The images and words flashed across the screen. Most of the answers bore a theme typical of that age: Sirens are cool; accounting is not.
It was kindergarten graduation and before each graduate marched across the stage in the miniature caps and gowns manufactured just to make their parents weep, a video was played of each kid explaining what he or she wanted to be when they grew up.
A photo of a little girl with long blond braids popped up on screen. Splashed across the bottom of the picture was the word “cashier.”
Her mother was chagrined. “A cashier?” she moaned. Why didn’t she want to be a doctor or a teacher or a police officer like everybody else? A few days later the mother confided that her daughter did aspire to loftier later-in-life dreams but that for the present she just had a hankering to run the cash register. I completely understood.
When I was in the first grade, my class took a field trip to the grocery store. The actual tour of the store is a blur, but I distinctly remember the ending. A cashier wearing a green pocketed vest placed a box of tissues on the conveyor belt. She demonstrated how to ring it up and then gave us a thrill: we were all going to get a chance to ring up the box too. I anxiously waited in line for this glorious opportunity. But when my turn came, although I glided the box over the scanner with a steady hand, there was no accompanying beep. The UPC had not read. I was permitted a second chance. Following the suggestion to go faster this time, I swiped my carefully angled box at a quicker pace. Silence. The teacher said that others were waiting, so I reluctantly had to cede the box to the pair of eager hands behind me, almost all of whom got a satisfactory beep. The fact that I hadn’t been able to ring up that box was the mother of all let downs.
Imagine my unfettered delight some twenty-something years later at the advent of the self-checkout. For some people, these do-it-yourself stations were a novelty. For others they were a waste of time. For me, they were redemption. I felt vindicated as I swiped my purchase across the glass and heard the machine chirp. Victory was indeed mine.
Fast forward from elementary to high school. I was the girl with braces, glasses and bad skin. To call those years awkward is being immensely kind. I baby sat on the weekends for a family from our church. One day the little boy asked me about the “things on my teeth.” My mouth-wear was a new addition and it had already rubbed my gums and my self-consciousness sensitive. I told him what they were and then he told me, “Someday I hope when I grow up I get glasses and braces.” I hugged him.
It’s about the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me. Bar none.
Long before we aspire to fame and fortune and good hair days we aspire to the most unencumbered of things: childhood dreams.