My six year old wants to become a “Mermaid singer-dancer teacher” when she grows up. She is so sweet about it. She envisions a life of glamour, fun, and magic. My heart is aching. Of course, I know she will not become a “Mermaid singer-dancer teacher.” Neither is she likely to become a singer or a dancer (nor do I want her to). But my heart is aching because as a mother I feel for the hopes and dreams of my children.
This makes me think about all of us. What happened to the childhood hopes and dreams we once had?
What child dreams of a life lived in a cubicle staring at spreadsheets, or being stuck in traffic every morning, or cleaning other people’s houses, or flipping burgers?
The other day I heard a story about a man, who came from a war-torn country in Africa to the US as a refugee in hopes for a better life. Now he works in a meatpacking factory. He is inside a cooling room for much of the day cutting and moving around dead meat. It took him a long time to get to where he is now. He feels safe. He has a job that “Americans don’t want” as they say. Currently, he is attending English classes so that perhaps one day he can move out of the refrigerator and into a job that is more comfortable.
What happened to his dreams? What happened to his family, his mother, and her aching heart?
I am not naïve enough to claim that we should or could all live our childhood dreams. First, most of those are not realistic, and second, reality has always had the tendency to catch up with us eventually (even in the good old days). The number of people who could actually achieve a life they envisioned at age six is small and has always been small.
Still, I wonder if, in this day and age, dreams and reality are further apart than ever before. The social mobility in the US is not at all what the “American Dream” promises. (Some evidence is discussed here https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/07/social-mobility-america/491240/
Education is helpful but expensive. Public universities have made an important impact on the lives of many in this country and CUNY (City University of New York) is one of these institutions – or group of institutions. However, forces have and continue to be at work – with deep pockets – to lobby for spending cuts for public education (the documentary “Starving the Beast” illustrates this very well: http://www.starvingthebeast.net/trailer/).
I say we don’t need politicians that listen to billionaires who want to cut investments for those who dare to dream. We need politicians who dare to dream with us.
What do you think? Leave me a comment.
5 thoughts on “Childhood Dreams”
Love the mermaid singer-dancer teacher. I can’t remember imagining having a job when I was six. I guess I wanted to be a mommy. At about 8 or 9, I remember for a short time thinking I wanted to be a nun.
My brother apparently wanted to be as garbage collector and my daughter at one point wanted to be a toll booth collector because it was an outdoor job but you could sit while doing it. (She wasn’t just lazy; exercise often brought on asthma attacks.)
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I love the modesty of your family!
I wanted to become a famous singer when I was little imagining making up the lyrics of songs on the concert stage (just as I did when pretending on the stoop of the farm house). My older daughter wanted to become a Olympic gymnast.
You might want to read some literature on sociology of parenting and class reproduction that have become really important in the past 3 decades. The most famous one is called Unequal Childhood by Annette Lareau, https://www.amazon.com/Unequal-Childhoods-Family-Update-Decade/dp/0520271424/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1517678899&sr=8-1&keywords=unequal+childhood
There are snippets of her argument here an there in Arlie Hochschild’s the Managed Heart.
In general, I see the argument to be very Bourdieusian: that is, working class parents and their middle/upper middle class counterparts raise children differently because they prepare them for different segments of the labor force. The verb “raise” here refers to the cultural capital/ knowledge transmission within the social institution of the family.
Let me know what you think after your read some of them. I’d love to hear your critique of those books from a parent’s perspective. I dont have any kid at this point, so I could only imagine what it is like to be a parent, and how to prepare my children for their dreams given economic, social, and political constraints that they might face.
Thank you Nga! I might check it out. Definitely class perspective and behavior is reproduced through parenting and cultural/social capital.
My parents never went to a museum with me and there were no role models for women in academia. ..
As for parenting, all I can say is that theory and practice are two different things!
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I totally agree that theory and practice are an ocean apart from each other!