Sweetpea is the only one of my children to ever ask, “What should I be when I grow up?” She’s asked way more than once and as time goes by she seems more panicked about it. I remember being just like that at her age, when it is most important.
I wasn’t always like that. At the age of six, we had a neighbor who was a nurse. She wore white uniforms and the nurse cap and a beautiful black cape. That’s what I wanted to be, a hero in a black cape.
Then I wanted to be a nun. We had a convent in town and that place was gorgeous. So was the cathedral. I wanted to live there. It had dramatic ceilings was full of stained glass and marble sculptures. A lot of the nuns were either school teachers or nurses, so that didn’t mess up my first dream. I could be both.
Then the artist came to our house. My mom was sewing the bridesmaids dresses for a wedding she was in. She came by for a fitting and stayed the afternoon. I was forced to go play outside, so I don’t remember her, the artist, just her car in the driveway. It had been rear-ended so it was all crumpled up and tied closed with a piece of rope.
My little brother and I had to go inspect. We could see in the trunk and get our tiny hands in there. I don’t remember if it was he or I who did it, who stole all those paints, all I know is that for years we had a stash of high grade oil paints under the house. And so began my love for creating art.
I started with paint by numbers which is really a bad way to learn. That is not how real painting is done. It just teaches you how to stay in the lines. That is something no one should be taught.
I was always creating things. I’d paint, sew, sculpt, whatever, to make the things I wanted. The idea of making something out of nothing thrilled me. What facinated me most though, was machines. I wanted to build one. I also had a deep fascination (still do) with cogs and wheels. Electricity scared the hell out of me so all my stuff was hand crank. Once I made a movie projector out of a flashlight and paper towel rolls so I could show the neighbor kids a movie I’d drawn. On paper towels. No, it didn’t work, but I was gifted at selling things, see. I convinced them it did work. They witnessed for themselves my complete failure on the big screen, but left my theatre believing they’d just seen my movie.
The materials I needed to build my things were not only unavailable to me due to lack of funds, I just didn’t have a basic understanding of tensil strength. I was always making things out of paper.
“Dancers” made out of lobster shells by some French artist.
So. When I met Blane, a guy who always knew he wanted to be an engineer, you can’t imagine how he rocked my world. He understood machines, he had buckets of cogs and wheels and he knew how to build things and wasn’t afraid of fooling with electricity. He invented things and they worked.
For a while I thought I might be a hairdresser. I’d started cutting my own hair when I was about thirteen. After practicing on my brothers, I got really good. Next thing you know, I was cutting my dad’s hair, my grandmother’s, my friends, their mothers… The reason I didn’t become a stylist was because every person I interviewed about that career told me not to do it, that they stay on their feet all day.
Funny that I would become a nurse and stay on my feet all day. It was a career that was intense, yet satisfying. Every day was different.
A perfect fit for what I’m doing now, writing. Hospitals are full of all sorts of people from every background, and as a nurse I was privied to intimate details about these people. Information gathering which I’d store in my mind for later use.
Funny how things turn out.
The thing that stands out the most in my mind about growing up and what interests fit me best is the movie business with the neighbors. I loved it that they believed in my show, my story. But most of all, me.
So my advice to my daughter is to do what she loves doing. I remind her of her talents, her strengths. Never her weaknesses. She probably does enough of that herself.