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Remember all those times you were asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Maybe it was by your fourth-grade teacher. I remember sitting at my wooden desk with the ledge for pencils and each student, going around the room of desks arranged in tidy rows, being asked this very question. For many boys, the answer was, “When I grow up, I wanna be a fireman.” Other boys responded, “An astronaut.” “A policeman.” “A farmer.”

The girls in my classroom answered, “I want to be a nurse.” “A teacher.” Those were the days when career paths were so very narrow.

Throughout my childhood, I had lots of answers. Ideas, daydreams, and fantasies filled my head. When I grew up, I wanted to be a United Nations translator, wearing those clunky headphones and mastering French translations for what I presumed were fascinating international communications of vital importance. 

When I grew up, I wanted to be the First Lady. Not the President. Oh no. I was an impressionable child mesmerized by Jackie Kennedy, the fashionista socialite, gracing the halls of the White House. I imagined myself wearing those gorgeous designer gowns with an elegant strand of pearls around my neck and sitting at banquet tables bedecked with exquisite china and crystal, talking in Jackie’s unique drawl to visiting dignitaries.

When I grew up, I wanted to be a famous TV reporter, making nightly appearances in everyone’s living rooms on their giant TV sets. The kind before remotes when you had to walk across the room to change the channel or turn the volume up or down. 

When I grew up, I wanted to be an animal trainer, cuddling with and feeding a baby orangutan for the next episode of Marlin Perkins’ Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

When I grew up….. But wait! I HAVE grown up! Did any of these dreams come true? Nope.

Funny how that happens. Did I ever imagine what my grownup life would be like? As the famous saying goes, “If only I’d known then what I know now.” 

If so, I would have answered my fourth-grade teacher this way: “When I grow up, I want to take down the Christmas decorations, vacuum the pine needles, wash the kitchen floor, sort and take out the recycling, do the breakfast dishes (at noon), iron a tablecloth, and run three loads of laundry.”

Yes. This was my awesome day, today.

This is my reality as the grownup I’ve become—the woman who is a mother, a wife, a friend, a volunteer, a writer, a retiree, a chef, an individual who is curious about spirituality, a woman who gasps at a pinky orange sunset, a person who loves to laugh. Now that I’m grownup, I’m all these things. And more.

What did you want to be when you grew up? And who are you today, now that you ARE grownup?

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Lee Peterson Baker

Lee Peterson Baker is a writer. Prior to retirement, she was a marketing communications consultant. Lee is married and the mother of two sons, one of whom is dyslexic. Her dyslexic son was diagnosed when he was in first grade at which time Lee added a new career to her life experiences. She became her son’s parent advocate, helping him navigate school with a learning disability. Lee threw herself into this role and considers it one her greatest sources of inspiration and achievement. She is currently working on a book, co-authored with her 28-year-old dyslexic son. It delves into the journey they shared together – the challenges, joys, pitfalls, and successes – and offers perspective on lessons Lee learned along the way, lessons she hopes will help other families, teachers, tutors, and anyone assisting children with learning disabilities. Lee calls Afton, Minnesota home as well as the special communities of Madeline Island in Lake Superior and Whitefish, Montana.

20 thoughts on “WHEN I GROW UP, I WANNA BE A…”

  1. What a sweet piece, Lee! When I was a kid I wanted to be Nancy Drew, solving crimes with my chums. “Chums… ” I’ve always thought that was such an odd old word. Then I wanted to hack my way into the jungle to see Angkor Wat like Donald Duck and his nephews Huey, Dewy and Louie. Who knew I would really explore the jungles of the Yucatan? Thinking about it now, looking for undiscovered Maya ruins was a little like being Nancy Drew, looking for clues in the dirt and behind the hidden walls of tangled vines. It was exciting. Some of the best times of my life. xoxox, Brenda

    • Hey dear chum, I think that’s why I loved you from the first moment we met in a hotel lobby for a writers’ workshop. You exude adventure and mystery, independence and resilience, resourcefulness and ingenuity. You ARE a real life Nancy Drew! Thanks for letting me be part of 1010 Park Place! Lee

    • Oh Hilda – I’m glad you weren’t destined to be a princess. You’d be stuck in that tall tower being guarded by an ornery dragon and kissing frogs. Sounds quite unalluring.

  2. I wanted to marry a teacher and raise a family. That happened along with being a single mother, two other marriages, earning a teaching credential myself, with teaching art and yearbook to high school students, and then a second career as a therapist. So glad I had my children when I was young and strong.

    I have raveled all over the world, and always have done art, oils, water color, acrylics, and now assemblages and mixed media pieces….many more after I retired, my work shown in galleries. As a kid I liked to draw but with a dearth of role models, I never imagined I could have a career with my art interest.
    Times have changed, huh, ladies, or should I say, women – you go girls!!

  3. Dear Joan, Your life, passions, achievements, and talents all sound incredible to me. Isn’t it a joy (and sometimes a challenge in the midst of life’s transitions) to invent and reinvent oneself? Your children are fortunate to have you as their mother – a terrific role model! Congrats on all your accomplishments! Lee

  4. Thanks, Lee. This resonates with me. When I was in first grade the teacher asked the class what we wanted to be and the answers were exactly as you said. Girls ALL answered nurse or teacher. I can’t remember if I said it out loud or kept it to myself but my answer was “I want to be like Carol Burnett.” I still do. I’m not a performer but what I really wanted was to make people laugh and be happy. I hope I convey that at least some of the time in my everyday life.

