Journal

Roles and Role Models

Written by Amber Dowler

I don’t have kids, but if I did (or when I do), I would guess that they’ll be nerf-gun-slinging, bad-karaoke-singing, dirty, sometimes stinky, weirdos.

They’ll be the Picasso of watercolors and the Serena of family tennis matches. They’ll enter unofficial rap battles and walk through mud puddles in their ballet shoes. They’ll do kitchen karate and bake bad muffins that I’ll have to pretend to eat but really just feed to the dog.

My kids, like most, will be encouraged to try not only synchronized ice skating, but amateur fencing, and harp lessons, too. And when they want to ride dirtbikes after going to Space Camp, I’ll happily swap out their helmets and set ’em lose.

Kids lives are synonymous with possibility. When you’re a kid, everyone is watching and waiting to see what you’ll become.

We’d hate to define them as an ice fishing prodigy if it means that we might overlook their true calling to be a celebrity interior designer. We won’t paint their nursery a gender assigned color for fear that it enforces stereotypical ideas about gender roles.

But at some point, the paradigm shifts and we start shuffling them toward a label.

After all, we went through the same departure gate from malleable growth to limited opportunity.

In the midst of grade school and growing up, the promise of choice dwindles, and we gravitate like flies toward a set career path, expectations, and reality.

Our role gives us purpose, a paycheck, and something to tell other people so that when they ask, we can tell them a three sentence summary of our job, singular-minded hobby, and marital status.

After childhood, our identity, like our favorite color, no longer changes.

We bury the kid who mixed Mountain Dew and Pepsi just to see what it would taste like, and we invest in short phrases that are universally recognized.

From memory, we spew out that we are coffee drinkers and night owls. We say that we can’t possibly learn to like peas because we never have, and that our bad habit of screaming when we’re mad is hardwired and unalterable. We say these things so often that they lose their meaning, and the longer we compile them as a definition of ourselves, the more limiting they become and the less likely they are to change. 

We learn to lack the imagination to still see ourselves as a blank slate, waiting to be colored in, scribbled on, or folded up like an origami crane.

A dog is a dog and a hat is a hat and you can’t learn to like running if you’ve always hated it.

Except that a dog is sometimes a wolf, and hats can double as nifty boats, and the human body can be trained to perform any skill with enough perseverance and dedication.

Everyday, the universe delivers countless examples of people who defy limitations. People are so adaptable that they learn to run with prosthetics, surpass life expectancies, and beat addiction.

A man defined as an alcoholic becomes sober. A child categorized by their poverty goes to college. A woman labeled as shy becomes an outspoken advocate for a cause she believes in.

Don’t you dare define a child by putting them in a box, but ask any adult and they’ll climb in themselves.

You can learn to skateboard at 4 or 40. One might hurt more, but the opportunity is there. The value of possibility doesn’t discriminate by age.

Seven weeks ago, a new baby was born into my family. He’s a blank slate–moldable, malleable, and to be honest, pretty chubby.

I think that as he grows, I’ll diversify his birthday presents to include a chef hat and a tool belt and guide to cross-stitching, so that his imagination won’t be dulled when people label him as a basketball player because of his inherited stature.

And I’ll also use him (and my future wild-haired, crazy-legged kids) as a way to remember that possibility is always limitless. As humans who are souls and who have bodies, we all possess the ability to fold and refold our paper to be any shape we like.

About the author

Amber Dowler

Hi, I’m Amber. I am a traveling TEFL teacher, amateur skateboarder, and puppy gazer. I’m a vegetarian, but I’m dating a hot hunk of meat, and we have a beautiful rescue puppy together named Rafiki. I’ve called many places home, but nothing compares to the Midwest.

You can follow me on my blog at http://smellslikeamericanspirit.com/

but please don’t follow me around the airport because I never dress nicely for flights and the TSA takes any odd behavior pretty seriously these days.