Every once in a while I remember that I used to write things I didn't hate. Because I hate my dissertation, the waste that it is, of time, of my mind. I used to take solace in longform academic work as a form of ethical attention-paying, a gift endlessly passed back and forth between me and other people who do this kind of work, the work of paying attention and caring about things that add thought and faith and bits of beauty and wonder to the world. But you can only think that way about academic work for so long. I was passing that gift back and forth for a long time, almost 17 years, so I am lucky or stupid or both, I don't know. But anyway, the curtain eventually falls, and the inner workings are exposed, and you can decide that you're okay with the fact that professoriate and Enron and military juntas all operate on basically the same moral platform, or you can decide you're not okay with it, and I am not okay with it. I will finish my degree because too many people who are not me have invested too much in it, but then I am walking away. I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm almost 35. I have no real skills that aren't academic/classroom/research, but isn't that all of us? Aren't we all hopelessly fucked in the marketplace anyway? So, okay. Me and everybody else. That's not so bad.
I can't continue on in academia. Oh, you thought that paragraph above was a rant? No, this is a rant: college has become a corporate tool designed to turn your kid into a wage slave. I'm not saying anything new here, but that I am willing to say it out loud is new for me. I've taught college classes, and following that, I worked in academic support services, for the past 12 years. Do you know why I switched to academic support? Because I wanted to be part of the solution. Because I have seen colleges admit kids who ARE NOT READY, kids who are in college because that's what you're supposed to do when you're 18, kids who DON'T want to BE THERE, and NO, NO, that's not okay, you CANNOT ask someone to spend upwards of $100K followed by 20 years or 30 years or 40 years of loan repayment for the privilege to do something they don't want to do, that they aren't ready to do.
I started working in academic support because I couldn't push one more kid through on a B that he got because he borrowed the final paper from a frat file. I started working in academic support because I couldn't bear trying to make people care about something they weren't ready to care about. I don't want to take your money (sorry, I mean, I don't want to fatten a university's coffers) by selling you something you don't want to buy. How is this acceptable? How can we go on pretending this is acceptable?
I switched to academic support because I figured, well, at least these kids want help, even if it's just to pass the same classes I taught that they don't really care about. They care enough to spend extra time trying, and I care enough to try to help them get what they're spending $100K on.
Listen to what I'm saying: it's okay to not want to go to college when you're 18. It's better to go when you're 22, or 25, or 35, or 50, or whenever you can say, out loud, to your friends, to your boss, I want more, I want to know more, I want to do something else.
We need to stop treating college as the place where you go for 4 years to have fun and make friends and try new drugs and not have to hide your sexy-times underwear. It needs to stop being the last stop before drugery. Maybe that means it becomes a stop in between drugeries, the place you go when you're 30 so you can get the credits you need to make it into middle management. But it can't go on as it is.
Yesterday I returned to this blog and read a few posts and remembered that I liked what I've written here. Some of it, anyway.
Here's what happened: a dear friend of mine experienced a terrible thing (a relationship thing, which coincided with a world event thing, and it was all just very tumbly tumultuous). Because of That Thing, we started writing back and forth, long slippery lengths of messages that just went on and on, about events in our pasts and presents and so forth, as you do, when you've known someone for a long time.
Somehow, all that writing kickstarted the other part of my writing brain, the dissertation part. ARE WE STILL DOING THAT OH MY GOD YES WE ARE. More on that later, maybe. It was surprising, how the tumbling words from the emails to the friend slid into the cabinet where the dissertation brain sat, and when it bumped the shelf, down fell the academic brain in musty heap, all scattershot, like when that cookbook you took from your grandma's house slips from the ledge in the kitchen, and suddenly there are letters and notecards and torn magazine pages and a Cool-Whip coupon that expired in March of 1982, all over your kitchen floor. Roughly that cohesive, but also roughly that interesting.
So the emails became diss writing, and now the diss writing has led me back here. The last post I wrote was a draft from January of this year, and strangely, the feelings all still fit, all of them. So, no personal growth in five-ish months? Guess not.
When I was in college, I had a "nontraditional student"-friend who was married and had five kids. My college had this habit of labeling every single person who didn't go straight from high school to college as nontraditional, which tended to piss the hell out of the 19-year-olds who took a gap year. Note: The "nontraditional" label is a problem/money-making scheme; gap years are good. I could go on AT LENGTH but won't. This particular student/wife/parent did fit the nontrad bill, though.
I remember her telling me about the time she took her kids on a several-hours drive to Philly so that they could see a Santa with brown skin. It bugged her that she grew up thinking that Santa could only be white, and she didn't want her kids to have the same idea. So they get to the store with the brown-skinned Santa, and they're waiting in line, and her daughter FREAKS OUT. NO NO NO NO NO, that is not Santa! NO NO NO!
Sigh. Mission failed. They left. Santa remained, in her kids' imaginary, the white angel of presents and joy. Incidentally, knowing her was the way I learned that the variance in skin color among children in African American families can be a big pain in the ass, at best. One of her kids had slightly darker skin and so she was always asked, "Who's the father of that one?"
