Friday, January 24, 2003

Our Parents, Ourselves

Home early today after a long boring morning fiddling around the media center while for almost a mile around me in every direction students and their parents (or grandparents, or guardians, or siblings) sat in stuffyhot classrooms drowsing off to long-forgotten Chemistry lessons and presentation on Zen Buddhism and discussions of Vietnam.

Here at Northfield Mount Hermon, just past interim at the midpoint of each trimester, as grades are released, the parents arrive in droves to pick their students up for the long weekend. They attend classes politely, remaining afterwards in their uncomfortable fold-out chairs for fifteen minute meetings with teachers and advisees and college counselors; they glow at their choral or swim-team darlings from auditorium seats and bleachers; they ask about restaurants in the area and, with their children out of our hands and into the back seats of their Lexuses and SUVs, disappear into the night.

I love parents weekend, and see it primarily as a sudden and short-term introduction of 600 new students into our orbit. Many, perhaps most teachers see these visiting days as opportunities to showcase the students, pull out the stops, show-and-tell the parents to death, but the best teachers I know, like I have learned to do over the years, see the introduction of parents into the classroom as a chance to add new voices to an already rich mix of sounds and smells and seriousness, making class more like it usually is, not less.

But I love most of all the moment when, upon meeting the parent, suddenly everything about the student's past behavior is revealed as genetic. Here, three times a year, the perennial and seemingly immortal nature/nurture question collapses into this simple inescapable truth like an Airstream camper in a black hole: we are, after all, our parents, even in those stages of our lives when we are most rebellious and distant.

Which makes today's two o'clock homecoming all the more relevant: it's Friday, so Darcie's mother was there until four. She comes three times a week to babysit Willow because she can, and because she works for free and we are, after all, living on but 1.7 times a teacher's salary for the three of us, in a profession not especially known for making millionaires of even its best and brightest.

There's nothing inherently difficult about Patty, I should note; we like each other, and I think respect each other; we share a love of language and of learning, and we've had twelve years now to get to know our quirks and quills, our barbs and bare selves. But coming home early is tricky when she's there. We've given her this time to be with her granddaughter for everyone's sake, and the gift of that time comes unrestricted, so she's naturally and quite comfortably taken on the role in a way which seems right to her, and I want to validate that. But I covet my daughter when I return; came home early, in fact, in the hopes that I would get to see her at her best, rather than the oft-cranky dregs of the day that remain of my beautiful infant's energies on those ever-increasing nights when meetings and other sundries take me out to the cusp of her bedtime rituals, after which time I become more intrusion than inspiration.

With Mama in the house anyone else is always a second choice; I recognize that this is an inevitability of mother-child bonding through the breastfeeding process, and have accepted my lot, and am grateful for whatever space and time I am offered or find to be part of that bond. But with Patty there, and me there too, the baby seems difficult, frustrated, struggling to understand which mode she should be in, which set of arms she should turn to. Patty and I, I think, feed this frustration -- our roles are no more clear to ourselves when we are suddenly teamed caretakers than they seem to be for the baby herself. We reach for her simultaneously, have no rhythm together, and tag-team poorly. And I am torn: is it better to stay at work with no work to do for the baby's sake and for Patty's, and to keep things clean, and sacrifice my time for the baby's sake? Can I find myself in her pictures, locked in my office, staring moodily at the walls, while she could be having my warmth, and I hers?

And I don't know where this is going, or where it goes, but that it is: it is the beginning of the baby's confusion and frustration with the world, and that which will make her mine, and make her me, so that one day we may curse each other for our similarities, and smile when others can connect us in a sea of strangers, like I did with my parents, the eternal struggle that we all must endure, and should embrace.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:12 PM |

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