  5. Oh, Celia – What a glorious goal! I love Carol Burnett – and they way she made the little things in life, the ordinary things, so funny. I love knowing you are spreading joy, compassion and goodwill. Our world needs more people like you. Welcome to The Celia Show, now in its 50+ season! I hope you amazed your first grade teacher!!!

  6. Oh my goodness, how thought provoking is that !? Yes I loved mysteries and thought naughty things were happening which weren’t, living in a make believe world. Then thought of teaching specifically Standard 5 because I was in Standard 5 . Latter being a missionary in South Americaca and then Nigeria. Being a crew on a transatlantic yacht , travel was in my bloood. Became a model for a short time then
    Ended being in my fathers office, driving school bus in the country, school-cleaner also 8n the country, travelled to Europe for a year with small daughter and husband. Purchased a farm in South Canterbury NZ it required a lot of development we had our own mountain and river winding through native forest. Developed my own business designing and weaving, learnt marketing skills, entertained with dinner parties each week , overseas guests and so life progressed, with a lot of twists and turns , buying and selling properties , much travel as funds allowed ,survived major earthquakes which destroyed our home and previous homes …………..

  7. Jo – You have – and are – living a fascinating life. I applaud you for being a risk taker. It sounds as though you’ve faced adversity and hardship while also embracing unique opportunities. Keep going! I imagine there’s still more to see and do on your grown up list!

    VET school scared me as I was HORRIBLE IN SCIENCE!
    I would keep it up all of JANUARY if the NEEDLES did not become so DRY!

    • Dear La Contessa, I love your comments. While I don’t know you in person, I do understand your spirit. I picture you in your elegant, tall stature gracefully moving about your home and practicing your arabesques for those Christmas tree ornaments way up high on the top of the tree. I’m sure, by now, the modeling industry is devastated SF wasn’t a modeling hot spot at the time. And science… Oh, I know that feeling. I completed 4 years of college without once crossing the threshold of the science building. I recall one Christmas maybe 10 years ago when I left the tree up WAY too long. Many of those ancient needles got wedged between my wooden floorboards. Once summer came along and its humidity caused the floorboards to swell, we had a lovely aroma of pine throughout the first floor. Lovely to hear from you. Lee
      PS – My family is spread out on the SF Peninsula and San Joaquin Valley where many of my cousins are 6th generation Californians.

  9. i wanted to be an architect, an actress/singer or a veterinarian. too many years of school for vet… i became an actress out of high school, but that didn’t last long…not being a big fan of disappointment. i went back to school for interior design and practiced for 35+ years before returning to acting. disappointment not an issue at 70+. and, it hasn’t been all that disappointing! i’m working. so fun! n.e.v.e.r. give up on your dreams.

    • Dear Bonnie, I’m thrilled to hear you’re back on stage. I dabbled in theater throughout high school and college. Upon high school gradation, I approached my parents with the notion of going to NYC to be an actress. They put down their feet, insisting I complete college first. Thank goodness for their convictions. I would have been a great waitress never getting a part. Today, when I go to the gym on my Silver Sneakers membership, my workout playlist is all Broadway showtunes. I get carried away on the stairmaster to songs like Walk Him Up the Stairs from Purlie. Andmy favorite cool down piece is If We Only Have Love from Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. You are SO RIGHT…. never give up on dreams. Oh, and Bonnie, break a leg!

  10. I wanted to be a vet…that didn’t happen, but my love for animals is still a strong part of my life. Of course I wanted to be a model like so many young girls, but that faded and turned to wanting to be an anthropologist and dig at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.! Hmmmm, somehow I became an Interior Designer with a strong emphasis on Construction and Architectural detailing, along with the interior furnishings. So, instead of digging at Olduvai Gorge, I dig around construction sites! Not quite the same as finding old bones….but rather helping establish the structure and good bones of a family’s home!

    Fun piece..took us all back to our youth and the dreams we had!

    • Oh, Linda! Your message stirred a fabulous memory! When I was about 12 or 13, I had the opportunity to hear Louis Leakey lecture at the University of Washington. I went with my dad who was a med school adjunct professor at WashU. I didn’t understand much of the presentation, but found it intriguing and loved his great slides of the digs at Olduvai Gorge. I’m so happy you found a niche in interior design. Both my husand and our older son are commercial architects. So, I hear them comparing projects and talking about the industry all the time. You’d fit right in to our family! In the meantime, enjoy the animals in your life. Thanks for sharing your childhood dreams.

  11. While in grade school I was just a kid with no set ideas of ever growing up. In high school I was a loner, left out, wanted to belong but did not know how. In college I leaned into the sciences social life bounded by my immediate class mates. After college I drifted from one no talent job to another to pay the bills. At age 40 I had a talk with myself about taking a shot at research science. Enrolled in a PhD program, went to the National Institutes of Health, got into a good lab and ended up publishing a landmark paper. My professional choice came about from a TV interview that I had seen in high school. J. Robert Oppenheimer was asked what it was like to make a break through. His reply changed my life. “You just look over in the corner and there it is.” I knew that was what I wanted, to be where no one else had ever been. It took awhile, I had luck, I got there.

  12. I am not sure what I wanted to be. but I do know that in order to be an accomplished person either through education or natural talent you must be nurtured from a very early age. Parenting is a job of encouragement, love and nurturing.

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