BIG effing sigh. This, by the way, is why high schools should have some sort of American cultural studies course titled, perhaps, "Shit You Should Know About People Who Aren't You." Only when you have kids do you realize people ask those stupid, ridiculous, offensive questions all the time, but I can't imagine what it would be like to have the paternity of my child questioned at the goddamned grocery store. It also makes you understand separatism a bit better, i.e., I don't have time to educate you on genetics when I am trying to pick up some damn carrots. Go read a book. I am not telling you which one. GO.
This friend is on my mind because of something that happened the other day with E. I taped the Rockefeller Christmas special so that he could see the last two minutes during which they light the tree. To get there we had to fast forward over a bunch of segments, one of which featured CeeLo in a red outfit sitting in a sleigh.
"That's Santa!" says E.
"That IS Santa! Yes!" say I. (Apraxia therapy "repetition of utterances" included for realism.)
"That's a weird-looking Santa!"
Oh SHIT. Because he's brown? Oh shit. Holding my breath, I say, "What's weird about him, buddy?"
"He has glasses on!"
Thank you, Jesuses. So then we had a quick chat about skin color and how Santa comes in all different colors, because why not start early, right?
My kid is starting to grasp that he comes from two different people, and that those people are different in ways that not all people are different. He's learning Hebrew, and so pretty much every day I hear, "Abba knows Hebrew. E knows Hebrew. Mama doesn't know Hebrew. SHE DOESN'T KNOW WHAT WE'RE SAYING." He also gets that Christmas is mainly Mommy's holiday, and that Hannukah is definitely Abba's (because it is celebrated with prayers and singing in Hebrew). We celebrate all of these events together--we don't emphasize the difference--but it doesn't stop him from recognizing that there are two sources of religion/language/food/grandparents/holidays/etc. in his life. Growing up I saw my parents as this sort of Homogeneous Adult. Same person, different bodies. E's in the opposite situation, and I wonder how that kind of kid turns out. Most of the time I don't really think about it, but holidays bring it to mind. And I know I probably shouldn't worry about it. Even if I controlled for variables, I can't control how he'll eventually feel about coming from his particular set of parents. You can take your kid to the culturally-appropriate Santa, but you can't make her sit on his lap.
So, ah, what's everyone doing about Santa anyway? I was SO SURE there would be NO believing in Santa, no, none, we would have none of it. But now I'm not so sure and had to stop myself from writing "Santa" on one of his "from" tags.
I'm doing a social media hiatus thing, but I still have thoughts and FEELINGS that I NEEEEEEED to share. So it's back to blogging. L'sigh.
We took E to the pediatrician yesterday. We saw our favorite doctor, the one we trust but also the one who gives us shit and dresses us down and critiques us. Of course we like her more because we are once and current graduate students, and we really don't know how to deal with people named "Dr." unless they're belittling us. Healthy, that.
So we're at the end of the appointment, and just after she compliments our kid for being so good, she says, "I have to ask about the hair. Is it...cultural or something?" This happens to us often. Because the husband is Jewish, people with a little bit of knowledge of such matters assume our boy has long hair because one tradition states that the first haircut comes at age three.
We sputter a bit and basically say that we just like it that way, and he seems to like it that way. But you'll cut it, she asks, and I say, well, yes, before he starts school we'll cut it. Because: LICE. I live in holy fear of lice. Remind me to tell you about the time my husband told me he had lice "a few times" (A FEW TIMES) as a kid, and how I said, "I am glad we are already married, because I might have broken up with you over that."* Oh, and he also had worms. WORMS. I know the 80s were a rough and tumble time in the Middle East, but COME ON, child, where was your mother?**
But! This isn't about that. This is about what she said next, in response to the hair-cutting question:
"I just don't want him to be (pause) singled out."
To which I said, oh no no, we'll cut it, we're good, we promise, don't be mad, give us an A in Parenting, we are terrible and it's okay to hate us, oh please oh mother may I. And then we left.
It was only on the way home (as it always is) that I thought about it and realized, ohhhh. She is is doing some funky math that goes something like this:
+Childhood Apraxia of Speech (a.k.a. he talks funny)
+Weird Fat Momma
+Foreign Accent Daddy
I grew up around some genuine town weirdos. One kid rode his bike up and down our street and yodeled a fire engine siren sound all day. That was his thing, and thus he was called: Fire Truck. He might have also been a "fire bug," which is what we called child arsonists back in my day. One such legit fire bug who burned his parents' house down and was sent to stay with his grandmother lived just one street over. So, you know, some weird kids were afoot. I tried my damnedest NOT to be a weird kid, NOT to stick out. I did, of course, because I was smart and overweight. You can't blend when you are one or both of these things. But, oh, how I didn't want to be singled out, how I didn't want that kind of attention.
