‘Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again’ C.S.Lewis
I have just left my 11 year-old daughter at the school gate, the same school gate I walked through for seven (tumultuous) teenage years of my life; it is her first day in ‘Big School.’ I am sad, I am excited, I am nervous, I am anxious….and I am now sat with my laptop drinking a large almond milk latte wondering how can the years pass by so quickly? I have also got a sense of guilt. “Why guilty?” you ask. I don’t want her to grow up! I don’t want the wonderful joys a little child brings with their innocent insights and zest for life to no longer be a constant presence in my life. The years already completed in primary school passed by remarkably quick and I am told that the next seven years will do so even quicker again.
The flip side of my guilt and pangs in my heart and gut today is that I am excited too; I am excited to see who and what my little girl will become. She is beautiful, funny, intelligent, loving and she is the absolute centre of my world. Everything I do, I ultimately do for her.
I remember at that age I wanted to be a famous actress. Back then, even if you had passed your transfer test into the school with flying colours, the Headmaster still wanted to interview all the children entering this highly-regarded school. I remember attending said interview with my parents where I was quizzed about what countries I had been to ( I had been no further than England!) and how many miles was the circumference of the Earth? (answer by me: 36 000, actual answer is 24902, thank you google). The world was huge to me in those days. My parents were not interested in travelling. They were very content in their home and enjoyed trips to see family at the weekend, with staying in caravans on the North Coast of Northern Ireland, and sailing trips in County Donegal being their chosen holidays. They were happy – and so was I.
When the Headmaster asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I enthusiastically replied that I was going to be an actress. My dad nudged me with a look of disapproval and prompted me with the ‘correct answer’ (I needed to get something right!), and my mum shuffled in her seat.
“No you don’t,” said dad.
“Yes I do dad.”
“Did you not say the other day you wanted to be a doctor? Headmaster, she did say she wanted to be a doctor.”
….ok “yes I want to be a doctor.” I stood corrected.
The desire to be an actress was instantly suppressed and the first steps into adult life had been taken. Societal expectations were being engrained and my childhood dreams and notions were starting to dim and disappear. It is a sad reality which happens to most of us, and the worrying thing is that it can send us along a path in life that will never truly align to who and what we aspired to be and the way we wanted to live our own lives.
“For in every adult there dwells the child that was, and in every child there lies the adult that will be.” John Connolly, Author of The Book of Lost Things
Don’t get the wrong impression about my parents. They were wonderful parents and wanted the best for me. They only ever wanted me to be happy and if I had persisted with the acting ambitions, I do believe they would have supported me. I can’t help but think though they would have been a little disappointed if I hadn’t gone on to do well academically.
There is one technical problem I should add to my memoir. I was actually a bit rubbish at acting! I loved to do it, adored my speech & drama teacher and embraced every audition at school to participate in the school play. In reality, I don’t think I was terribly good at it, and it is OK for you to read, laugh and smile at my misguided ambitions.
‘When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.’ The Bible, New International Version. 1 Corinthians 13:11.
I think the ‘wanting to be a doctor’ never really left my thoughts from that day, and it was something I focused on for the next 15 years when I achieved my goal by not being ‘that kind of doctor’ but by attaining a PhD in pharmacy. There had been obstacles along the way, not least my health; I’ve had a habit of taking ill at just the wrong stages in my life including taking severe glandular fever as I studied for my A-levels. I have struggled with my energy levels ever since and was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME in 2004; this diagnosis ‘stole’ my academic career ambitions at the time as I left my post as a lecturer which was beyond my physical capabilities. The thing is though, these ‘obstacles’ along my life journey, were actually opportunities presenting themselves in an unexpected and unwelcome manner at that point in time.
I’ve gone on to do and experience many diverse and wonderful things and I am at a point in my life now where I want to embrace my inner child and do the things which will bring me and those around me the most joy. That may mean more changes in direction, but life is for living, not existing and living merely by other people’s expectations.
Another question for you today:
“when you were child, what did you say you wanted to do when you grew up?”
What did you daydream about? What was your big dream? Do you remember that feeling that anything in life was possible?
The thing I find most wonderful about children is that their dreams, thoughts and ambitions have no boundaries. They always dream BIG! Nothing is impossible. Of course I can be an astronaut, a film star, a premiership footballer, a prima ballerina when I grow up….why not?
Then life happens. Parents, friends and teachers make statements and judgements about our abilities and aspirations; occasionally these align with our dreams, but more often they box us into a category regarded as more fitting to an average life. Nobody means any harm when they say and do these things. They are ‘protecting’ us and guiding us to the best of their abilities, but the advice and guidance proffered is based upon their own beliefs and core values. I believe it is important to live according to our own values.
Are you living in any way aligned to your childhood dream? Do you have a long held ambition that actually, if you took the appropriate action and steps, you could successfully achieve it?
Spend a little time today reflecting on your childhood dreams and please share them; sometimes all you need to do is to openly share what you truly want in order to ignite the spark held within you for all those years.
As I finish this post, drink the last of my (now cold) latte, and head back to the school gate to pick up my daughter I know I will meet a little girl who took a huge step in her life journey today. I feel more full of promise and anticipation as I watch the next stages in her life unfold. I plan on nurturing her dreams and help her hold onto some of that magic from childhood for as long as she possibly can. In fact, I hope she clings to it throughout her life journey and fulfils all her dreams and goals. Isn’t that what we all truly want for our children; a happy, healthy, purposeful and fulfilled life?
The Swan Doctor