Thursday, October 21, 2004

these are the people in your neighborhood

When the more immediate voices in my head finally quiet a while – the ones screaming about the pain of labor, the upset of relationship, the trials of sleepless nights to come – there is another voice, still concerned but calmer and more pensive. It is the voice that asks how I will introduce my child to the world. How will I have him or her come to know it in a way that s/he will form a positive connection to it and scratch out a place in it from where s/he can feel purposeful and content?

Truly, I am still figuring out what I want to be when I grow up. How will I help a child find its own path? When I was in high school sitting in the guidance counselors' office, I always imagined they were the people who really never managed to get a handle on what they wanted to do. So instead, they helped other people look. The little career tests I took at that age in those offices (Do you prefer to work alone or in a group? … Do you enjoy being outdoors?…) suggested that I become a music conductor, a chiropractor, or a circus clown. Could it be possible that filling in bubbles with a number two pencil isn't the way to self-knowledge?

Clearly, external resources at our disposal on this point leave something to be desired. And if you need more examples…

I have a set of "multicultural fingerpuppets" that a friend gave me once to entertain me on a cross-country drive. They are cloth finger covers printed with cartoon images of variously colored people wearing uniforms corresponding to different occupations. Perhaps I could use them to break open options in my baby's mind. But they are the usual suspects – doctors, teachers, lawyers, the occasional construction worker. (I think I'll remove all the doctors before sharing it with my kid.)

Recently, I heard a news story about a man who's job it is to catch poisonous snakes and collect their venom for antidote serums. He's been at it some 30+ years. Perhaps, like me, you are wondering shouldn't there be a fingerpuppet of the poisonous snake catcher guy? (Okay, yeah, and I'm also wondering about the "Is he insane?" part too.) Noble mother that I am, I want my baby to know there are people in the world who make there living collecting venom. (Do you prefer to work alone or in a group? … Do you enjoy being outdoors?…)

Then there's the game Careers. Anyone remember this Parker Brothers board game? It's old. I think it was already old when I was little. There must be some floating about on e-bay. Get yourself one. It is wholly amusing. The object of the game is to move around the board and eventually "succeed" by gaining sufficient points in Fame, Happiness, and Money. There are eight career paths you can choose from on the board that tell volumes about a simpler time and a simpler world. (And make me giggle every time I read them.) The careers are: Hollywood, Politics, Going to Sea, Big Business, College, Farming, Expedition to the Moon, and Uranium Prospecting in Peru.

The box for the game is of course broken, and in our last move some of the "Opportunity Cards" escaped and have come to settle in random places about the house. Every so often I'll turn over a small card I find on the coffee table that tells me "Opportunity to enter business. Meet normal requirements." or, "Special opportunity to enter Hollywood … because of your great beauty, all expenses paid!"

Amusing as hell this game, and yet inadequate to serve as a window into possibility for a new soul.

Maybe a more appropriate game might be a matching game. To some degree, fulfilling the potential of each unique self is a matter of matching what skills that self brings with it and what it can apply those skills to once it's arrived in this world. But we still have the first step of how to discover what's in the soul suitcase to begin with. That's why the matching game would be something akin to concentration – part memory – the player would have a vague notion that they'd seen that card before somewhere. I complain that kids are pushed into "career choices" too early. But maybe I'm off-base here. What if it's not early enough? Maybe the closer to birth you can tease out of them what they like, have them play, picking up the snake venom collector card or the circus clown card and trying to find its mate, the better chance they have of retrieving, from watery memories, who they are meant to be.

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