Saturday, May 7, 2011

On mothering in the corners

I'm going to start with my grumpy self and remind you that we came up with this day, this motherhood remembrance because we do not honor our mothers. We have one for fathers because we do not honor them, either. In Israel, there's a "Family Day"--and the mother of the year in 1997 (or was it 98?) was a father. In nearly every country, we have replaced our honor with a day. And this blog is no adequate replacement--can never be. As much as I would like to give this space to my mother, to honor her, I will be using it for me today. For the mother I get to be; I like to call it "in the corners". For the mother I'll never get to be. For the things she taught me, the skills, the approaches, the ways of loving and nurturing tough, strong, capable children into being, that I will never get to use.

Because I only get to mother in the corners. I mother my students--college kids, adults, and fourth through sixth graders alike. How do I get to have so many? I am privileged to teach Sunday School--and so, I have middle ones. I am privileged to teach college--and so, I have bigger ones. I am highly privileged to teach adults older than me a new tongue, a new thought process, new crafts, and so I have big ones. But I see them once or twice a week. Once a month, in some cases. And I mother all I can; scolding when the work could be better--or done at all. Holding when a student deals with the near loss of a cousin who is recovering from the accident they both had while she walks healthy. Encouraging, when none of it makes sense, but is on the tip of the tongue--the new tongue, foreign and greedy, self-insistent.

I mother my friends in the corners. Two are pregnant, one for the first time. And I read and research so I can tell her how wonderful all the tough things about pregnancy are. That they signal a healthy pregnancy. That nesting is a good instinct. That loving too much is impossible--and that it's impossible not to. That as cheesy as it sounds when spoken by a childless 38 year old, she is creating the only true miracle. And creating in a way I, with an MFA and a cast of internal children, will never create. She is godding--the highest form of human endeavor in Judaism. And I will never get to.

I don't tell her that, of course. She needn't be reminded that I lust after her child, her gifts. I have my own. I know that I need only look at my home. My puppies who love so openly and insist on being loved. My hunny who cares so much that it hurts him to see me hurt (and I have chronic hurt). My "kids," some of whom are older than I. Some are older than my parents, even. And they make me feel full. They sate the hunger for the hour and some I get with them.

I came to recognize this year that if I wake up with a "bad day" looming. Joints creaky and pained, fibromyalgia insistent and stubborn past medication, the usual cramping that accompanies reminders of why I cannot (pro)create, a depression hanging off my clothes like a fog. If I wake up on one of those days, there is only one cure: step into a classroom. Vicodin, Oxy, even Morphine have no effect like teaching upon my body. And I know that if it were not an impossibility that I must proudly pretend was a choice, that I would find mothering to be the same.

I've never said this before and I will never say it again. I miss the children I will never have. I hunger after pregnancy and birthing and diapering and holding and bonding and feeding. I move through space a full body, birthing hips designed to carry one on each side, a woman who wanted twin girls when she was 10--and was 17 before she found out that genetically she might then in her 20s when she realized that physically she couldn't.

And I say brightly to anyone that asks that there is no reason to extend my DNA. My siblings have already, and there are children out there in need of parents. And when and if hunny and I are ready, we will adopt. And until then, we host exchange students and might decide to foster, and both of us teach. And the list goes on, because it's the only way I can keep the desperation out of my voice when I acknowledge that I will never carry a pregnancy to term. If I'm tough like my mommy taught me, I will find ways to mother without what I cannot have. I will find the children whose needs I can fill. Even in the corners. It will be how I honor my parents and all the gifts they gave me.

I am angry that I am angry about this. I am betrayed by my inner self, by my biology. Both by having this need and by being unable to fulfill it. And so I will never say this again. I will mother in the corners, I will hold my friends' babies and lovingly rock them in my arms. I will give advice, I will parent my nephew for a couple of weeks in summer. I will mother my students one semester at a time. And I will spread my arms wide to hold all of them in defiance of my body which holds itself closed against this part of me.

Why Don't You Have Kids?: Living a Full Life Without Parenthood

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Dedicated to my teachers

All of whom taught me to think critically.

You might think that's pretty good, that all my teachers did that. But in my estimation, those who didn't were no more than baby-sitters. I was going to say glorified, but that would be a lie.

The thing is, that most of my teachers were amazing people who dedicated themselves to the intellectual lives of others. I have a few who were my favorites;:

