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Childhood dreams: From dump trucks to diplomas

Where along the way do children stop wanting to be blue collar workers and start desiring a college degree instead?

When I was little my mom had this book that chronicled my childhood. Each year I would fill in the blanks: Weight, height, friends, what you want to be when you grow up. My aspirations from first grade to sixth grade ranged from receptionist to nurse (I can say, I did fulfill that childhood dream of being a receptionist when I worked for Gonzaga University, and it turns out I’m terrible at remembering names and using copy machines.) Finally, by around seventh grade I decided I wanted to be a journalist, and unlike most kids, I stood by that goal through college.

My good friend, who has two boys under the age of 5 and who helped inspired this series of children’s books about the trades, told me her boys wanted to be things like garbage men and firefighters. Of course, every little boy wants to be a firefighter, but a garbage man? While it may come with some odor-filled days, being a garbage man is a job that none of us should turn up our noses at. Sadly, as children grow up, they are taught somewhere along the way that wanting to be a garbage man is “less than.” The reality is that garbage men are absolutely essential. We should have known this long ago, but a yearlong pandemic only proves that notion as many of us sat snuggly in our homes while the garbage men of the world still picked up our empty takeout boxes on a weekly basis.

When do childhood dreams shift from being a garbage man to spending years in college not knowing what you want to do while racking up debt that rivals a mortgage payment?

My lineman husband did not jump right into linework after college. He took the path most traveled—college. He had scholarships (i.e. money to burn) so he went to school, all the while not really knowing what he wanted to do (although, he actually always wanted to be a lineman all along). But as far as school, he had no clue. So, he went for the token business degree, which would hopefully lead him into…business? Sure.

Looking back, it’s easy to see that my guy, “Spanky the Lineman,” was not cut out for business. Don’t get me wrong, he’s very business savvy and has made plenty of dough on fantastic real estate investments that my wordy, flowery brain would have never been able to compute (nor would I have had the nerve to gamble the way we did without his confidence). However, he just wasn’t built to sit at a desk all day. I mean, the guy now works on power lines for eight hours then goes out metal detecting for another five hours in a day—I rest my case.

What I’m trying to say is that we need tradesmen and women. We need people who will replace woodpecker-pecked power poles. We need people who will weld metal pieces together. We need people who will build houses. We need people who will repair leaky pipes—just like we need people who will take out our trash, even when the government shuts down the entire country.

We don’t need four-year degrees to do these things. Instead, we should accept that we are all made a little differently. Some of us can serve our purpose and be content behind a desk, but then there are those that just wouldn’t survive that way.

Not to mention, none of us would survive without “those” people—tradesmen and women and the blue collar nation.

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