I am JJ: What is your child destined to be great at?

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen

Blog Post #114 — I learned how to juggle by practicing with plastic shopping bags. I really did. Plastic bags and a YouTube video.

I learned how to do it after my dad told me about a dream he had the night before.

For the record, I don't think he ever really had that dream. But he said he did. And since yesterday was Father's Day, I thought I’d pass on some Dad wisdom. During one of the first mornings of every summer, as my sister and I were eating breakfast, we could always expect my dad to recount his dream. Here's how he would say it...

"I had the strangest dream last night," he'd begin, as if he were telling us the story for the first time. "I dreamed I was an old, old man, and I had died and was standing at pearly gates of heaven. There were lots of people around. Saint Peter was standing at the front, and he was holding a megaphone making these grand announcements."

At this point my dad would stand and, pretending to be Saint Peter, mimic speaking into a megaphone. He would be loud, too, so much so that my sister would sometimes cover her ears.

"As all the old people gathered around, Saint Peter announced: 'Introducing one of the greatest house painters who ever lived!' Wouldn't you know it, a man with a paint brush walked up to Saint Peter, who opened the pearly gates for him."

"Saint Peter announced again: 'Introducing one of the greatest auto mechanics who ever lived!' And a man holding a lug wrench approached, nodded to Saint Peter, and entered into heaven."

"Now this went on for a long time," my dad would continue. "Saint Peter would announce something. And someone would go into heaven. He did it for teachers and professors and lawyers and doctors and electricians and magicians and police officers and chefs and..."

As he was rattling off the list of professions and hobbies, my dad would sit back at the table.

"At some point, I realized I was only one remaining outside," my dad would explain. "It was just Saint Peter and me. And Saint Peter announced: 'Introducing one of the greatest skiers who ever lived!'"

"Shocked, I looked around. Saint Peter made another announcement: 'Introducing one of the greatest skiers who ever lived!'"

"And another: 'Introducing one of the greatest skiers who ever lived!'"

My dad would repeat this "greatest skiers" line over and over for effect.

"Finally, I walked over to Saint Peter. 'There must be a mistake. You see, I'm the only one standing here, and yet I never picked up a pair of skis in my life.'"

"St. Peter gave me a disappointed look. 'True. You were destined to be the greatest skier who ever lived. Too bad you never picked up a pair of skis.' And with that, Saint Peter opened the pearly gates and let me in."

As he would finish recounting his dream, my dad would suddenly get serious with us. 

“What if Muhammad Ali never picked up a pair of boxing gloves?" he'd ask. "What if Dylan never picked up his guitar? What if Hemingway never picked up a pencil or Picasso a brush or Einstein a piece of chalk? What if Neil deGrasse Tyson never looked through a telescope or LeBron James never dribbled a basketball or Buddy the Cake Boss never learned how to crack an egg?"

"It's a beautiful Summer day. What are you going to pick up today?"

One of the missions of this blog is to empower young people with food allergies to define themselves by who they are and who they can be. For kids with food allergies, it’s even more important to load up on the things they CAN do, especially during summer. The more time spent focusing on their CANS the less time they will have focussing on their nots. The summer is nice because children have more time to focus on something a bit different from traditional school stuff, and outdoor activities give them even more space to soar.

Chances are, they're not going to pick up new CANS on their own. It’s the start of Summer 2018. There are millions of things that your kids can learn. (Other than getting #1 Victory Royale in Fortnite!) Help them. Inspire them. Encourage them. Who knows, they just might be destined to be the world’s greatest at something.


JJ Vulopas is a rising senior at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. An advocate for young people, JJ has lived with food allergies his entire life. He is the author of the children's book, Land of Not. You can read his daily blog at www.thelandofcan.com and follow him @thelandofcan on Twitter and Instagram.