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I’ve worked in optical for almost fifteen years. As you can imagine, I have seen many people, a lot of families and a lot of parents, in that amount of time. Certain people stand out even years after I last saw them. One lady and her two sons popped into my head as I held and rocked my own two small boys one recent night.

We will call her Jane. Jane’s sons were about 6 and 8 the last time I saw them, both had dark hair and big dark eyes. They were sweetly chubby and out going. Jane herself was nice enough, a stay at home mom who threw herself wholeheartedly into raising her sons. They were in the office one day, picking up a pair of glasses for her older son. While my co-worker took the glasses in the back to adjust them, I was sitting behind the desk checking in orders, half listening to Jane discuss school with her eight year old. I cannot remember exactly what he said, but it had to do with his grade in a particular subject. What I do remember was Jane’s very icy tone of voice when she said,

“Well, you better bring that grade up. You know we raise doctors and lawyers in this family.”

It made me sad then, and it makes me sadder now. I get it parents, trust me, I get it. Everyone wants to be able to brag about their children’s accomplishments one day. My husband begs Truman to use his left hand so he will be worth more as a major league pitcher (for the Detroit Tigers, of course) one day. I stare into Grant’s sleeping face and imagine all of the wonderful things he’ll grow up to do. We would all love to have our children become movie stars, famous athletes, Nobel Peace Prize winners and of course, an almighty doctor or lawyer. It would be great wouldn’t it? They would be educated and wealthy, they could travel the world. They would own beautiful homes and exotic cars and take care of us in our old age. Their children could have everything they ever wanted. Hell, they may never even have to count down the minutes to pay day!

But what if they don’t become one of those wonderful things? If Jane’s son wasn’t able to bring that grade up? If he struggled through high school and wasn’t accepted into a great college? What would happen if he just didn’t want to be a doctor or lawyer, but instead an artist, or a truck driver, or a contractor? Where is his place in this family if he isn’t a doctor or lawyer?

I have made the decision to not care what my sons decide to do for a living. I care about them getting the best education possible for as long as they want to pursue it, whether that ends at high school graduation or with a doctorate. I care about them working because they cannot live in my house, and certainly no one else’s, for free, so income is a must. I will let them know that having money is less stressful sometimes than not having money, but it is by no means a prerequisite for happiness. I feel like there are so many more important things for them to be than just a doctor or a lawyer.

I want them to be healthy.
I want them to be kind.
I want them to be interesting.
I want them to be funny.
I want them to be compassionate.
I want them to be loving.
I want them to be creative.
I want them to be excellent husbands and fathers (if they choose to be husbands and fathers.)
I want them to have fun.
I want them to be confident.
I want them to be resist the urge to take anything at face value.
I want them to be surrounded by love.
I want them to appreciate life as the amazing gift that it is.
I want them to fight for what they believe is right.
Above all else, I want them to be truly happy.

If they can be even half of those things, then I don’t care if I raise doctors and lawyers. My sons can cure cancer or sweep streets. They can design skyscrapers or flip burgers. I honestly do not care what they do to make money, as long as they can pay their bills. I don’t care how big their houses are. I don’t care if their children are spoiled rotten with anything other than love. I don’t care if none of my old lady friends covet me. I don’t care who knows their names or their list of accomplishments. I care that they wake up every morning feeling excited for another day on Earth and go to sleep at night feeling fulfilled. They have already made a beautiful impression on this world, simply by being alive.

I don’t know what became of Jane and her sons. By my estimation they would be around 18 and 20 now, and maybe in college working toward law degrees. If they are, I hope it is because that is what they really want to do and not because they feel like they have no other choice. I hope somewhere between that day in the office and now, Jane realized that what she was saying to her son was a display of very conditional love and she quit saying it. With any luck, her son never heard it again and knows that no matter what he decides to be when he grows up, he is loved.