When I was a kid I didn't mind adults asking me that, although it always seemed like one of those things they asked just to make conversation. I never knew what to answer. I wanted to be a writer. I decided that when I was eight years old, but that was something I wanted to be ideally before I grew up. I still want to be a writer before I grow up. I also wanted to be a mum some day when I was very old (about 30), but that was not considered a job, and the question really meant: What do you want to do for a living? So I always said something else, like teacher, nurse, lawyer, doctor... For a long time I said I wanted to be a potter and have my own wheel.
I never asked my kids that question because it seemed pointless to me. And there was something about it that didn't feel right. Living in the present is the best medicine for a happy life. Children don't need anyone telling them that: they know and do it naturally. For this reason, it surprises me how so many people insist on putting this pressure about the future on children without being aware of how detrimental it is, precisely, to their present and future happiness.
I've always focused on what they want to be or do now. Which is to play, of course, as it should be (learning comes hand-in-hand with playing). But as they grew older, Dave and Alex began to understand the concept of time, so once I told them about the distant future. I said that one day they would both be a lot taller than me, and they would leave home to see the world on their own, fall in love, and work on whatever their passion might be. 'How strange that the three of us will one day live separately, considering how inseparable we are now,' I said. They were terrified at this, and only then did I realise that they were probably too young for this kind of talk. They both said they never wanted to grow up, they wanted to be kids forever because being an adult is boring.
They've never even been too excited about having birthdays. Even now, I look at their reaction at all the fuss other people make, and I find it very amusing: they don't glow like other kids do. Why would they? They get plenty of attention every other day. At least from me. Their expressions seem to say: What's the big deal about growing up? And why do people get so happy for us if it's something we don't even want to do?
Dave is old enough to pick up all these social vibes and on my birthday two months ago he decided to put them into practice. He hugged and kissed me more than usual and basically spent all day doing things to please me. At night I asked him what I had done for him to treat me so nicely.
'It's your birthday,' he said matter-of-factly.
'Oh, is that it? Well, you should know that my birthdays always last for a whole week.' I couldn't help myself.
But he's not stupid, thank goodness: the next day our relationship went back to being authentic, which includes some growling and whinging when we don't agree on something.
Last summer in the Northern Hemisphere, nearly a year ago, my sister and I were watching Alex play with his tablet when, out of the blue, she asked him, 'Alex, what do you want to be when you grow up?'
Nobody had ever asked Dave or Alex the big question, at least not in my presence. I looked at him expectantly. It was a time when he was adamant that he wanted to be five forever; he has accepted that he is six now, but insists that he does not wish to grow any further. He was so surprised that he actually took his eyes off his tablet to look at my sister.
'I will be the same as I am now: just me,' he said.
My sister and I were speechless with admiration. Clearly, he still does not know what his mission in life is. Some people never know and go through life doing what other people expect them to do, not what they really want to do. But Alex is just Alex, not here to please anybody. He is true to himself.
I still don't ask them what they want to do in the future, but I try to nurture what they are passionate about now and also expose them to different things and people. A couple of months ago, Dave said, 'I want to be an architect.' He didn't say 'when I grow up', but I think that's what he meant. I want to remember this forever, because he'll be eight next Saturday and when I was eight I was also convinced about what I wanted to be. I've read about many other people saying that it was at the age of eight when they knew what they wanted to do, at least when it comes to creating something. Some people followed their dream, and some others forgot about it and moved on to do something else.