What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life?

futureoccupations

Just about the most horrible thing you can ask a kid, other than “Do you want to watch Barney?”, is “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

My kids are 3 years old. You really expect them to have their lives mapped out already? If you ask my kids what they want to do later that afternoon, they’ll say, “Eat cookies.” That’s how much thought they’ve given to the future. But you want them to imagine a day when they’re paying into social security? Geez, let them be kids for five seconds. If you’re going to start pressuring them about their future, why not give them a sample SAT test while you’re at it?

How many jobs do you think my kids can even name? Around now, I’d guess 3: stay-home dad, TV executive and exploradora.

So I was a little disappointed when I found out their teacher asked them just that question. C’mon, I had a hard enough time picking a major in college. Can’t they just spend pre-pre-Kindergarten making snowflakes with construction paper and safety scissors?

OK, fine, the damage was already done, so I asked what they said.

“I want to be a train conductor!” Bennett announced.

“And I want to be a princess!” Sutton cheered.

It was worse than I’d feared. My kids were cliché.

I was going to discuss it further, but I wasn’t sure what to say. I mean “a princess”? Am I supposed to take that seriously? Should I have scolded her? “Would you really think about this? This is your life we’re talking about!” Better yet, am I allowed to hold this against them someday? “Hey, you said you wanted to be a train conductor. I’m not paying for law school!”

We were in the middle of getting some renovations done on our bathroom, and when we got home, there was a contractor in our front yard mixing cement.

“Hey, can you show the kids what you’re doing?” I asked. “It looks cool!” Princess, my ass, I thought. I’m going to show you kids what a job is.

I already knew the contractor loved the kids, so I figured he’d be on board. “Grab a shovel!” he told them. “You can help!”

cementSo my kids learned to mix cement, and from the way they talked about it afterward, it was probably the most thrilling thing they’d ever done. (Good thing the contractor didn’t make them stick around and watch it dry.)

I admit, I felt good about myself. Instead of asking my kids to narrow down their options for the future, I was expanding their concept of what was possible, introducing them to something new.

It’s how I feel about most things my kids do. If my son wants to wear a dress, great. Let him know how it feels to wear one. He has plenty of time to figure out his identity, so I’m not going to try to pin him down. I’ll just consider it a non-issue and appreciate his desire to explore. I make sure he knows that I’ll love him no matter what. It’s his job to figure out the “what”.

We told Drew all of this as soon as he got home that night. How they picked out their future professions in school and how, afterward, they learned a new trade. While Drew was wrangling them for bathtime, my cell phone rang. Private number. I wouldn’t usually pick up, but for whatever reason, I did.

“Hello Gerald? It’s Doctor ____. We just got the results of your blood test, and I have some bad news.”

Yeah, it was one of those calls.

“OK.”

“You have an extremely elevated potassium level. Because it is life-threatening, you need to get retested right away to see if we got an accurate reading.”

“Um…”

“Our urgent care facility closes at 9pm, so if you can’t make it there by then, you’ll have to go to the emergency room. I’d really recommend you go to urgent care.”

“I’ll go to urgent care.”

I don’t know how much of the call Drew overheard amid all the kids’ shouting and running around, but apparently, the word “life-threatening” had gotten through. I could tell that much from his petrified expression.

“Do you want us all to come with you?” he asked. His face had completely drained of color.

“No. It’s almost the kids’ bedtime.”

“But…”

It was only when I saw how Drew was looking at me that the term “life-threatening” really sunk in. It was as if he thought he might never see me again.

I hugged the kids and told them I loved them. What more could I do? Whisper “Goodbye forever!” just in case?

“Will you be back when we go to bed?” Bennett asked.

“Probably not,” I replied. “But I’ll be here when you wake up tomorrow.” (I hope.)

bananasI don’t know how I made it through the 15-minute drive to the doctor’s office. I kept thinking if the potassium didn’t give me a heart attack, my anxiety about the potassium surely would. How did I get so much potassium in my blood anyway? Fucking bananas!

The urgent care center was closing down as I walked in. The gift shop was dark and gated up already. Janitors mopped the entranceway, and there were no more patients in the waiting room. I walked up to one of the two receptionists, and she gave me a form to fill out.

Under “Reason for visit”, I wrote, “Blood test”. When I handed it over, she shook her head. “Oh, sorry, honey. The lab is closed.”

She passed the form back to me. “Hold on,” the other receptionist said. “You Mahoney? Oh, yeah. Dr. ____ called about you!” She grabbed the form and nodded. “Have a seat.”

This was not comforting. If there’s anywhere you don’t want to feel like a VIP, it’s at an urgent care facility.