When you come to the part of parenting where your kid starts having a personality and a will of his own, you start thinking a lot about agency, about the choices you make that are choices for your child, choices that shape who he is and will be without his consent. (I am not talking about the health and safety stuff. I'm talking about the "philosophical steering," if that makes sense.) This freaks me out a bit, to be honest, because I don't want to screw it up but know that I undoubtedly will screw it up, because everyone does. We probably give our child too much agency. NAY, we do, according to the world, the pediatrician, everyone. He still wears diapers because, damn it, he doesn't WANT to pee in a toilet, and if that's his true feeling about it, fine. We encourage him to push past his fears when we think the payoff is worth it, but we give him space to say HELL NO when taking away his right to choose isn't worth the choice we want him to make. Do you have to touch the bug? No, but you should. Bugs are neat. Do you have to use the toilet? You know what, it's your penis. I have been preaching to my kid about sexual autonomy, that his genitals are his and only his until he's ready to share them with someone else, since he was born. (Not every day, but at least once a week. We are straight-up serious about protecting our sexual health and well-being in this house, and I'm pretty sure you need to learn that you are in charge of your body from birth, not from age 12).
Arson, penises, where the hell was I going with this? I guess just that I don't want my kid to be afraid to be who he is, and I want him to be confident in his decisions. I think our best chance of getting him there is to honor those decisions (the good ones, you know) as often as we can. Most of all, I don't want him to give a dang if he's singled out or not. I don't want him to seek that kind of attention; I want him simply not to care. I hope we can get him there, or as close to there as anyone manages to get.
And, so that we don't end on a serious-ish note:
**Single mom, no dad in the picture, otherwise I'd have said "parents." I can qualify the shit out of something if I try!
*Lemme take a moment and check my privilege: I probably have lice phobia because of its association with poverty and/or the assumption that dirty=poor. This is not good, and I acknowledge it. But it comes just as much from growing up with an elementary school teacher mother, and having to check her hair for her every time one of her kids came down with lice (it happened often). So, tangled web of associations and privilege, judge me if you must.
I did it. One post a day for 30 days. This marks the strongest commitment I've shown to a non-child-related effort in many, many moons.
Let's not ponder that. Let's just slap a badge on it and call it done. And a shout out to @janatig, who did it too! But I think that's it, right? Anybody else? Wait, Ginger! Ginger did it too! Hooray!
I could not possibly date myself more than to reference Andy Rooney in a blog post title. but that's who I am today: a sad curmudgeon with unkempt eyebrows. Hell, that's who I am most days. But to get to the point: you know what gets my goat? So-called "recipes" for which "box of cake mix" is the first ingredient.
Come on now, internet. Really? Because "box of cake mix" ISN'T an ingredient. It's basically the whole damn recipe minus a few add-ins like water or eggs. We can't use boxed cake mix for two reasons: 1) the safest ones for us, allergy-wise, cost roughly five dollars per mix, and one mix makes only half a cake. I shit you not. 2) Once you get used to cakes made from scratch, mix cakes taste terrible. Not that I judge anyone who relies on mixes, FTLOG. This is not Cupcake Mom Wars. It's just not what we do here.
Since we can't use cake mixes and we can't rely on bakeries (again, there are very, very few nut-free bakeries, and they are very, very expensive. Like, "40 bucks for a dozen cupcakes" expensive), I make all of the baked goods consumed in this house. Cakes, pies, cookies, bread--I bake all the things. However, when I look up a recipe for something like strawberry chocolate chip cake (while I am very good at following directions, I am not very intuitive when it comes to baking soda vs. baking powder or whatever), I get mildly pissed when I see "1 box strawberry Dunkin Heinz cake mix." Eff you, "cooking" site. Eff you.
If you don't remember the Chapel Shack it was/is this: a chapel, a literal one, near a lake near my undergrad college. It was pretty--idyllic?--and enjoyed First Real Estate Crush status for the longest time. Then it went up for sale for a ridiculously high sum given its (OMG seriously terrible) condition. You can know jack-all about real estate and still know that over 150K for a building with no heating system, no water, no bathrooms, no kitchen, a failing slate roof, beginning-to-be-damaged-because-of-the-roof hardwoods, and missing eaves/gutters was not even remotely worth it. If it were 20K? Maybe. I probably could have convinced myself in a bad boyfriend kind of way, but...you do not take out a bank loan to fund a disaster. Oh, and there was no lake access. I forgot that part.
So what the Internet (@torturedpotato in particular, if I'm remembering correctly) encouraged me to do was to think of Chapel Shack as an idea that might be realized somewhere/somehow else. Since that time, I've occasionally scanned real estate listings here with an eye toward Chapel Shack, but of course nothing quite has its charm. Nothing else I've seen has been in such terrible condition either, thus cementing Chapel Shack's reputation as Seriously Bad For You Boyfriend That You Just Can't Quit.
I don't know if there will ever be another Chapel Shack, but I've taken a major step toward the Idea(l) by inviting a friend to join the chase. In my mind Chapel Shack is something of an artists' studio/retreat/workshop thingy. This friend has a full-time job and no time but lots of connections to the kind of community that might want/use such a Shack, and I have no job and a bit of time but no connections to the same community. So it's one of your marshmallow-meets-crispies situations where I'm hoping to sum up something greater than our individual parts.
We are still in the talking it out, "maybe this will ruin our friendship" pre-planning stage, but if we can get past that (we are both under-joyed over-thinkers who could talk ourselves out of a free cookie), then we might get to Shacking.