Alice is hurtling through life right now. It’s frightening how grown-up she’s becoming. It’s helped by the fact that she’s just had a new haircut. It’s a pixie-cut, and it really suits her. She looks sophisticated and mature for an 8-year-old, and some of the school-run Mums have complimented her on it, using words like “sophisticated” and “mature for an 8-year-old”. Of course, she then undermines her sculpted air of maturity, by talking about The BFG in an excited fashion, and doing that jumping-up-and-down-and-flapping-her-arms thing that she does when she cannot contain herself.
It’s horrific to realise that adulthood for Alice is now just a decade away. Voting, driving, university perhaps, and job. Ugh. It’s too early to think about jobs, isn’t it? Children shouldn’t think about jobs, they should think about having fun!
Of course it’s not too early, you idiot, no wonder everyone thinks you’re stupid. Children start to voice job hopes pretty early, don’t they? Alice certainly did. Of course, small children don’t think about the realities of work, nor do they think about the paths they need to take in order to get towards the job they want. Ambition is so different and much easier when you’re under 10 years old. Anything really is possible when you’re that young. It’s only later, when disappointment and failure kicks in, that you realise how much the odds are stacked against you.
It’s horrid to think that the foundations towards her chosen career will begin before she even realises it. I thought such things would start from the choices kids make that go towards the GCSE exams – say around 14 years old. Except they probably start much sooner than that. Primary school, even. Think about it: An interest in art, or drama, or science, or engineering, or sport can be forged at a very early age. After school clubs can help, the topic of each term plays its part, and the encouragement of inspiring teachers all assist in pointing a child towards their destiny.
Let’s not forget our role as parents, either. Of course, I want things for Alice, and I already hope she’ll develop a love for music or acting, but also I’m more than happy to encourage her to take an interest in science or technology subjects. Let’s face it, the world has a critical shortage of female scientists and engineers.
But it’s wise not to get too carried away. Even with the absolute best of intentions, parents can make things horrific for their children. Back in my late teens I knew someone very well who suffered from having parents. She was a twin. At some primary school parents evening, her parents were told that the other sister was unremarkable. Nice, well-behaved, but probably going to end up in a minor career choice. However, she was really promising, the teacher said. Y’know, she could become a doctor or something.
That was it. Fate sealed, and destiny chosen. If the teacher had said “she could be a barrister!”, she’d be a barrister now. By the time she was 18, the pressure she was under – both from the parents and from herself – was staggering, and she damn nearly broke from it. She succeeded, but I have often wondered if she really wanted to do it all along.
She was not alone. I knew several other people who were kicked, dragged, and prodded into the career choices they’ve ended up in, but they went through the fucking wringer to get there. Not all of them came out of it OK. Some rebelled. Some caved in. One or two were permanently damaged by the experience – all because of the possibility of Job at the end.
I was lucky – Although brought up by a career-minded father, I was pretty much allowed to develop my own interests and follow my passions rather than his vicarious ambition. However, I cannot exactly argue that I am a massively successful example of a human being. I am a Generation X-er, which means that all I’ve ever really wanted to do is chill, rock out, and say fuck it to The Man, whilst being horribly cynical. It might possibly be why, aged 40-and-a-half, I’m working part-time in retail. I suppose you could argue that I am a cautionary tale to my daughter: Slack off your homework, and sit around Playstationing all day and rocking on a guitar all night, and you could end up like me. The guys who were shoved into their career paths by ambitious parents have done somewhat better than I have, if I’m ruefully honest.
Now that I’m a parent, of course I want Alice to succeed. I want her to find interest and delight in any career path, and not end up on the middle-management chain gang, or be in a lowly position that sucks the life out of her, or be an anonymous filing machine, or to be a worker drone in some vast monolithic company. I mean, who wants to be the embodiment of a mid-90s Radiohead lyric?
Still, she has come up with some interesting career choices.
