I’m reading Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the title, the book is based on a lecture Mr. Pausch gave in 2007. He was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University who had months to live before pancreatic cancer would claim his life. His speech, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” got me thinking about my own.
It was an odd experience to pause my current life as mother, wife, writer, and try to think back to the girl I once was and the dreams I once had.
My first childhood dream was to be a writer. Mrs. Jones, my second grade teacher, made me my first book. Actually, it was two pieces of yellow construction paper that acted as the covers and was filled with the “good paper” -- the white paper with blue lines. Those were for my stories. Unfortunately, I remember more about the paper than I do what I put on that paper.
I remember trying to make my own family newspaper and anxiously awaiting junior high school when I could join the school paper. Except, when I did get to junior high, the school newspaper had been discontinued due to budget cuts, and I was forced to envy Elizabeth Wakefield, one of the twin protagonists from Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High series as she toiled away on her school paper, The Oracle.
I can remember going to a special program at our local library and being asked what I wanted to do when I got older. I had dressed “professionally” for this meeting -- a skirt and blazer, and I had a notepad to jot down important facts. I answered that I wanted to write stories.
My second childhood dream was to be an astronaut. I wanted to explore the unknown, break free of Earth’s gravity where I saw conflicts and judgment. Space was untouched, still peaceful. Outer space offered humans another chance to do things right, or more right than we were on Earth. I studied the manned space program, memorized important dates in the history of space exploration, wrote down the names of the original Mercury astronauts in my junior high school notebook.
As an added bonus, I saw my dream of becoming an astronaut in direct alignment with my dream of writing. Most people would never experience space flight. I could share my observations with them. I could bring the public along for the ride, and hopefully, convince my readers that funding America’s manned space program should still be a necessary part of our national budget.
I knew that my dream to be an astronaut was demanding, difficult, and dangerous. And in the end, I gave up.
In high school, I became intrigued by teaching after I volunteered in my former elementary school classroom. I connected with students, enjoyed interacting with them, and saw teaching as something I could realistically do.
I went to college and didn’t immediately declare a major. I was too afraid to become an astronaut. I didn’t know how to go about becoming a writer. But, teacher. That was something I could do.
I earned my degree and secured a teaching job, teaching for twelve years in a local elementary school. And during those twelve years, teaching became my passion. Encouraging my students to be their best versions of themselves, loving them because they’re young children, helping them to look at the world and see themselves in it -- those were my goals.
The more I taught, the more disappointed I became with the educational system. The more I saw wrongs in the way children were prepared for school, the way parents didn’t treat their children as the treasures all children are. Yet, I never would have left teaching. It was a good job, I was good at it (despite what the Los Angeles Times may think about my students’ test scores), and I knew that when I went home at the end of the day, I had done something that mattered.
And yet all this passion and energy I felt for something that had never been a childhood dream. So what then of my childhood dreams?
Back to The Last Lecture. In my mid-thirties, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. It’s not a terrible diagnosis. I know I’m lucky, and I could be battling something so much worse. But in any respect, this disease has taken me from my teaching position. Now, I must look and see what it’s giving me.
It’s giving me a chance to go after my first childhood dream. For twelve years, I was “Mrs. Kennar.” Now, I am writing regularly, and my writing is reaching readers. I am “Wendy Kennar, writer.”