‘Mama, I’m really worried. I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up!’

Juliana is seated across from me, we are having lunch, and her otherwise bright eyes shroud with anxiety at the thought.  My first impulse was to chuckle and dismiss  her little fear, but I stop myself.  After all, I was her age once, too, and I still remember how concerns of that nature seem every bit as real as those the more serious ones adults deal with.

Should I tell her now that dreams, like plans, change every so often?  And that one day at a time is basically how you do it? Do I try to make her understand that at some point you don’t really worry too much about life and instead just get on with it, having enough faith to believe that it will all just play out, as it was meant to anyway? Will she believe me if I tell her that I sometimes wish I was again 13 years old moving in a corner of the world much smaller than the one I find myself in right now, the luxury of time before me, with a bundle of cares so easily manageable they do not carry with them the power to seriously trouble either heart or mind? I see her and her friends together, all ruddy-faced and bright-eyed, playing football, eating pizza and chocolates endlessly, listening to music as they giggle about events in their lives as they know it. It is a magical age, 13, a part of you still a child but the prospect of being a teenager already there, but not quite so yet.

What do I wish I knew at 13? I try to think back to that time in my life, when I swapped books and read everything from Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys to Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High  (from there I graduated to Barbara Cartland and Mills and Boons and then Danielle Steele, whose work I enjoyed for quite a bit until I caught on that she seemed to have a penchant for killing characters she wanted to write out of the story), when I still half-believed in fairy tales, when I could pour the drippings of microwaved bacon over a heap of rice guiltlessly, and fun meant having friends sleep over and not having to wake up early for school the next day.

I know I always had a jumble of dreams, they shifted as the years went by, each one as different as the next.  And not only did I not know for sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, the same did not even bother me.  Mommy had this manicurista named Manang Belen; in Ormoc back then there were no beauty salons and most everyone did house calls —the dressmaker, the tailor, the person that cuts hair, those that sold tela and other imported goods.  Even steamed corn, fresh fruits, live fish and seafood were lugged around in round vats and sold from house to house.  Anyway. Manang Belen would always arrive with a little bag filled with little bottles of nail polish, mostly in every conceivable shade of red, and I would sit by Mommy as she settled onto an easy chair to have her nails done. I was fascinated by what back then seemed like Manang Belen’s prowess as she sat on a very low stool; this ability to, with a set of stainless tools, trim, brush, and buff nails until they were pretty as can be. Then she would apply ruby red nail polish with very careful strokes, sealing her work with a coat of clear nail polish, but not before kneading the hands and fingers with lotion. Ahhhh. Lovely. Many times during that period I was convinced I, too, wanted to be a manicurista when I grew up, just like Manang Belen, with this ability to not only make things look pretty but also make an experience out of it.

But then I went to school and as my world grew bigger I played with the idea of being many other things — an interior designer, the owner of a charming little bed and breakfast inn, a doctor, a wife and mother.  At one point I knew I wanted to have a nice office space, overlooking some spectacular view, but doing exactly what I did not really know. Yes, there were dreams that were clear-cut, and then there were those that were hazy, with the details yet to be figured out, one day.

So see, it’s all vague that way, I tell her. Our dreams change with time, and maybe at best we are guided in the core by that which we are passionate about.  In the best-case scenario, we make a living doing some work we love. That is a gift in itself, the cake plus the icing on it.

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What will you be when you grow up? Even I cannot answer that. I only know that we are rarely ever stitched to just one dream and my prayer is that you will be exactly who God designed you to be. I find comfort in this, knowing that God has a beautiful plan laid out for you, as He does for each of your friends, and what is required is that you consent to its unfolding.

So no, don’t worry about it too much, Juliana. It will happen as it should.  When the time comes you will know, with a quiet peace in your heart, that you are doing exactly what you were meant to, and you will be remember how, at 13, you worried so much about the not knowing only to realize you had nothing to be anxious about after all.

 

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