By Karla Young
Bridget’s mom always told her she could grow up to be anything she wanted. She was smart, beautiful, and strong. She could be a doctor, or a lawyer, an engineer, or even the president. Bridget would smile and nod and say that she wanted to be a doctor.
But what seven-year-old Bridget really wanted to be was an elephant.
When she went to bed at night, Bridget imagined herself magnificent with gray skin, a trunk, tusks, and most importantly, big floppy ears. In the evenings after school, she read books about elephants and highlighted the pages with gold stars. She gave two stars to the fact that the oldest female leads each herd and three stars to the fact that elephants talk to each other using infrasound. She tore out the section about boy elephants leaving the family and decided that, when she became the matriarch, she’d let the boys stay.
Bridget’s parents encouraged her interest in elephants and took her to see the animals at the zoo. They gave her Schleich elephants, a video showing how to draw elephants, and a stuffed elephant from the World Wildlife Fund. They never even scolded her for writing in her elephant books. Still, Bridget didn’t tell them the truth.
When she told her friend Rebecca, the other girl nodded appreciatively. Rebecca wanted to be an animal too—a panther—so she could sit slinky in a tree, flick her tail, and flash her claws at people she didn’t like. Because it was a school holiday, Bridget and Rebecca spent all morning at Rebecca’s house playing elephant and panther in her bedroom.
When the girls went downstairs for lunch, Rebecca’s mom asked Bridget what she wanted to be when she grew up. Bridget responded that she wanted to be a doctor, which made Rebecca’s mom nod encouragingly.
“Oh, you’ll be a wonderful doctor. You’re so smart and kind. My Rebecca wants to be a nurse. Which is wonderful too. After she has her nursing degree, she can always go to medical school. You girls could become doctors together!”
Bridget and Rebecca looked at each other to acknowledge their shared secret. They thanked Rebecca’s mom when she handed them plates with apple slices and sandwiches. Bridget removed the turkey from her sandwich and slid it onto Rebecca’s plate. Even though elephants don’t eat meat, she accepted that her friend, the panther, would.
After lunch, the girls went back upstairs and pulled the plastic bin of Barbies out of Rebecca’s closet. Bridget dressed the President Career Barbie in a blue suit and handed Rebecca the polka dot dress and lab coat for the Doctor. Both girls thought that the dolls would look better in black fur and agreed someone should make a Panther Barbie. Bridget undressed the President Barbie and took a grayish Kleenex from the box on Rebecca’s shelf. She wrapped the tissue around the doll and attached it with a rubber band. She put the doll’s hair in ponytails for ears and bent her over to walk on four legs. Rebecca helped with the other Barbies until they had a herd of blonde-eared elephants.
“Let’s take them outside,” Bridget suggested. “They can walk on the savanna and stomp their feet.” The girls each carried an armful of elephants downstairs to ask permission to play in the backyard.
Rebecca’s mom was on a conference call with her boss, so she shook her head and silently mouthed “no.” She couldn’t watch them, so they had to stay inside.
The girls carried the Elephant Barbies back upstairs and made do. They imagined the overhead light was the sun, and the blue paint on the ceiling was the sky. When the Kleenex began to fray, the girls again dressed the Barbies as President, Doctor, and other Careers.
Soon Bridget’s mom arrived to take her home. In the car, she asked Bridget if she had a good time. Bridget nodded.
“Of course you did,” her mom responded. “Rebecca’s such a smart, beautiful girl, and her mother’s so accomplished. What was the best part?”
Bridget thought for a moment. “We made Barbies into elephants and her ceiling into the sky. I realized that if I pretend hard enough maybe I really can be whatever I want when I grow up.”
Bridget’s mom smiled in satisfaction.