What do you want to be when you grow up? We ask children this a lot. One time my daughter answered someone with about twelve things, all in a row. “I want to be an artist, a teacher, a doctor, (eight more that I can’t remember but I think astronaut might have been in there) and a waitress.” Lofty goals for a five year old!
I used to reply with only one response: a singer. I loved to sing, but I also had the ability to make up songs on the fly because of all the practice I got with my older brother. We were very competitive, and when he wasn’t beating me in foot races, high-jumping, basketball shots, ping pong, or, as big brothers often do, just plain beating me, we’d have rhyming contests. They went like this:
Me: You’re fat.
Him: You’re a rat.
Me: At least I’m not a splat.
Him: Well you’re a brat.
Me: I can’t agree with that.
Him: You’re as ornery as shit under a couch from a cat.
Me: You stink like liquid toe jam in a vat.
Him: Not bad – I’d call that tit for tat.
As you can see, we didn’t make Shakespeare jealous. The object of the contest was to not be the one who couldn’t come up with a sensible rhyme (not just jibberish) right away. If you paused too long to think of something, you lost that round. This could start at any time – walking to Dairy Queen, sledding in winter, riding bikes. With all that practice, I gained the ability to knock out songs that were, admittedly, awful. But they rhymed. I’d sing them to a slow, syrupy melody to give me time to compose them while I sang – picture a soulful love song sung by Barbara Streisand or Adele. They went something like this:
My dog has fleas,
He’s weak in the knees,
So I feed him peas,
Because he loves…….me.
My dog is kind
He’s here all the time,
Licking his behind,
But I don’t mind
Because he loves……me
My friend Carole and I used to get in verbal skirmishes a lot, probably from being together all day long in the summer heat. Most were those “are too!” “am not!” fights like: “You’re cheating.” “Am not!” “Are too!” “Am not!!!!”
With Carole, it escalated to one of us getting so mad we’d shove the other one. We were about eight years old, bored, in the hot, muggy, Tennessee haze, plus both our birthdays were in December, on either side of Christmas, so people were always giving us just one “combined birthday and Christmas present,” which caused a smoldering current of aggravation to pulse through our veins year round, and is probably what made us so cranky.
We were like a pressure cooker about to blow, and one of us took off running, knowing the other was about to strike. We both had long, skinny legs and she was exactly as fast at running as I was. We’d chase each other all through my backyard, and finally the person in front would falter – out of breath, legs tired – and the one chasing would catch up and swat her in the middle of the back, then pivot 180 degrees and start running. It was a little like two-person tag, except on the anger chart we had reached 11 on a scale of 1 to 10, so instead of tagging, we’d swat. Seriously, we chased each other like this until we were exhausted, red-faced, sweaty, and laughing.
One time my brother came out with two pairs of boxing gloves and said, “All this running around is stupid. Put these gloves on and just duke it out.” We tried but it wasn’t the same just standing there looking at each other, she in her long brown braids and me in my sun-streaked pigtails. After all, she was one of my best friends! I don’t think either of us even threw a punch.
In peaceful times we’d have singing contests. She sat on the grass and I stood up in front of her and sang as I made up a song – a really excellent one like the one above. Then she’d stand up when it was her turn and fumble around. “No, you have to make it rhyme. A song has to rhyme.” “Does not!” “Does too!” “Does not!!!!” She’d start chasing me and I knew if I ran out in the open area of the backyard, I might step in a gopher hole or trip on a croquet wicket or get clothes-lined by the cIothesline, and she’d catch up and deliver a soft whack between my shoulder blades, so I kept circling the two trees in the middle of the yard that had a thick bed of iris’s between them. Round and round we went until I got dizzy and darted into the open area, slowed down from exhaustion, and got swatted.
I never performed my little concerts for anyone but Carole, and she told me I was too good at singing and it wasn’t any fun. She probably meant rhyming, not vocal ability, but I took it as a huge compliment and pictured myself as a star.
Now I’m old (Am too!), and that dream has been in the fog of my memory all my life. In case you haven’t noticed, I not a star yet, haven’t ever tried to be one (what a yellow-bellied coward I am, plus I’ve rarely had any encouragement from any sane person that I should pursue singing, or even do it in public), and rarely ever sing around others except in the pews at church or when a group is bellowing happy birthday.
My dream has been with me all these years, and even though I’m old, I’m still working at it. If you pass my house early on summer mornings, when the windows are open, you’ll hear me practicing, “Corina Corina,” or “At Last,” or “Speeding Cars,” or even “Like a Rolling Stone,” although Dylan stuck a lot of words in there and it’s hard to remember them all.
Everyone has dreams. Kids don’t have the monopoly on them.
What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s not too late, you know.