When I grow up

Monday, November 11, 2013

A few years ago a friend of mine threw a fancy dress party, the theme of which was "dress up as what you wanted to be when you grew up." Most of us at the party were lawyers. Funnily enough, nobody was dressed as one.

I have no clear memory of wanting to be anything in particular when I was little, so I thought I'd just have to make something up. As a child I was an incurable bookworm, always with my nose in an Enid Blyton or a Baby-Sitters Club, so maybe I wanted to be a librarian. Or perhaps an architect, since I would spend hours laying walls of books across the carpet as houses for my dolls. I was crap at ballet, but every little girl wants to be a ballerina, don't they? Or a teacher? Or an astronaut? Surely I must have had some childhood aspirations?

After days of racking my brain - and raiding my wardrobe - I was no closer to coming up with a suitable costume. So I called the one person who I thought might have an idea. I called my mum.

My expectations, it has to be said, were low. If I couldn't remember, why on earth would she? Nevertheless, I asked her. What did I want to be when I grew up?

The answer was instant, and definitive. Not an artist, or a princess, or a deep sea diver. Not an explorer, a singer, a mother of four.

When I was a child, my mother informed me, the thing I desperately wanted to be when I grew up was a window cleaner.

A WINDOW CLEANER. I did not see that one coming.

Of course, it makes perfect sense. I'm a fairly solitary person, I enjoys tasks that produce quantifiable results and I am incredibly nosy. Plus, overalls? Comfiest party attire ever.

Lately, I've been thinking about this story more often. My granny passed away last month, and my mum's health and general well-being have taken a bit of a tumble. When you contemplate the loss of someone close to you, you think about all the things you love about them that, one day, will exist only in your memory. You try to remember everything you can, recite it over and over like an incantation.

But it's not just them that you lose. It's yourself, too, or rather the version of yourself that they remember. Nobody will see you quite the way they did. Nobody will share their exact recollection of the big events and tiny moments that have made up your life. Nobody will know that your four-year-old self dreamt of cleaning windows for a living. (Well, except for all of you now. But you know what I mean.)

This time of year is all about remembrance. If you don't know what you wanted to be when you grew up, there's no better time than the present to ask that one person who will remember. Their answer might surprise you.


Top image by Sara Perovic via her flickr

9 boats moored

  1. A window cleaner? That's brilliant!
    But also, what a lovely post. It's made me want to pick up the phone and have a chat with my Mum.

  2. It's an interesting choice for a 4 year old! Great fancy dress costume though! Very low maintenance.

  3. I was all about being a librarian when I was younger. My sister wanted to be tree. I think that says a lot about the kind of people we are!

    Now, I work in social media - which didn't even exist when I was young - and she wants to train to be a zoologist. Comparing the two, I think we might not have changed as much as we think.

    Lovely post :)

  4. This is a great story. And as someone who's planning to write about memory in the next piece of research that I do, I hear you.

  5. Oh this post made me cry (and delurk to tell you). I think it is so true - I have been thinking a lot this year about my Grandpa and how we saw me. He died several years ago and I miss him horribly. Great post - going to call my mum to find out what she thinks!

  6. This is a beautiful piece of writing Kirsty. Your blog is still just as wonderful as it always was. xx

  7. You touched my heart Kirsty , I just drop in now and again and I'm so glad I did today. You really have a way with words and express yourself beautifully -- even when its something thats difficult to articulate. I'm not really someone who joins in, a bit like Groucho Marx I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member . I felt I had to let you know that I suspect there are many more like me, silently reading your posts and feeling all the better for doing so. We are such fragile creatures and its so easy to forget that. Thank you

  8. My friend had the exact same theme for her birthday last year - such a great idea. I also called my mum as I couldn't think of anything. all she said was that I had a serious obsession with dinosaurs so I went to the party as a dinosaur enthusiast, not an archeologist. pretty sure I ddnt know that word when I was 5. Luckily I had all the stuff for my costume so in some way I guess I did turn out to be one now older. My 5 yr old self would be impressed.
    This post is v.thought provoking, it made me think about my nan, she's got a type of dementia and when I see her she always asks me about college - so I'll always be, in her mind, about 18, a little bubble of my younger self. Not to be mushy but memories really are precious. Great post x


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