"So, what do you want to do with your life?"
I despair of having to say "I don't know" to this question, not because I think it's shameful not to know, but because in my case that answer is a lie. I know quite well what I want, but my answer is unacceptable, so I hesitate to give it. It's also long. Most people asking this question of someone my age expect to hear a college major rattled off and that's it. It's the young adult version of "What do you want to be when you grow up?" The asker doesn't care; he or she just wants to hear a kid say "a teacher" or "a firefighter" and chuckle over how cute that is. At my age they're just checking to make sure your answer is practical and within the limits of current mainstream thought. Mine isn't.
Here is what I really, truly want to do with my life: I want to fall in love, with someone who can be my best friend, and who shares my desire for a peaceful, vibrant family life. I want to marry them, and then I want to have babies. I want to nurse them, cuddle them, pick them up when they cry, and let them fall asleep next to me. When they turn five I want to celebrate it as a birthday, not as a whole new era in life, because for them it won't be. Formal schooling will only be a part of my children's lives if they choose it for themselves. Otherwise, learning will come like the air they breathe.
In terms of material things, I don't need much. The fast-paced, money-driven life of most Americans doesn't appeal to me; I have always seen money as a tool rather than a goal. I don't want a new house on a cul-de-sac and a shiny SUV. I want an old, simple farmhouse with just enough room for my family, on a piece of land big enough to have some privacy and to let my kids explore. I want a fixer-up van - not fancy, but roomy and good for long trips. I want just enough money to help my kids learn what interests them, and to travel to see good friends and new places. I don't mind if we have to save up a long time for trips. The main thing is to have the time to go.
All of this is what I really care about. Everything else is secondary, and I have no interest in setting any goals that will undermine family life. I got out of the path to teaching not because of unschooling (someone has to work with all those kids who are stuck in school), but because it was quickly making me bitter. I didn't want to be cynical by 25 and hardened by 30. I saw this happening with other young teachers, and felt it starting inside me. I heard it in my voice when I spoke to the children. Even now I'm horrified at how close I got to becoming everything I'd ever hated. That's not to say that all teachers are unkind, but school is an environment where if you keep your heart soft it will ache every day. I'm convinced that the gentlest teachers must cry an awful lot. The rest simply learn not to care as much, and that's the path I found myself headed down. It wasn't worth it to me. Soft hearts are hard to come by in this world, and I intend to keep mine. My children will need it.
So when people ask me what I want to do, and I know they mean a career, I hesitate. I hesitate because I spent five years riding one train, just hopped off recently, and the next one hasn't pulled up yet. I also hesitate because, to be perfectly frank, the word "career" fills me with dread. It just does not seem natural to me to do the same thing for 40 years. Maybe it's in my blood; my dad never stayed in the same field for more than a few years at a stretch. I'm also still suffering from the biggest lie our culture hands down to children: that there are only a couple of dozen careers in the world, when really there are thousands. Maybe in those thousands lie something that interests me, but I haven't stumbled on it yet.
As for stuff I want to do, I could make you a list a mile long. I want to learn classical-style guitar, I want to get good at canoeing, I want to paint, I want to sew, I want to write stories. I want to take dance classes, and volunteer at the science museum. I want to make webcomics and become a good cook. Any of those things could become a career, but it will take time, and not one single damn one is an acceptable answer anyway. "Artist" is even lower than "stay-at-home mom" on the acceptability list; just a few rungs above things like "pirate", "stripper", and "janitor" (I could go on another rant about how janitors should get way more respect, but that's off the point here). Basically, everything I want to do is going to be wrong in the eyes of anyone who values careerism enough to persistently ask me about it.
So I shrug and change the subject. But I know what I want.
It just isn't good enough.