Post-dinner playtime constitutes a mixed bag of activities. The baby wanders around in opiate denial of his sleepiness, while the toddler buzzes around on a residual sugar high from dessert. Last night I found myself on the floor with denial-baby on my chest; his fat little fingers probed my front teeth and then crammed a pink rubber frog into my eye. I lifted Mengele-boy onto the carpet with a gentle “No-no,” then flopped into the sublime puffiness of my leather recliner.
My daughter walked up to me with a square plastic storage box on her head, and a colored pasta necklace draped across her shoulders. Enter “Spacegirl” to make her debut appearance. (I’d never met this toddler-inspired personality before.)
“I am Spacegirl, and I have my helmet and safety necklace on so I won’t fall and break my neck on the slippery Moooon…” she boomed in her deepest voice.
Break your neck? How morbid, I reflected. On the slippery moon? Who decided that the moon is slippery? Come to think of it, the moon does look like it was made out of modeling clay, or gray mud. Maybe it is, indeed, slippery. Behold the brains on Spacegirl.
Check out the confidence on this chick, too. She dubbed herself “Spacegirl” easily and naturally. The word “girl” doesn’t connote weakness or frailty for her generation. She’s surrounded by a world of Powerpuff girls, Spicegirls, IndigoGirls and webgrrls. The banner of “girl power” has inspired her to playact as a superhero, a “scuber diver,” and now an astronaut.
Then again, it’s not like I grew up in the suffragette era; women had saturated the workforce by the late sixties. I grew up knowing women could be doctors as well as nurses, and that my destiny’s options were open. That’s probably why I scrawled “Frog Girl” as occupation of choice in my Dr. Seuss “Book about Me.” On TV, I saw deep-sea diving “Frog Men” swoop around on “Johnny Quest.” I wanted to swoop around, too, but I sure didn’t want to be called a “Frog Man.” So, I created the label “Frog Girl” and fantasized about replacing Jacques Cousteau as Custodian of the Undersea World.
Frog Girl’s dream became reality when I learned to scuba dive in college and later became a part-time instructor. I morphed from Frog Girl to “Lemur Girl” when I landed my dream job as a zookeeper/primate technician. (Doesn’t every girl go through an “I love animals” syndrome?) I met and married the man of my dreams, so Lemur Girl gave way to “Mrs. Lemur,” a woman with a decent list of accomplished dreams.
Unfortunately, the buoyancy of dreams can be hissingly deflated when you find yourself raking lemur poop day in, day out, for six dollars an hour. I ripped up alumni newsletters that came in the mail, recounting the lives of classmates who were now successful lawyers, doctors and businessmen. I started raking lemur poop in my sleep at night. Scrape, scrape, scrape. Scoop, scoop. Dump in bucket. Repeat.
Raking lemur poop may dull the ego, but it sharpens the mind. (You tend to do a lot of soul searching when you spend hours cleaning animal cages.) Many a zookeeper has lifted a dustpan of dung and questioned, “Why am I here?” For some, it’s simply a philosophical question that leads to the conclusion that they’re raking poo for a greater good.
For me, however, the question was literal; "why am I here, right now, raking this foulness?" I thought about my life’s aspirations. Did my childhood brew of “Dream Jobs” comprise my true goals in life? I sure hoped not, since I currently found myself in a silo of poo-slinging prosimians. The blinding realization smacked me; my current livelihood and lifestyle fulfilled a short-term dream, rather than being part of a life-long goal.
My thoughts turned from “What will I be?” to “Who will I have been?” I wanted people to look back upon my life and say that I was fun to be with, and kind. I wanted to be remembered as generous and giving. I also pictured a woman who’d loved a husband and children to the best of her abilities.
Up until that moment, I had not committed to the idea of myself as a parent. I’d been enjoying an adolescent adulthood filled with parties, adventures and freedom. But right there in that silo, I had a vision. A vision of me raking lemur-doo, with a child slung over one hip. I seriously doubted that Child Protective Services would condone that, nor would they consider electro-fenced woods be appropriate daycare. If I was going to entertain the possibility of having kids, I needed to leave the option open. Thus the time had come for a change.
I closed the chapter of Mrs. Lemur’s life, and said goodbye to the animals, my keeper compadres, and the smelly uniform. I didn’t have a specific career in mind this time; I simply started carving out the rough draft of “who I will have been”. A family ultimately became an achievable and desirable option, so Spacegirl and a frog-wielding little brother climbed on board. I’ve been trying to keep my options open ever since.
I hope Spacegirl will grow up to see the value of both short-term dreams and life-long goals. I certainly want her to think about who she wants to be in the future. But I also want her to be interested in who she will have been, in the end. It all adds up. That goes for you too, Frog-Boy.