The receptionist picked up her phone. “He’s here!” she barked.

A few seconds later, a nurse rushed out. “Mr. Mahoney?” I couldn’t tell if the nurse was rushing because she was worried about my potassium or if she was just anxious to go home for the night. She brought me back to an exam room. Along the way, everyone we passed looked up at me, as if wondering, “Is that him?” I almost expected one of them to call out, “Dead man walking!”

Within about half a second, the nurse had taken a new vial of blood and strapped me in for an EKG. “Are you a little nervous?” she asked.

“No. I’m a lot nervous.”

“There are a lot of false positives on this test. That’s why we retake it.” She finished the EKG, ran a printout to the doctor and then pointed me back toward the waiting room. “We’ll have the results in about 15 minutes.”

15 minutes is not a long time, unless of course you’re waiting for blood test results or, worse, sitting through 15 minutes of a Terrence Malick film. Much like it did during The Thin Red Line, my mind began to wander.

Death… my dad died when he was 61… I would be 41… I was 28 when my dad died… my kids would be 3 when I died… I have a lot of wonderful memories of my dad… My kids would probably forget what I looked like… Am I really going to die tonight? Here? Should I tweet something?

I used to think about death a lot when I was a teenager. It was just kind of a rite of passage as a gay kid, I guess. Depression, alienation, death. Too much Smiths music. But there was one thing that always brought me back, that gave me hope, and that was thinking about the following summer movie season. Stop thinking about death, Jerry. It’s a great time to be alive. There’s a new Back to the Future coming out!

I didn’t understand how people could commit suicide, and it had nothing to do with all the hurt loved ones they’d leave behind. Weren’t they curious as to what Spielberg was cooking up for next Memorial Day weekend?

Sitting in that deserted urgent care waiting room, there wasn’t a single movie I wanted to see or place I wanted to visit or experience I wanted to have in my life. My bucket list was complete, except for one thing. It was the only thing I could think about.

I just wanted to watch my kids grow up.

They’re such amazing people at 3 1/2, but who will they be at 18? Or 30? A train conductor and a princess? Right now, that was the best information I had. Something told me it might not stick.

I realized in that moment that all I’ve seen of my kids so far is a coming attraction — a teaser, really — and the old kind. The kind that doesn’t give away all the good stuff. I need to see how their story turns out. I don’t want to die. I can’t die.

I want to watch my kids grow up.

“Mr. Mahoney,” the nurse said. “Come on back.” She was smiling. So either the test results were good, or she was just happy that after this, she could punch out of her shift.

“We have about 2 or 3 of these false positives a year,” the doctor explained. “The blood starts to clot before they get the reading and hemoglobin antigens capillary stat…”. I’m not going to try to recap the medical explanation for why they scared the crap out of me for no reason. All I heard was that I wasn’t going to die.

toeI know the sitcom version of my brush with death would end with me learning some big life-affirming lesson, like not to take the important things for granted. But honestly, I feel like I already know that. You know Debra Winger’s “I know you love me!” speech from Terms of Endearment? Well, I subject my kids to that every time they get mad at me, just in case I slip on a sock puppet and break my neck against the train table before we get a chance to make up. It could happen.

This wasn’t a wakeup call about my health either. The urgent care center didn’t send me home with a stern warning to eat better or exercise more. Just, “Bye!” It was a lab error. I could’ve stopped for a taco grande and a skillet cookie on my way home, and don’t think I didn’t think about it.

But I realized that, if I went right home, I could actually make it there before the kids went to bed. I could tuck them in, tell them I loved them for — who’s counting? — maybe the 1,012th time that day and, best of all, ask them what they wanted to do tomorrow.

They’d probably say something like, “Eat cookies.” But for now, that’s all the answer I needed.

41 comments on “What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life?

  1. You are the most amazing dad I have EVER come across and as someone whose dad was not at all involved in my life it is heart warming! This post had me in tears. You are a brilliant writer too and your love and appreciation for your kids is incredible. Goosebumps all over. Keep on doing exactly what you are doing now and you will never have to have that fear of not having done something on your (faaaaaar in the future) death bed.

  2. Glad to hear you are ok! I had a health scare last spring, and yes , the only thing I could think about was wanting to see my son grow up.
    He made a art project based on what he wants to be when he grows up (he just turned 3), he wants to be a dog…

  3. Good to hear that you’re going to be okay. 🙂 You’re an awesome dad! It’s understandable about letting kids be kids. I’m 33 and in college…again. This time I think I know what I want to be lol! I changed my mind a lot when I was in grade school, then high school. Went in the Navy, traveled, had a baby. Still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I say let kids be kids too. 🙂 They have until High School to figure it out, right?

