The other day I went snooping through my son's Google account (this should be a requirement for ALL parents of adolescents). And I did find something shocking. Stories that he's been writing. Lots, and lots, and lots of stories. A few of them were clearly meant to be the beginning of a book.
Throughout my son's 11 years of life I have tried to facilitate his interests. When he was two he became interested in Ancient Egypt and so we went to the library and found countless books on the subject. By three and a half I was reading him Egyptian mythology as bedtime stories. I took him to see artifacts and taught him how to spell his name in hieroglyphics. But it was also around the height of his fascination with Egypt that he expanded his interests to include dinosaurs and paleontology. So again, we got books, we went to museums, we collected fossils, we even checked out fossil replicas from the Los Angeles Natural History Museum's educational department so we could study them in our home for a week. And when he told me he wanted to be a paleontologist I thought of the tedious work of cleaning fossils with a toothbrush, the grueling hours of digging in the hot sun and the mediocre to low pay and I said, "If that's what you want to do, I'll support you all the way."
After all, it's his choice, his life. I'm not going to judge or tell him what his priorities should be. I continued to support him when he updated his goal from paleontologist to paleo-geneticist. I'm not even sure there IS such a thing as a paleo-geneticist but if he wants to pioneer a new field, more power to him.
But a writer? That one's a little harder for me to get behind. In the last eight years I've written and published 6 books, a short story and a few articles and essays. The ups and downs of this profession are intense. The rejection gut wrenching. The wins fleeting. It's a hard life. I've chosen it for myself and while I don't regret it I do occasionally wonder what it must be like for those who have a passion for other things like, oh, I don't know, accounting. If there's a kid out there who is lying in bed, dreaming of becoming a CPA, well I think that's a kid who's going to be okay. His path has been tried, tested and is ready to go. And until the government comes up with a tax structure that is easier to understand (yeah, right) there will always be a demand for those who have a love of adding, subtracting and turning family vacations into deductible expenses.
And yet my whole philosophy as a parent is to support my son in any and all educational extracurricular endeavors he chooses to pursue. I'm not the Tiger mom. I'm not going to force my kid to play the piano if he hates the piano and I'm not going to force him to practice tennis for four hours a day thereby turning something that was once enjoyable into a chore. But I will help him to understand that pursuing his passions, be they in science, history or some kind of creative expression, can be an exciting and invigorating thing to do and more than worthy of his focus and dedication. So who am I to advise him against harboring dreams of becoming a writer if that's what he wants? Who cares if it's a tough profession? It's not like there's a huge job market for paleo-genetists either.
Of course the difference is that I have no idea what it's like to try to break into and sustain yourself within the field of paleo-anything. I DO know what it's like to be a professional writer. I have the burden of too much information.
So I asked him. In the most neutral voice I could conjure up, I asked if he was interested in becoming a professional writer. He paused, thought about it, and then said, "I think it's better as a hobby." I suppressed a squeal of joy and settled for a nonchalant nod of agreement.
And yet when he created a storyboard to help him put together a play and recruited another friend to write the score, I began to wonder if "hobby" had been a euphemism for "serious career possibility." Ah well. I'm getting my seatbelt on and my pom-poms out. This could be a bumpy ride and I intend to suck it up and cheer him on all the way.
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