Tuesday, November 12, 2013

After school and the rest of the universe

What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I was four, I wanted to be a hairdresser. To get a jump start on my prospective hairdressing career, I went into business with my next door neighbour Kelly and set up a practice salon in her backyard, complete with deck chairs for seats, toilet rolls for hairdryers and gossip magazines and Cottee's Coola Lime cordial stolen from her kitchen. 

My enterprise was booming until a poorly executed half-mullet with Crayola safety scissors caught the attention of Kelly's mother, who had come to the salon to find her missing bottle of Coola. The incident put paid to Kelly's long blonde locks, my backyard business and my hairdressing dreams with just one foul snip.

Not one to dwell (too much) on these types of setbacks, I went searching for a more suitable career path. While professional carnival ride testing, leaving town with the circus and becoming Penny from Inpsector Gadget were sadly ruled out of the running, there were plenty of options.

My shortlist was a super-sized buffet of hot and cold options: ballet dancer, astronaut, high school english teacher, lolly shop owner, rock star, bare back horse rider, game show host, spelling bee superstar, fireworks technician ...

After many discussions over the sausages and salad at the dinner table and much thinking in the bath tub, I finally settled on my optimum career goal: to be the first female Prime Minister of Australia.

Despite only being the ripe old age of five, I genuinely had a keen interest in politics. I liked the press conferences that played out on the television, I liked the crunchy black and white newspaper stories in the newspaper, and I really liked the yelling part.

My parents were very supportive of my choice, just as they (initially) were when I wanted to be a hairdresser and when I demanded to take a bag full of dead frangipani flowers to preschool as a gift for my favourite teachers aide. In their supportive fashion, they gently questioned my decision to aim directly for the top job: do you really want to be the Prime Minister, or maybe just a politician first?

No, I didn't just want to be a politician. I had no intention of working my way up through primary school and the really big school after that and then the rest of the entire universe just to become an average politician on the average backbench. That would just be boring.

I wanted to be the Prime Minister, thank you very much, the Royale with Cheese, the big boss, the head honcho. I wanted to be on the television, and greet famous international dignitaries on the tarmac, and go to really big cricket matches and yacht races, and have a Canberra suburb named after me.

From within my childhood cubby house of perspective, the job
was exactly what I was looking for: it had all the pizazz of hairdressing, with the added bonus of being able to carry an impressive looking briefcase, be in charge of important things, and argue with people without getting told to be quiet or sent to my room.

Of course, being a wanna-be Prime Minister was no easy task for a kindergarten kid. My babysitter told me I was funny, my friends told me I was weird, and my teacher simply asked where I got such strange ideas from. My grandparents espoused the virtues of nursing and teaching and no one, not even the shopping centre Santa, would agree to grant my wish of a briefcase for Christmas.

My youthful resolve was tested as I grew, but moments of brilliance shone out among the long wasteland periods of school years and doubting questions: like helping the local mayor celebrate his campaign victory, watching the election of a young Natasha Stott Despoja to Federal Parliament in 1995, and - the holy grail - getting to play my dream position of Prime Minister during a school excursion role play at Parliament House.

As high school slipped away, and then university after it, I started to stumble off my career path: I found boys, and Ben Harper, and the Humanities Department at university, where my love of the political sizzle was radically overtaken by an admiration for the political critique.

With every lecture I absorbed and with every essay I crafted, I studied myself further out of my childhood ambition. Then I fell in love, drank way too much wine, graduated, went to rock concerts, slid down ski slopes, traveled across the public and not-for-profit sectors, and started a family of my own.

I did everything and then some more, but I did not become the
first female Prime Minister of Australia, or even an average politician sitting on the average backbench (which, it turns out, is not really that average an occupation at all).

Instead of arranging peace deals and bipartisan agreements, I stay up late arranging my metaphorical collection of titles and the many different values they represent: Blogger, Chocaholic, Friend,
Mother, Partner and Tired.

Most importantly, though, is Dreamer - the spark of the little girl who truly believed she could be the first female Prime Minister of Australia, and the spark of the mother who still asks herself and will one day ask her daughter -

What do you want to be when you grow up?

M x 

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