She is three years old, with bright blue eyes and mousy brown ponytails. Her favorite doll has only one blinking eye; her roaring great-uncle from Up North bounced the other one out in a round of boisterous play on his last visit. Her vocabulary is enormous and she takes adults by surprise, but her parents are used to their loquacious daughter and so much of her daylong prattle falls on deaf ears. She loves being asked direct questions, and loves it even more when the asker takes her seriously. “A mommy.” She cuddles the cyclopsian blonde baby close to her heart, pats its matted hair, strokes a finger over its eyeless eyelid. “I want to be a mommy.”
Her hair falls over one eye, and she hastily pushes it back behind her ear. Surrounded by a stack of books, the ones to her left are waiting to be read and the ones to her right have just been finished. They will all be on the right by the time she goes to bed. At seven, she is quiet and bookish and introverted. She loves music and horses and the Old West. Authors have taken her places beyond her own four walls, where her family is the biggest part of her world. She has bigger dreams these days, and her answer has changed. “A vegetarian. And a veterinarian. With a Ph.D. from Harvard.” In what? She hasn’t quite figured that out.
It has been a shock, entering public school. After a few rocky months, she has a rhythm to her days now. There is a gaggle of friends waiting for her at lunch, another at church youth group, and there are still her friends with leatherbound spines. She is in Advanced Placement classes, and she has fallen in love. There is a boy, a hulking awkard heap of hormones who gives her messy kisses at the school bus. She writes angsty poetry full of sappy rhymes and hackneyed phrases about loss and misunderstanding and longing and love. But there is also the deep pull of old Southern voices: Faulkner, Williams, Twain. Her answer now is a safe one: “a teacher, maybe English? Or, um, elementary school?” In her heart, though, there is another answer that scares her, so she doesn’t reveal it. “A writer.”
At twenty-one, she isn’t asked the question much anymore. She is a teacher, just like she said she wanted back in high school. Nineteen four-year-olds adore her, filling her mornings with painted pictures and sticky fingers and ferocious hugs. Her name has changed, and he is going to medical school, so one of these days she thinks she might not have to be a teacher. What then? If she asks herself the question, she has a ready answer. “A master’s degree, a doctorate of education…. A college professor.”
Tricky time moves on, and five years go by. Funny how the events of our life bring us back to our beginnings. She looks down into bright blue eyes that mirror her own. She cuddles the baby close to her heart, pats his sweet blonde hair, strokes his face so much like his father’s. She has an answer, now, a final answer. There may be descriptions to add, there may be credentials to list, but they will not be the most important things. When all is said and done, what she wants to be is a mommy.