    • Thanks, Jenna. I think you going back to school at 33 sets a great example for your daughter. I’ve been pondering a career change myself for when I go back to work — and I’m 41! 🙂

  4. Wonderful to read but even more wonderful to get to the end and see the good result. My love to all of you with a sigh of relief. Your babies are very lucky to be able to grow up in their very blessed family!

  5. Really, really lovely Jerry! It’s the kind of thing I, as a mother of 3 half year old twins think about a lot! What will they be like, and I must take care of myself – I want to be around to see them grow!! Love reading your blog. Found some pics of you, drew and the children at Mummy & Me, that very 1st Halloween! Remember it! Xxxx

    • Hi Michelle! Always so good to hear from you! Give my best to William and Daisy. Can’t believe our kids are all getting so big. I’d love to see those Halloween pics if there’s any way you could email them or post them to Facebook. xoxo

  6. I am often reminded by family members that when I was young (4 or 5?) I said that when I grow up I wanted to be a microphone. Not an announcer, actor, singer, DJ, performer, or game show host. A microphone. (Familial history is a little cloudy on if I wanted to be a normal microphone or one of the long skinny ones like on Price is Right or Match Game.)

    • That’s fascinating. It really does seem like times are changing. Loved your blog post btw, not sure if my comment posted over there. I can’t wait to order Brontorina for my kids – both of them are obsessed with dancing.

  7. I know I’ve said it before, but I just love your use of humor when relating these stories. This, of course, was not a particularly humorous situation but I really appreciate the way you alleviate the tension with bits of humor. It is definitely one of the reasons that I enjoy reading your blog. That and your kids sound ADORABLE! Oh — and I totally agree that asking a 3 year old what they want to be when they grow up is silly. High five to you for working to broaden their choices!

    • Thank you and thank you some more! I remember when I wasn’t sure what the outcome of the the second blood test would be, I thought, “I need to come up with a good death line, just in case.” Life’s been good to me. Finding humor in it is my way of saying thanks.

  8. Damn you with your amazing parting lines that make me want to cry! Loved this one. It’s so true. Even my boys, too young to talk or understand where daddy goes everyday, are subject to this question. People often say “Oh, he’s going to be a football player!” Or “That one is smart! He’s going to be a doctor!” And I can’t help but think, “He’s TWO! Get a grip! Let him play with his toy tractor and sleep with his fuzzy and sippy. He’s a baby. Stop dictating his life already.” Oh well. As long as we show them as much as possible and support their fairy-princess-train-conductor dreams, then we’re good, right?

    • Ha! Yes, that’s even more annoying – the people who decide what the kids are going to be for them. And they always set the bar so high. No one ever picks something ordinary, like “She’s going to be a toll collector” or “He’ll be temping into his 30s”. Somebody has to do those jobs!

  9. I was eating a banana as I read this, and I almost spat it out! Deathly high potassium levels? That’s a thing?

    Also: awesome and adorable message, as always!

  10. “am I allowed to hold this against them someday?” – even better, you get to ridicule them for it on their 18th birthday, or, preferably, in front of their first (and every one thereafter) girl-/boyfriend. And then again on their wedding day. Graduation. Your choice.

    But seriously, I always admire kids for their outside-the-box professional choices. There is nothing that is impossible. What a way of looking at life!

    I am just glad you are alright and the bananas won’t prevent you from seeing your kids growing up.

  11. Beautiful post! I ask my daughter all the time what she wants to be when she grows up. Not that I am in a hurry for it to happen, far from it! But I like to hear what all of her answers will be as she grows and changes and becomes more amazing all of the time. So far we have gone from her aspiration of wanting to be a daddy, and now a fireman! As someone who once wanted to be a ‘tree’ I couldn’t be prouder of any answer she gives!

  12. It’s funny,you say your kids are cliche, yet you also say that kids have no idea past wanting cookies as to what they want in the future. Wile I think it’s rest that you got the tradie to show them about concrete – what fun to a 3 yr old, I still think that their cliched response is typical of most kids their age.
    Glad you are better, and you know you have to cherish every moment with your kids and partner 🙂

  13. There were so many wonderful things in that post….first and foremost that you are okay! I too had a health scare last fall and ALL I thought about was the “kids” -20 and 23- and how it would change their lives and who they were.

    And I know you will let them be who they are -which as we all know will change 4bazillion times. At 7 Kyle though said he wanted to be a scientist, and he is, but know the question is in what way to apply that dream in a world that has no set career paths anymore!

    Glad that your day ended with hugs for your babies!