- First, she wanted to be a sanitation worker (I suspect because she liked the bin lorry that rattles around our neighbourhood once a week)
- Then she talked about being a ballet dancer (not that I want to enforce stereotypes)
- Then she wanted to be a princess (not in this universe, unless she could somehow alter the fabric of reality so that she could be born into immense wealth and privilege)
- Then she wanted to be a bass player in a band (now that’s more like it!)
- Then she wanted to be a “helper” (because she liked interfering with other people’s business in the playground – sorting out fights, breaking up arguments, helping small and lonely tots find friends. It’s rewarding, but it’s poorly paid work)
- Then she wanted to be a doctor (I swear she didn’t get this from a chance remark in a parents evening)
- Then she wanted to be a superhero (let’s face it, more likely than being a princess)
- Then she wanted to be a scientist (A scientist doing what, exactly? “Science!” she said)
- Then she wanted to be a detective (finding out who started the fights in the playground, why were people having arguments in the playground… etc)
- Then she was into the bass player idea again (Daddy’s little girl!)
- And now, she wants to be a writer. Specifically, a writer who lives in a Cornish fishing village, whose husband is a fisherman, and on Fridays they both go fishing together, and she’ll drive a cheap little Mini along the seaside. She’s even made up a song about it. It goes “Look at me, in my cheap li’l Mini / Drivin’ by the seaside-seaside-sea…”
It’s very much a focused goal to have, I suppose.
She’s making a start on it already. She’s always loved inventing stories and characters. One of her earliest was an ongoing saga about a stone called Tua Mizer, and all the adventures that ensued. Yup, it seems stones have adventures. I tried to explain to her back then that, yes, stones did have adventures of sorts, it’s just that such adventures take place over millions of years and stones – if left undisturbed – generally only move a couple of dozen feet over the course of a thousand years. Way to spoil a three-year-old’s fun, Daddy.
She’s continued this, with her invented lands and languages. And from an early age (and with the encouragement of her splendid, slightly hippie, year 1 teacher) she developed a knack for imagery in her poetry.
She just chucks out idea after idea, and then dashes off to the next one, so I suggested she be a bit more disciplined. “I want to be a writer!” she tells me. Writers write, I said. So she got herself a notebook and uses it to jot down her concepts. Some of them are brilliant. There’s one about a house and a cat that is so amazing (says the biased parent), I’m reluctant to write about it here in case you decide to plagiarise it and publish it as your own work.
Now she’s tackling metaphorical language. Recently, she was praised with abundance by her class teacher (young, gentle with the kids, idealistic, plays the guitar) for an inventive poem about our neighbourhood:
The people of our road have always been quite strange
Two of them have lion ancestors, one is always sweet
Just hanging there lazy at the side of the street
The animals of our road have always been quite different
The daylight giants dance with their friends in the windows
The monstrous one lives in my front garden,
It scratches and bashes and scratches and scratches again
And instead of beauty it brings you pain
Blimey, she’s 8. I’m really impressed, but again, I’m totally biased and possibly easily impressed. However, I wasn’t coming up with that sort of thing when I was her age, and nor was anyone else around me as far as I can remember. I don’t normally gush with pride about everything my kid does on my own Facebook page, but I took a scan of the poem and posted it up. One of my chums responded with his own son’s literary works. It was a piece of paper with “The Amazing Fart Police” written on it.
Obviously Alice will have to work hard in order to become a writer, and she is (as I know all too well) facing an uphill struggle and will receive many painful kicks to her confidence, and knock-backs to her motivation. The Cornish fishing village cottage is a long, long way away, and could well ultimately be in an alternate reality, but I am thrilled that she has a passion and a love that could last a lifetime, even if she winds up like most authors, and working in a horrible job, in a mind-sapping role, in order to put bread on the table and keep the bailiffs from the door.
Still, she’s young, and I have no desire to force her into any destiny just yet, and right now I hope I never will. Besides, she is very likely to change her mind. Just the other day, to see if her ambitions had changed, I asked her what she intended to be when she grows up.
She thought hard for a moment.
“I want to be a thumb”, she said.