When I Grow Up

Paula Poundstone says that adults are always asking children what they want to be when they grow up because they are looking for ideas.

Could be.

Wednesday I met my friend Paul for coffee. He's finishing up writing a book on Topology and is helping shape the Calculus book I'm currently wrestling with. It seems that every time we talk about the book I walk away with a fresh idea for a page or two. This time I decided that limits and continuity needed to live in different chapters.

In addition to mathematics we talked about everything from brewing beer to what topic he might want to study next. We sat together on his fiftieth birthday just talking and then he lit up. There was a spark in his eyes and he became more animated as he discussed a possible area of research he was interested in exploring. For the most part Paul is exactly what he wants to be when he grows up.

How wonderful.

Kim and I spent Thursday morning at Boulevard school for the end of year festivities. We went into the library to see the fourth grade video. Kim pulled me aside to warn me. In the library was a bookshelf of books purchased in Elena's memory. Above the shelf was the picture Mrs. Chung had taken of Elena on the playground.

It was soooo Elena.

Happy. Playing on the wrong part of a slide. Aware of the camera taking the picture. Mugging for the camera and communicating through the lens to the person snapping the photo. Blown up to an extra large size. This was the picture I'd seen at Dodd's a month earlier.

Maybe it was Kim's warning or maybe it was the fact that I'd seen the picture before but I wasn't surprised or upset. I stood admiring the picture and the books that people had taken the time and money to donate in her name.

The library was overflowing. Some of the parents went to the music room and others of us ended up in a classroom across the hall. The announcement on the speaker advised all classrooms to turn to channel 12 to watch the video. A dozen of us sat on kid sized chairs and looked up at the television screen. The front of the school filled the screen with the school song in the background.

A graphic announced Mr. Austin's class and one by one each child answered the question "what do you want to be when you grow up".

I started to cry.

I don't know why I titled this blog "Hope and Sadness" when I launched it the day after Elena died but this video captured both hope and sadness for me.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

The kids answers were a mix. Basketball player. Policeman. Doctor. Lawyer. Author. Millionaire. Paleontologist. Garbage man. Football player. Rich. Teacher.

Maggie's class was the last to appear. She looked at the camera and said matter-of-factly that she'd like to be an artist when she grew up. I had no idea. I mean, I know that she loves art but I never knew that that's what she wants to do as her vocation.

I'm not holding her to it. I'm not greeting her on the day she graduates from law school or the day she becomes a social worker or whatever and say "so what happened to that whole art thing you planned on back when you were nine years old." It's just a data point. Whether she ends up doing art as her day job I just hope she'll always derive pleasure from it.

Mrs. Rimideo, Maggie's kindergarten teacher, gave us a beautiful piece of art to remember Elena by. She teaches as her day job but continues to enjoy working as an artist and learning more about art whenever she can. I don't know her well enough to say so, but it seems that Mrs. Rimideo is the person she wants to be when she grows up.


So wonderful to hear each fourth grader imagine what they can see themselves becoming some day. So much hope. Whether they become their fourth grade dreams or not hardly seems to matter. There are so many jobs that they don't yet know exist.


What about the children who don't get to grow up? What becomes of their dreams? What becomes of our dreams for them and about them?

Published in: on June 11, 2006 at 4:51 pm  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m so sorry for your loss. My daughter is 3. I don’t think I could stand to lose her. She’s like Elena in a lot of ways. Thank you for writing. Be strong.

  2. I spent the night with Elena tonight.
    Through your writing, I stayed up all night learning about your wonderful little girl who’s not unlike my own. At every turn, I wanted to comment and say something encouraging… but of course there’s no words you haven’t heard a thousand times already. Still, I’m one more of the countless number of people whose lives Elena has touched, and I’m so very grateful for the privledge. Thank you for writing.
    May you and your family continue to recieve G-d’s blessings.

  3. The dreams live on the hearts of others waiting to be fulfilled someday, sometime, be it by the original dreamer or not.

    I’m sorry if that was inappropriate in any way but that’s just what popped into my mind when I read the last bit of your post.

    Your writing just communicates so many emotions, honestly, I cried while reading the archives. There isn’t really anything more I can say, apart from ‘Elena lives on in our hearts’.

  4. Your writing is so touching. I can relate to your many thoughts and experiences as one of my dear children is Heaven too. Things are so raw at this point of the grieving process and in time they will be less so. I don’t believe it is ever the same again, but at some point there is a new normal to life. There is a time when every reminder is not as painful as it is joyful. And yet, some reminders are still that way…and it is unpredictable. It can blindside you.
    Early on in the grieving process, I decided my son’s life, love and wonderful contributions to our lives were worth the pain I was going through. I wouldn’t have missed being his mother for all the pain of the loss. It was just too good to be missed. I think that is the way it is for you all too…reading your words. God bless.

  5. Elena, good text – good work! 🙂

  6. Hello,
    I ran across your other blog a while back while searching for “Head First Calculus”. You mentioned that you were still writing the book, if I read correctly. How is that going? I’m still eager to buy it.

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