    • That’s great that he pegged his future career at age 7. It must be comforting to have that kind of commitment to something for so much of your life – and i bet he’s a great scientist as a result!

  14. Glad things worked out and everyone okay.

    My eldest starts school in 2 days, and at age 3 he announced he wanted to be a farmer. He then decided he wanted to be a Nutrimetics lady (skin care company) as we had met a rep a few times and purchased things off her.

    He then decided he wants to be a Vet so that he can tend to his own animals without having to pay someone else.

    It was at this point his 13 year old cousin suggested this might be to much. Master 5 decreed he wanted to be a vet who owns a farm, and uses his farm to supply the food for his restaurant, named “Sebastian’s”(that is my 5 year old’s name), where he is the Chef and sells Nutrimetics to anyone who wants to purchase them.

    I have told him there is plenty of time for his to decide, he just needs to enjoy being a kid and worry about those things later, after all, Mummy is a teacher, who has worked disability, written for a local music publication, managed holiday properties and countless other ‘careers’ and is currently undertaking Phd in Psychology (so obviously no idea what I want to do either even though I have gate crashed my 40’s)

    Let them be little – as a teacher I would never ask what they want to be when they grow up…. Oliver (my 3.5 year old) wants to be a dolphin….or Pink/Lady GaGa 🙂

    • “Dolphin” is a great answer because it’s one of those things only a kid his age would come up with. “Pink/Lady GaGa” is even better, because he would be able to buy Mummy a very nice house. 🙂

      I’m more concerned about your eldest, who wants to raise animals on his farm, attend to their medical needs… and then apparently serve them to hungry customers at his restaurant. At least at Sebastian’s, you know your meal was loved before it was led to the slaughterhouse. 😉

  15. Sweet, touching post… And boy can I relate- to ALL of it! I have spent most of my life not worrying about my death in the slightest, until I had my babies. Then it all changed. I worry for what I will miss, but most importantly I worry for them. Yes, they would still have their other Mama (and a huge, loving support network of friends and extended family – we are quite blessed that way), but they would still have a deep loss. As much as I don’t want to miss out on seeing their story unfold, I am even more afraid of damaging them with my absence! (Sometimes I am equally afraid of damaging them of my presence, though. Like yesterday afternoon when I just had ENOUGH of their whining and bickering and had to flee the room, while yelling. Not my best moment.)

    I also loved what you wrote about the whole career-thing. Dude, wtf? How cliche’ for their preschool teacher to even ask them that? Jesus. I remember the pressure of that as a kid. Most of my family is sadly under-achieving, so everyone was shocked when I went to college and decided to have a career (no, mom, sitting on the couch and smoking weed all day is NOT a fucking job, okay? parents. jeeze!). But my dad’s dad is the exception: total uber-achiever. He used to pressure me all the time to go to UCLA like he did (with what money, Papa?!) and/or to join the air force and become a fighter pilot like he did (ha! as if). At one holiday party he got drunk and was pressuring me to pin down my future career, yet again (I was 10). I finally just said “lawyer,” to shut him up. In typical drunk-guy grandiose fashion, he then proudly announced that he was going to open up his own law firm in the morning and I would be his top litigator. I was terrified! How was I going to break it to him that I actually did NOT know how to practice law yet? Seriously, I laid awake all night worried about how the next day would play out.

    I’ve never asked my 4 yr old this silly question (nor have her fabulous teachers at preschool), but I often point out cool job ideas- like garbage truck driver (at 7am on Friday mornings, that seems like a cool job to us). Most of the ones I point out to her I actually hope she won’t choose, but I am unconcerned. My point is simply to show her that the world is wide open for her. And I hope we all get to live long enough to see it unfold!

    • I love the lawyer story. Kids sure can take things more seriously than you think they will. You also make the point pretty well that our parents do shape our career choices (or lack of them), so that’s one more reason I want to stay around and watch my kids grow up.

      Thanks for the comment!

  16. When I was in Kindergarten, my mom had already read the whole Ramona Quimby series to me so I wanted to be a paperboy like Henry Huggins when I grew up.
    The funny thing is, a few years ago I tried to get a job delivering newspapers and they didn’t call me back! Oh well, I hate getting up early anyway.

    • That’s awesome — except for you not getting a callback. What high standards does this newspaper have? I would’ve thought having a phone number to give them would be enough qualification to deliver newspapers.

  17. Awesome post! So true that we need to treasure every day for what it is. And with children, forget about rushing them to grow up. We should just enjoy them. Every minute of them being exactly who they are. And giving us the best jokes ever.
    I’m glad you’re okay! And I TOTALLY think of bananas whenever I think of potassium. Is there any other food with potassium? Haha.

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