What do you want to be when you grow up?

Skimmed through a book yesterday at the library. Began with the words “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Brought back  a flood of memories for me.

A question that is asked of kids by grown ups who have already given up or are nearly there on their own childhood dreams.

Growing up in a middle class family, with middle class ideas & middle class company & middle class habits, necessarily meant that every child in the vicinity of the adults would forever be asked the dreaded question: what do you want to be when you grow up? I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. Heck, I thought being a child was so much fun, I wanted to stay a child as long as I could!

We quickly learnt to say what the grown ups wanted to hear – there were only 2 right answers – “Doctor” or “Engineer”. What joy on the parents’ faces! My son/ daughter wants to be a Doctor! Engineer! Never mind that the only thing he had already specialised was in doctoring the monthly bulletin of academic mediocrity – the exam marks card.

Occasionally a bonehead among us would say something silly like a truck driver, or a plumber, electrician, or even possibly a pub owner. Yeah, the unspeakable professions!  I remember a story of a Catholic nun who was in charge of 10-year-old Sunday school who asked the kids the famed question – “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. She received a collection of politically correct answers – doctor, engineer,astronaut, pilot, etc.  From all except Sarah, who believed the way to riches was to be a prostitute. “What? What did you say you wanted to be?” The nun couldn’t hide her horror. “Prostitute”, repeated Sarah, who held some strong views about her intended profession. “Ah, thank God”, says the relieved nun, ” I thought you said you wanted to be a Protestant”.

Anyway, socially humiliated, the unfortunate parents of the unfortunate fellow would hang their heads in shame, perhaps ask the parent of one of the potential “doctor” to speak to the son in the hope that he would be transformed by eloquent words. Not before, however, he got a dose of the family’s traditional medicine concocted specially to treat these growing up ills – a few strokes of treated hide against the untreated one on his backside. It could sometimes be thin branches of the tamarind tree, known for its bitterness – whether  eaten or beaten. Corporal punishment at its best! Or worst. Depending on which side of the stick you were on.

I’m older now, with a child of my own. I find myself sometimes asking the stupid question to her – what do you want to be when you grow up? & then remember, how silly of me! I still don’t know what I want to be, forget her! Maybe when she turns 35, I will ask her?

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