistons shooting guard; one nationally recognized, award-winning journalist; and a chef (a career inspired by my daughter’s most treasured 13th birthday gift — her very own George Foreman grill).

It’s not enough to know what they want to be when they grow up. I needed to know why. Is it notoriety they’re after? Money? Power? Interestingly, all of their choices have the potential for fame and fortune, leading me to question whether we’re instilling the proper values about work.

“Well,” my 7-year-old explained, “when you pick a job, you should choose something you love and that you’re really good at. I think I will be really good at modeling because I am beautiful and also, I can do this.” Whereupon she jumped out of her chair for a demonstration, pulling her shoulders back, sucking in her cheeks and catwalking around the kitchen.

She wasn’t bad, actually. We all praised the way she made her “Big Dog” T-shirt look like the latest fashion from Milan.

One by one, our children offered justifications for their future career paths, but the basic premises were pretty much the same — a combination of aptitude and desire.

“What if you love something but you’re not that good at it?” I asked.

“If you love something, like art or cooking or sports, you can get good at it if you do it a lot,” another daughter said. “The important thing is to do something that makes you happy because that’s going to be the thing that’s most likely to be successful.”

And what about fame and fortune? The short answer — yes. They all dream of reaching the pinnacle of their professions, and they all want big bucks. For what it’s worth, they promise my husband and me glamorous vacations and sports cars and to pay off our present mortgage.

We’ll be happy if they just make enough money so they don’t have to come back as adults and live in our basement.

What did my informal survey around the dinner table reveal? Unfettered optimism. Uninhibited self-confidence. Unbridled imagination. As I sat listening to their plans, it occurred to me those are just the things our world needs most.

I admit their present passions won’t necessarily change the world, but I’m not concerned. Tomorrow, they’ll probably dream of something different.

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 17 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.marybethhicks. com) or send e-mail to marybeth.hicks@comcast.net.

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