Saoirse told me recently that she’s not sure if she wants to be President of the United States when she grows up, after all. She said that she she might want to open a restaurant called Dolphin’s Diamond D instead, where children have a play area to enjoy while their parents work, and where there’ll be a person in a dolphin suit handing out stickers, and all the food would start with the letter D (Quinlan suggested doughnuts as a dessert. I said that I would gladly support that decision).
I told SK that she would have a good 15 years or so of adulthood before she could become president anyway, so she’d have plenty of time and freedom to open her restaurant if she wanted to do so.
“But Mom,” she said. “I think I might like to work in an aquarium, or with dolphins. I’d like to work at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.”
Quinlan nodded. She said that she’d like to live there, too. I asked the girls if I could move to be near them, since their dad and I like it there. They said absolutely–we could live really close to the restaurant (because now we were back to the restaurant idea, as long as it was within walking distance of the aquarium).
“Mom,” she said. “I think I might like to be a teacher, too. I can’t decide.”
I didn’t mean to laugh, but I did. “Saoirse,” I told her. “You don’t have to decide now. Honey, you don’t even have to decide once you grow up. I’ve had three careers since college besides being a mom, and that’s okay. Just work hard and take your time.”
“And didn’t you work in a restaurant, too?” she said. I looked at her for a moment, out of the corner of my eye. “Yeah,” I said. “I was a waitress. In a Pizzeria Uno.”
“Uno!” she crowed. “Uno means ‘one!'”
“Yep!” I said, although waiting tables at a chain restaurant wasn’t exactly the pinnacle experience of my twenties. “Sometimes I’ve worked two jobs at a time.” Saoirse nodded, then looked away.
“Quinlan,” she said. “Want to play with cars?”
And then they skipped off, leaving me at the lunch table, thinking about how, no, she doesn’t have to decide yet. Yes, she should have a goal, and man, do I want her to work so hard to meet it. But you know? She doesn’t have to decide. I don’t really want her to decide, if it means she’s not going to be doing everything on this earth she’s gifted to do. It took me almost a decade and a half to get the courage to write, and I still sit at my computer, absolutely terrified of it, more scared of writing now than I was before All the Difference came out. But I’m glad that I’m trying. I don’t want her–or Quinlan or Cian–to second-guess themselves. I want them to be brave. I want them to work their tails off for what they want–if that means working nights and weekends at a Pizzeria Uno after working a full-time job, so be it–and use every skill God gave them while they can. I get upset sometimes that I didn’t have the courage to do this writing thing way before now. I remember feeling so lost back then, but I think I was trying on what I wanted to do for size. That meant that I took out loans and worked two or three jobs at a time and went to school again and paid off those loans, but every single “career” I ever had taught me something, and led me to something even better. I didn’t travel nearly as much as I would’ve loved back then, but I did, though. I did, even if it meant camping in Key West (so. many. lizards) or saving up for that plane ticket to San Francisco. My point is–and this is the point I think about when it comes to how my kids will grow up: I made it all work. It eventually got easier. And from all of that, I made a life.
And honestly? It’s a life I’m grateful for.
Do I want my kids to grow up to have to work a lot and struggle a little? Kind of, I do, at least at first. (Kids, when you read this in a few years, I’m sorry. But honestly: that summer you’ll spend nannying for that horrid family will teach you crazy-huge coping skills, I promise). Now, I wouldn’t mind if Saoirse avoids the live-in-a-cheap-apartment-that-has-a-bug-problem stage (Oh, I don’t miss you at all, 1999!), or the I-can’t-afford-to-go-out-tonight-so-I’ll-just-charge-the-drinks-to-my-credit-card era, but I wouldn’t mind if she has to do some things the hard way. I want Saoirse and her siblings to end up as adults that are a little tough and a lot appreciative of what they have when they get it. I want them to be full of the confidence that comes with paving your own way. My most favorite people in the world are the ones who know what it’s like to build their worlds from the ground up. And when Saoirse stands on the Capitol steps one day with her hand on that Bible, saying the oath of office, I want her to know that she earned every single word that comes out of her mouth.
Our Saoirse Kate turned eight years old this week. She asked for a chocolate cake decorated like a dolphin, and woke up to a wrapped package of Shopkins on the breakfast table. She’s going to take guitar lessons with a brand new instrument, and her grandmother gave her a Lego Millennium Falcon to build with her dad. We gave her the choice of a birthday party or a family adventure, and she chose the adventure (smart girl), so her gift from us is a dolphin encounter experience at Baltimore’s National Aquarium. For this one day, she is spoiled. The rest of the time, she will work to prove to herself that she will–in the future, but sooner than we’re ready for–handle this world on her own.
She doesn’t have to decide, though. Not now, and not then, I don’t think. Because you know what? Saoirse is smart, and cheerful, and strong. She still hurries into school each day, and runs out of the building to see me afterward with a smile on her face, ready for a hug. She has a knack for sticking to what she likes and what she wants to do, even if it’s not what the other kids are doing. She loves sashimi and chocolate and chicken wings and her grandmother’s meatballs. She wears giant headbands and necklaces and pink, but doesn’t like princesses and would like to rescind her request to get her ears pierced after all. She likes Taylor Swift and dancing by herself in her bedroom and writing in notebooks and leading games with her sis and brother in the family room. She’s still best friends with the girl she met on the first day of 3-year-old preschool, even though they go to different schools and only see each other when their parents manage to lock down a mutual free weekend. She is so full of awesome I’m surprised it doesn’t come bursting out of those perfect ears of hers. I look at her (and her sister and her brother because how can you not) sometimes and just pray she always knows how much good is inside of her.
She’s only a child, daydreaming about becoming a grown-up. But childhood is where grown-up dreams take root. I kind of like the idea of my daughter becoming Dr. Chef Madame President one day. But maybe she’ll choose something else. Maybe she’ll want to go abroad for college and I’ll cheer her on and then secretly sob by myself when she’s not looking and send her care packages to keep her fed and remind her that she’s loved. Because the whole point of the life she has is to use every talent she’s got and see what happens next, isn’t it? Isn’t that why I had her? Isn’t that what she’s here for?
What a gift to use.
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