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“When I grow up?”

November 2004
“When I grow up?”

Suburban Memsahib

When Varsha was barely out of diapers, she was already in love---with an idea of a job. Every Friday morning, she would rush to the front door, pull up a seat and patiently wait for the garbage truck to make his rounds. "Garbage truck, garbage truck," she would clap her hands excitedly and yell in glee. If the weather allowed it, she would bound down the driveway and watch from behind the trash can. Chuck, the trash guy, would smile at her and wave and even to her extreme delight, honk the truck horn for her benefit. A couple of times he hoisted her on his shoulders and encouraged her to work the compactor. She was in love with the machine, with Chuck, and with the job. For the longest time, that's all she wanted to be when she grew up?a garbage truck driver.

Now, I know all of us desi moms probably get swept with the same brush?yes, we have a reputation for being pushy, for gently guiding our kids along certain career paths but I was resolved I wouldn't do it. I would encourage all my daughter's decisions and in a true Seinfeldian moment I must have told her, "Sure honey, there is nothing wrong with that." Still, I am embarrassed to admit, I heaved a small sigh of relief when she later declared she wanted to become a hairdresser instead, even though she still set aside her Friday mornings for her old pal, Chuck.

These days, there are lots of potential jobs vying for top slot: hairdresser, dog walker, and waitress. "I really like the ones where you have to say ?hello can you hold please,'" she told me the other day. "Oh, cool," I replied.

I can understand the fascination for these jobs especially because they see people actually doing quantifiable things all day. Still it would be nice, I think, to at least have them glance my way (or my husband's) and see what our professions have to offer. I mean surely we are glamorous too, aren't we?

"Dad, what do you do all day," Vrunda asked my husband once. "Manager?is that like sending emails all day," she wanted to know. Soon he was fending off questions such as: "isn't that boring," and "yes, but what do you really do all day," and more.

My journalism profession is only slightly more attractive to them but Varsha still cannot figure out why, in her words, someone would get paid to ask people questions. "You say I sometimes ask too many questions," she alleged when I offered her an explanation for what I did. She is right so I show her proof of my written word and she is a little more appeased. One day she came back home from school and told me that she had discussed what I did with her friends and then they had all agreed that I had a "cool job."

Their real dreams play out well in their fantasy play every day when they adopt all kinds of roles. "Is that a table for five?" Varsha will ask as she wipes clean our own dining table with Windex. They also love playing hairdresser especially with my hair. "You really need to color your hair, Mrs. Memsahib" they will tell me, pointing at my gray.

Then today, I caught Varsha playacting as a journalist. "From National Public Radio News in Washington, this is Ann Taylor," she pronounced in a familiar accent. "I like that NPR a lot," she confessed, "those guys are also journalists, aren't they," she asked and I could soon see her mind rapidly processing the information I gave her. "So that's it then, I will become an NPR journalist, a hairdresser and a waitress, I'll do all those things," she declared with a breath of finality. There, desi parent, that should make you turn green with envy.

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