What Did You Want to Be When You Were at College?

Her green-gray eyes always get straight to the heart of the matter.

“A journalist,” I promptly reply. Live on CNN. Big dreams.

“You could’ve been famous, Mom,” those eyes so earnest, so certain.

I smile at her certainty. At her pure eight-year-old belief that if only I had become what I wanted to be then, I would be famous.

“But when I’m a famous actress and singer, then you’ll be famous because I’m your daughter.” Pause. “NYU has an acting school, right?”

The notion of Fame is irresistibly attractive to her. Recognition, adoration, attention. She loves watching Disney’s “Austin & Ally”, the story of seemingly ordinary teens who rise not only to glittery stardom, but also to wholesome lives of friends and fun. As I watch her watching, I see the dreams behind those eyes, the twinkly smile that lights her face as if it were aglow in spotlight.

The ephemeral promise of flashing cameras and screaming fans inspires her to sit at the small, white desk in the quiet corner of her bedroom, hunched over pages of colored paper, writing songs she will later sing to the adoring audience of her mirrored self, hairbrush-ophone tight in her hand. But she is also driven by the good ol’ fashioned belief that if you work hard enough at something you love, you will undoubtedly accomplish success, praise, awards, celebrity. You will be famous.

famous

It’s as simple and wholesome a belief as the freckles sprinkled faintly across her nose, and every time she imagines her future life out loud I feel warm and hopeful. Yes love, I want to say, it is as simple as that.

Of course, it’s not.

I wanted more than anything to be live on CNN. So I majored in drama and journalism, met a guy, married him, and moved halfway around the world to be a stay-at-home-mom with four kids. They’re the ones reporting live, from the minivan.

Maybe I didn’t work that hard. Maybe I didn’t want it as much as I thought I did. Maybe I got distracted, confused, overwhelmed.

Or maybe my dream changed.

Maybe once I met that guy, what I really wanted was to marry him, have kids and stay home to raise them.

In the humdrum of normal, everyday life in which success is defined by whether I get dinner on the table at a reasonable time (as in any time before bedtime) and by how often I mutter “Stop that” to the boy opening and closing the drawer with his foot, where my claim to fame is the chocolate mousse I make on special holidays, and the only journalism I’ve done in recent-ish years is edit the school newsletter, it’s easy to lose myself in the dreams that didn’t come true. It only takes a small question – What did you want to be when you were at college, Mom? – to stir up immense wistfulness about the great big plans I had for myself. But then, you know, life.

I’m not famous in the world out there. I’m not chasing leads or breaking news or reporting live from anywhere. But here at home? Definite star power. I’m famous for surprise tickles before bedtime, for homemade meat pies, for practical solutions to complicated problems. Their faces (mostly) light up like thousands of camera flashes when I walk in the room. Recognition, adoration, attention.

I look at her intent face, at her little self dressed much like me in black leggings, a tank top and slouchy sweater, and even as I answer that 20 years ago I wanted to be something I’m not, I realize I am exactly what I wanted to be. I wanted to be this.

14 thoughts on “What Did You Want to Be When You Were at College?

  1. I majored in theatre! Just knew in grade six that I was made for the stage. Then I got the role of Rachel Linde – Anne of Green Gables’ gossipy neighbor in gr seven and I knew I was on my way. At college I was in a few plays – mostly put on by student directors. Fast forward a few decades and I’m still acting. “Why yes son. That tear drop shaped bouffant you’ve created with your bangs looks SO great.” “Yes my girl your burnt toast and runny eggs are the best breakfast ever!”
    Rather than a coterie of admiring fans I have 2 of the toughest critics watching my every move. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kelly… you always know exactly what to say and of course, how to say it. I adored you before, but now hopelessly devoted! Theatre major, Anne of Green Gables, do you love Jane Eyre and Mad Men by any chance? 🙂 I always thought I missed out on my life, but lately I’m not so sure!

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  2. Oh Nicki!!! Yes to all of it. Your last line of “I wanted to be this” gave me goosebumps and a little tiny bit of tears. Not in the bad way… I had a “big job” for a while and I loved it and lived it and then the company I loved got bought so I switched to another company and I hated hated hated it and then I got pregnant when I was 40 (holy crap) and ended up quitting while on maternity leave. I interviewed when my son was 4 days old (very dumb – never do that) and heard about this great job with great stuff but I’d have to be overseas 8-11 days/month. I’d have loved it. Back when. But now? I’m volunteering at some Grace Art project thing tomorrow at my little kindergartner’s school and I know with all that I am that that is exactly where I’m supposed to be. Also? Can I just say I adore you? And that I know that you are where you are where you are supposed to be? And that you’re famous TO ME?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Kristi… you amazed me before, but reading this story I am awe-struck all over again. You’re quite incredible, do you know? I have learnt so very much from you and feel blessed to call you a friend. YOU are the famous one, not only to me, but in all the communities you are giving your wonderful self to. I agree, we are both right where we’re supposed to be xx

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  3. What do you mean you’re not famous?! In addition to those four gorgeous young people who love and admire you, I know for a fact that your writing has adoring fans in countries as far flung as France and Israel, the USA and South Africa. And those are just the few countries that I know of. If I saw you in the street I think I’d have to ask for your autograph! That’s recognition, adoration and attention right there. Write on, wonderful woman! xxx

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  4. I looooove this image: “…hunched over pages of colored paper, writing songs she will later sing to the adoring audience of her mirrored self…”

    Great piece, and I love your ending. 😉

    XO

    Nancy

    P.S. When I was 8 I wanted so much to play the flute. The school programs didn’t start until age 10. My mom called the only local flute teacher and he told her I was too young. I was devastated. I vowed to get famous, play Carnegie Hall, and NOT invite him!! Ha! The school made an exception the next year and I got to start playing at age 9. But by 12th grade I got sick of playing scales. So now I play in a jazz band in Butte, Montana where my audience is either drunk people, or old people (it’s too loud, or…we can’t hear you) or no people, but they are usually a very forgiving audience, and I love being a big fish in a small pond. I blossom better that way.

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    • I love your vow not to invite the flute teacher! Do you know that song from Sweet Charity that Shirley MacLaine sings, “If They Could See Me Now”? 🙂 Yes, yes, yes to big fish in small ponds. Your jazz band sounds fab – my grandfather used to play the sax. Love ya, Nancy, really. Thanks for all, always.

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  5. I went to “college” with this girl… and look at her now? You didn’t get lost in the media behemoth, you came out with your own voice, your own stories. It’s your life experience that has made you such a good writer! Besides, doesn’t life begin at 40? Lots of time to become more famous still! Xxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • “College” lol! How many hours did we spend on the steps outside the drama dept with Schweppes dry lemon and liqueroo? I miss the Wellies man… Thank you Leiz. And yes, 40 is definitely the era of beginnings! xxxxx

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