Random self-indulgent ramblingsABDMom has a lovely piece on the joys of her daughter. I was reflecting on it today, driving home from my own daughter's preschool, where I had left her red-faced and screaming with rage and despair over my departure. I don't usually take her to school, but with Spring Break, I'm available and, by God, I am her mother, after all. I know the staff wanted me to leave more quickly, and I'm well aware that her tantrums subside almost immediately (both from their reports and my own surreptitious surveillance), but somehow it goes against the gut impulse of parenthood to walk away from my child when she so desperately pleads with me to stay. Now the part where she toys with me by insisting I pick up the items she intentionally tosses on the floor is not nearly so gripping...I can say no to that sort of manipulation, at least most of the time.
I think ABDMom captures so many of the things I, too, found unexpected about motherhood:
This is what I have learned from being her mother: it's so much more fun that I ever thought it could be, and I like her so much in addition to loving her.
[. . .]
I know these things sound small; that's because they are. But again, I completely underestimated how much I would love these small moments. Watching her sleep so peacefully next to me, seeing the enjoyment she gets from the dog licking her fingers, hearing her feet pound the floor and her scream of laughter as BH chases her...I never imagined how much enjoyment I would get out of those moments. Before Pistola arrived, I truly thought life with her would be drudgery (no wonder I was reluctant to have kids!), and I am just amazed by how she proves me wrong about that every day. Not that she doesn't try my patience at times--neither of us are saints! And it's not that there isn't a lot of grunt work to child-rearing--there is. But the rewards are just...well, amazing.
There's a lot more--read it. I feel the same way about my daughter; the surprise is not how much I love her, but how much pure enjoyment she brings. I was well-prepared, intellectually, for the difficulties. And there are a lot. I've yet to find that fabulous balance my academic friends boasted of, wherein they completed their dissertations or wrote articles in the 2 hour nap gaps because that's the time they have. I'm no more efficient, and still seem to require ten hours of computer time to do 2 hours decent work. But what still surprises me is how much I enjoy those days off when I am just her mother. Don't get me wrong; after a few days of that, I'm eager to get back to blogging, teaching, writing, and conversing with adults. But she does add a dimension to my life that is, if not completely unanticipated, an ongoing epiphany. There's something about loving someone this much that really has (gulp) made me a gentler, kinder person (pointed pedagogical disclaimers aside).
I recently heard this report on NPR about the Call Me Mister program at Clemson University. The goal is to get more black men into elementary school classrooms. I thought the piece and the program provided an interesting corollary to the Lawrence Summers flap. [I also liked bell hooks's reply to a Seattle newspaper columnist about the Summers debate:
hooks is a mixture of sweetness and brutal candor, possessed of a keen intellect and eager to offer an opinion on just about everything. When I met her for coffee, I had a long list of topics we might discuss. She said she was going to be talking about men and patriarchy that night at Town Hall, so I asked her about the recent conflagration over Harvard's president.
"There's nothing interesting about Harvard," she said. That was not the answer I had expected, which is often the case with hooks.
"Typical of the way our nation organizes its hierarchy, we make too much of these institutions like Harvard. The most interesting place of education in the United States is the public school and our failure to create excellence there.
"I think people would rather talk about Larry Summers than talk about why as a nation are we failing when it comes to creating public schools where children of all classes and all races and all languages can effectively learn to read and write. There is no hope of poor kids going to the Harvards of the world if they aren't getting a basic quality education, which we should all be able to get in the public schools."
"Look at somebody like me growing up in small-town America. My mother working as a maid, my father working as a janitor, seven kids.
"What is the space of possibility that comes into my life that allows me to become bell hooks. The space of possibilities were two public institutions that I support with my whole being ... the public school and the public library."
I like that she neatly skewers the public's institutional bias, and our preference for personal and specific targets over the more substantive but difficult-to-grasp problems. I don't think that the Summers brouhaha is irrelevant, but I do wish we could work up similar public outrage/ enthusiasm for these broader issues.]
But to get back to "Call Me Mister." I found myself applauding the program, and the young men who saw themselves as important role models among communities particularly at risk of lacking male role models. My daughter's preschool has one male teacher, and I was horrified at how surprised I was to see him. On the one hand, I want to resist the idea that male teachers automatically bring something to the classroom that women don't; on the other hand, having seen my friends' sons display behavior that appears innately male, I have to wonder. Certainly I can evade the question with a reference to social conditioning; kids of both sexes learn to read adults according to the general sex categories, and to respond in ways that are socially dictated. But I then worry that such a position plays into the hands of those who insist that the only "appropriate" family consists of a female mother and male father. On the other hand, until we have a perfectly gender-equitable society (not gender neutral, but collaborative and fair), it makes a lot of sense to me that kids need male role models early and often--whether at home, at school, or both. And too many don't get that.
I'm also delighted at a program that targets men for so-called "service" positions, and appeals to them on the basis of making that proverbial difference in society. On the other hand (I have a lot of hands here, and they're all pointing in different directions, like an "I Dream of Jeannie" episode gone haywire), it concerns me that once again the ranks of teachers are being pulled from among the socially marginalized. It's well documented that in professions like teaching, the influx of women has coincided with decreasing prestige and economic rewards. My elementary school had several male teachers, who supported families on their salaries. Now schools have fewer and fewer men, and the positions are filled more and more with women whose incomes are "secondary" (their characterization, not mine)--supporting things like vacations, college educations, and other "luxuries."
I just worry that programs should also exist to target white college men. And I'm not proposing some counter-discrimination argument here. I just think we need to see public schools and the students they serve as a central part of American culture--not as a fallback for those who can't go to private schools. We need ways to feed some of that social prestige associated with male teachers back into our classrooms. To do otherwise is to risk turning many of our schools into the socially marginalized serving the more socially marginalized, while the real social and economic power is more and more firmly vested in wrinkly old white male hands.