The question was “What kinds of jobs interest you?”
Ros’s (immediate) answer was “Jobs with clothes on.”
Game over; we have a winner.
Seriously, I hope this is still her answer in thirty years, because if it is, her chances of professional satisfaction are extremely high. I really want that for her.
We do this thing now where every night around the time when Ros starts asking for dessert, we pull out this book called Q&A a Day for Kids and ask a question, which everyone at the table then answers. Since Daddy is generally the question-asker, we let him finish eating his dinner before we get started, and then the book comes out. There’s a page for each day of the year with a single question at the top, and space underneath to answer three times in three different years. The charm is obvious: let your three-year-old answer questions like a three-year-old, and then later marvel at the changes (or lack thereof!) in the way your future five-year-old answers the same question.
Some of the questions (“Do you believe in aliens? Explain?”) inspire less excitement than others. What is Ros going to have to say about aliens? What am I going to have to say about aliens? But inevitably, everyone comes up with something, and it’s often more interesting than I could have anticipated. To me, for example, the word “alien” recalls more immediately a certain frame of mind about that which is other, rather than little green Martians or whatever. I was genuinely surprised to learn that about myself.
So imagine the “jobs” question being floated to the following: an attorney who majored in music in college; a professor of Italian on sabbatical; a VP at a green energy startup who once started his own company and then, in his words, “grew [it] right out of business”; and a former academic slash aspiring writer slash Language Center Interim Co-Director slash what have you. “What kinds of jobs interest you?” Even before Ros gave her perfect answer, we all roared with laughter.
I have been thinking since that moment about all four adults at the table (I won’t reveal their actual answers, but I said “plumber”) and how hard we have all worked to achieve professional goals. High achievers, all of us, and we have all been through a lot of stress and heartache over our respective career paths. Most of us took a pretty big left turn at some point, and we wondered whether it was the right decision and what people would think of us. We felt inadequate in our work, we felt overwhelmed, we felt disrespected and misunderstood. And we were right - we were disrespected and misunderstood sometimes. But even the snarkiest among us lived for the moments in our jobs when everything went right. In my case, those beautiful, shining moments were enough to keep me striving for years, thinking that if I could just stick it out for a few longer dealing with the crappy parts and just be a little better at the hard parts, I would get to do the good and satisfying and beautiful parts forever. I’m not sure it was the right choice to stay for so long. I sometimes wonder how my life would have/could have been different if I’d had an easier-to-satisfy professional goal, like, say, having a job with clothes on. Maybe it’s not too late to adjust my ideals…except that it is. I didn’t leave academia to pursue something more stable or reliable, exactly. I did make an important change, though: I started dictating the limits of my work hours much more clearly, and I started believing that my boundaries were good and healthy, rather than the one thing holding me back. A job that I can treat as though it is only one of the things that matters: that’s the kind of job that now interests me.
While I am sure we will enjoy the accumulated results of having done this little activity for three years, or for however long we keep it up, its greatest value to me lies in its simple, undemanding regularity night after night. Last night before dinner I caught myself getting excited because we were going to have two questions to answer, having had to skip the previous night due to Daddy rushing out for a 6:30 meeting. Not unlike when I get an e-mail from Amazon saying that the latest episode of The Good Place is now ready to view, and then I remember that we were so busy and tired last week, we actually have catching up to do now. That little realization gives me a momentary sensation of weightlessness. There is much to look forward to in the next three years, and there is much to look forward to in the next three hours. Catching up on togetherness definitely deserves my time now.