Like many young children, my son (who starts kindergarten in a few weeks) already knows what he wants to be when he grows up–an astronaut/scientist. That’s been his career ambition for a year now. Lately, however, he’s been preoccupied with the dangers involved in being an astronaut.
Last Saturday, as we were driving home from shopping, he said, “Going into space isn’t dangerous, is it?”
[A bit of background: This boy is an extremely cautious child who once, upon seeing some older girls climb up on un-safe rocks, spontaneously threw a small fist into the air and shouted, “We don’t do dangerous things!” It’s kind of his motto.]
“Well, actually it can be very dangerous,” I replied. I went on to explain that space travel can be very risky because of the great distances involved, the complicated machinery, and the fact that in space, there is no 911.
“But, space shuttles don’t have accidents, right?”
“Actually, there were two shuttles that had very bad accidents. There were problems with their equipment, the shuttles exploded, and all the astronauts died.”
“How do you know that?”
I calmly explained that I had seen pictures on television at the time the events happened, and I had also read about it in the newspaper. This seemed to satisfy him, and the discussion ended.
On Sunday, as we were driving to church, he suddenly said, “I’m just going to be a scientist.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not going to be an astronaut. It’s too dangerous,” he replied, with some sadness in his voice.
“Well, you know honey, you could still work with the astronauts. They need a lot of scientists to help them go into space.”
It was quiet for a moment, then I heard a delighted gasp from the back of the car. I peaked into the rear view mirror and caught a glimpse of his smiling face.
“I could build space ships for the astronauts!” he shouted. “And, I’ll also build them robot butlers!”
That evening, after he’d taken his bath, he went down to the living room and started working with legos. I came down a bit later to find him busily creating a “transformer space shuttle” (It has rockets that drop off and everything!) He told me that, “This transformer explores space and never has any problems.”
It occured to me that what my son was doing, both in his conversations with me and in his lego-building, was not simply a child in play. What I witnessed was a person trying to figure out who he is, how the world works, and how he can best contribute to this world. If today’s events are any indication, he may end up doing great things.
There is also a dark shadow-story here. I can’t help but think of all the children living in war-troubled countries who don’t have the peace or time to quietly ponder anything, let alone how they might someday make the world a better place.
Yet, this is ultimately a hopeful story. As bad as things are right now, as messed up as the world is getting–there is at this moment a generation of children trying to figure out how the world works and how they fit into that world. Many of these children already want to do good and make a positive contribution. (Shoot, our toddler already loves to help with the laundry!! Nothing makes him happier than to pitch in!) There is much hope in that.
P.S. I posted this on DKos a few days ago, so some of you may have read it before.