On a hot August day in the summer of 1996, I started my first full time job.
You may know it as kindergarten.

We usually associate the word "imagination" with young children. We do this because when we're young, to imagine things is our job. We are full-time creators, and thats all anyone expects of us. In kindergarten we go to school, and we create things. Our tools are markers, paper scraps, an assortment of noodles, and rice, all held together by Elmer's Glue. When we get a little older, and learn to write real life words using a no. 2 pencil, and we are promoted. Our job then is to create stories. At this point, our imaginations had been cared for so delicately, and exercised so often, that creating a whole plot and illustrations around the man whose face is on the Pringles can was almost too easy. But what happened?

The next few years consisted of endless times tables, and concept of competition, and comparison was introduced. Who was smartest? Who was fastest? Who had the highest grade? What are you good at? Who are you going to be when you grow up?

In 1st grade I made books for people. I would fold up paper, staple it, and write inside them, illustrations included. I made probably a total of 100 books, and gave all of them all away. I also created a game for recess where we would run as fast as we could into trees. Only one person ever joined me.

In 2nd grade all I wanted was to have the most impressive show-and-tell item. The highlight of my year was when my dad let me bring in his anaconda snake skin. 

In 3rd grade all I wanted was to be a cheetah when I grew up. We were told to make a picture out of colored rice, and of course I made a cheetah. I can still remember what it looks like. What I remember about 3rd grade is my velcro watch, a black boy names Julian who danced on the desks and hit on me like we were 12, and being mad at God that he made me a human instead of a cheetah. 

In 4th grade I stopped reading and started thinking about money. You see, this is when I could start buying things. Our classroom had a whole system where we could earn fake money and buy treats to eat in class. From this came my interest in real money. I was at the age where I could ride my bike to the pool in the summer, and buy Lucas, or track down the candy man on my rollerblades and buy whatever bullet pop i wanted. In addition to this, 4th grade was when student government became relevant to me. I was the school treasurer. I am just now realizing how much money influenced my small 4th grade mind. 

In 5th and 6th grade, we all discovered such thing as a social hierarchy. There were mean girls, nice boys, and a new idea: crushes. Who does everyone like? The more we realized we cared what others thought of us, the less we cared what we did in school. 

Junior high was one big hormonal rush for everyone. Who likes who and what did you do this weekend were the all anyone talked about. The first time I was ever sent to the principal's office. The first time I kissed a boy. The first time I had a best friend. The first time I felt like crying about anything other than a death in the family. 

High school only got more complicated. Homework and grades were LIFE. I understood there was a cool crowd, but I didn't want to be a part of it. I knew what I loved to do, and I invested time in those things. I learned about the world around me, and I came to have my own opinions about politics, policies, and people. This is when I had to think about my future. Who was I going to be? What mark would I leave on the world? What people and memories would I take with me, and what would I leave behind? This is where I learned that whether or not other people liked me, I liked me. 

Now that I'm in my 4th year of college, I look back and see the decay. Where did that creativity and imagination go? My mom always told me "Brooke, you used to be really smart, until you discovered boys." Is that it? Does the process of maturing and needing emotional validation completely override our creative minds? I've always believed it was really important to always keep something child-like about yourself. Thats the part of people that imagines, creates. That is what I enjoy about people. Over the years we've become way too obsessed with money, opinions, and every type of validation. Why can't we just take it back to 1996 when we created things? We have the whole world at our finger tips, why wouldn't you want to use that to create all day every day? You can be anything you want to be, that's the beauty of it. You can be anything you want to be. 

In the end, I just want to be a cheetah still.