One day I felt compelled to put some predictions about my future in writing. I wrote my mom a letter stating I would never wear make-up or get married. Mom still has that note somewhere, stashed in "The Box of Embarrassment" along with pictures I've tried to burn of my teeth, pre-braces.
I decided that during my adult life, I would travel to Africa and study Chimpanzees. No joke. I wanted to live in a hut like Jane Goodall and secretly photograph monkeys. I envisioned myself observing them stealthily, until the monkeys accepted my presence, and let me name them. I would conjure up images of myself hiding in a tree, watching them in the jungle. Nobody knew I planned to be Jane Goodall; it was not something I shared. I had a copy of National Geographic Magazine from 1964 that featured her and her work hidden in my desk drawer. I bought it for a dollar in a junk store, and it was my dusty treasure. I'd sit under a tree of the swamp variety in my backyard with a tiny notepad and pencil, visualizing chimps frolicking in the trees.
Last week while I was looking for a winter coat for Baby Bigfoot in the attic, I tripped over a stack of National Geographic Magazines. Right on top of the pile was the old tattered issue featuring Jane Goodall on its cover. I picked it up, wondering what the heck happened to me. What would that 11 year old think if she saw me now, chasing children instead of monkeys? I know mom is relieved, but, in some ways, I feel unfulfilled. Life has turned out to be a restless search for purpose.
However, the adult me is a different person than that 11 year-old. Going to Africa on, say, a safari vacation would be cool, but I think I'm cured of the living-with-chimps fascination. So why do I sometimes feel like I’m missing something in life? Maybe that adolescent interest represented more than what it was on the surface. I didn’t really want to be Jane Goodall; I wanted to do something BIG, or be someone who contributed to society in a larger way. I think about that often. Watching my children’s faces light up when they see me gives me a sense that a large part of my purpose is being fulfilled, but not how my 11 year-old self expected.
I flip through the moldy magazine today, as I'm peeling a banana for my toddler. Currently I observe kids, rather than chimps, but they're pretty similar. The princess is saying something funny that I want to remember later when I'm writing, so I grab a pen, and scan the room for a piece of paper. Not seeing any, I write on a napkin and stuff it in my pocket. Meanwhile, I observe Baby Bigfoot figure out how to climb on top of the kitchen table. I grab a packet of sugar and scribble a description of his efforts on it, as I run to pull him down to safety. It turns out that I might be a domesticated version of Jane Goodall after all. I decide that life in the jungle of suburbia is better, since I really hate mosquitoes.
"How to make God laugh: Tell him your future plans." -Woody Allen