  • Rabbi Cooperman,who used to crack our knuckles in his oversized hand
  • Rabbi Joel, whom was "cool," especially when he left to become a reporter for the Jerusalem post
  • "Rabbi" Bob, whom we made an honorary Rabbi--he wasn't even Jewish--because that was what we called the best teachers we had, and whose insistence on our excellence and drive to make us try harder, even when we'd tried our hardest, was always a loving push
  • Mrs. Fields, who barely noticed I was alive, but got me writing again after a bad teacher had ruined it for me, and who taught us all that literacy was a gift that we had the responsibility to share
  • Col. Heileman, who pushed us to be our best, but also taught us to take our work, but never ourselves, seriously
  • Mike, whose last name I don't remember but who was my guidance counselor in Niagara Falls and went out of his way to help me feel cared for in a school I had trouble adjusting to
  • Mr. Kanya, who taught us that we had a voice and the right to use it
  • Rabbi Al, who took care of me when I was living in the hell I knew as the US Naval Academy, and who learned from my failures to get help and used my experiences to help a fellow plebe in a similar situation
  • Dr. Lynn Schuster, who taught me that underestimating myself was a handicap, not a form of humility
  • Dr. Pat Miller, who made sure the standards of excellence met the ability of the student and pushed her or him at an individual as well as collective level, and who always let me learn my way
  • Dr. Donna Sewell, who saw through me when I said I wasn't in school for anything other than a "piece of paper" and who met my boredom with greater challenges, took care of me like a mother, and treats me like a sister--and who doesn't ever give up
  • Julianna Baggott, one of the best writers in the world, whom I can call at the drop of a hat, whose work inspires me, and whose belief in me makes me work harder
  • Dr. Kris Fleckenstein, who took my natural teaching abilities and worked to help me learn to be an excellent teacher, even when I was mad at being challenged.
This blog is already longer than usual, and yet I know I've not mentioned everyone who touched my life, made me a writer, a writing teacher, a seeker of excellence, a willing participant in my students' academic and intellectual lives. I cannot begin to thank them, except by being the best teacher I can. I can only pass the kind of love and dedication these people put into my life with love and dedication.

My policy, as I tell my students at the end of the semester, is based in Desert Culture: By accepting the privilege of participating in their intellectual growth, I have accepted the responsibility for their lives. I will always be available to them. Why? Because my teachers parented me. Because they give me a gift when they put all their effort into a project I designed to help them learn. Because they teach me new things every day. Because when I think of teacher appreciation day I think of my students and my teachers.

But I'd like to finish this thank you card to my teachers with one not-too-happy note:

We have a day dedicated to teacher appreciation because we fail, as a society to truly appreciate what they do. We don't have a doctor appreciation day, or an astronaut appreciation day. Why? For the same reason we don't have White History Month: Because we don't need it. It's built in. We already appreciate the researchers who work on our deadliest diseases. But we don't notice the people who helped those we do appreciate reach the excellence they bring to our society.

In fact, we spend most of our time bashing teachers; we proclaim loudly that tenure (which is really only a system by which teachers can't be fired without cause, because they don't get to live professional lives) is a "job for life." We shove poorly designed tests, many of which measure little more than test-taking ability, down their throats. We then judge them for not teaching creatively, after we've forced them to teach to tests. We wonder why our educational system is failing when the answer is obvious: because we have failed those who carry it on their shoulders.

So it's nice to have a teacher appreciation day, but much like Black History Month, I look forward to the day we no longer need one--because it'll just be history, and because we'll appreciate them by providing a professional life for them. 

On a directly economical note, we'll get the best and brightest going into the profession as soon as we make it attractive to them.

Maybe some day the aphorism "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach" will be forgotten. Because the best teachers not only can, but they can at the deepest levels or they wouldn't be able to teach.

Finally, thank you to my teachers. Your hard work and dedication have never passed my notice. I hope someday to be as good at what we do as you are.

Monday, May 2, 2011

I might get bombed for this...

I realized, last night, that I was not having the "right" reaction. I heard my hunny telling me Osama was dead. I hear the president repeatedly use the first person in what seems to me the most ego-centric, most UN-presidential moment he has had. I saw the pictures of the house, and I'm sure I'll see pictures of a body, though I'd rather not.

And all I could think was: WHY am I being asked to rejoice in slaughter, when slaughter is what has brought our hell upon us?

So, feel free to blog-bomb me, but here it is:

We have ritually slaughtered the symbol of terrorism.

But just as the shamans before us knew, it is not the ritual slaughter that heals. It is the work that the mind does in thinking it has been healed--and often, it is time. Allowing the body to root out the illness. And just as often, slaughter, work, and time fail, and the body succumbs.

What am I saying? First and foremost, that incarnate evil as he may have been, I refuse to partake in the celebration of the ritual slaughter of Osama bin Laden. If he WERE the whole cancer of terrorism, I might feel differently, though I'm not really sure of that. But he isn't. He was a symbol, and a dead symbol long before his death.

Second, that any American who thinks this is a victory over terrorism is likely also the kind of person who thinks taking one's shoes off in an airport somehow adds security. It doesn't, and this isn't.

Third, that the killing of Osama bin Laden is little more than a ritual slaughter. The intent when showing the "compound", when showing the body, as our journalists insist we must so the Arabs will "get it," is little more than gloating. That "little more" is a power-play.

And I am not so naive as to believe that governments partake in anything other than power-plays. I simply wish I could look around me and see others who understand that today is no safer a day than yesterday was; that this slaughter is no more than a ritual killing; that the scape-goat does not cleanse the community; and that the only offense against terrorism is to live like we did before they brought it to our shores: in LIBERTY, personal and national.

We must make headway in terms of liberty, not backtrack as we have been, if we have any hope of coming out of this a thriving, growing nation.

I somehow doubt that will happen--and the more I watch facebook stati and tweets galore with joyous pronouncements the less I believe it can.