Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tis the Season to be....something or other

Christmas is a rough season of the year for me. I'm one of those people that associates negative memories more so than positive ones with the holiday, largely due to the…. Unusual nature of my childhood. Being a teacher, it also tends to be more tiring and stressful. Being an expectant father, it is even more of both. (Seriously - expectant father and teacher, at Christmas-time, who has had lousy Christmas-pasts, and feels like he has to fit in with The Perfect Family now - I ought to just check myself in to a loony bin, neh?) Right now I feel more at my wit's end than I have since my first year of teaching at Christmas, so this blog may very well be more pathetic than usual. It will be filled with self-doubt, pessimism, and discouragement. Attach a big fat "DEPRESSING" to the top and move on with your ho-ho-ho'age if that's your desire. Don't blame you. Go drink egg nog and put on Nat King Cole and close this thing.

One of my students routinely comes by at the end of the day during my last planning period to do her homework. She's a student aide during that time, and she's never needed in that role. (Why the hell this means she can't go take Art or Drama or learn SOMETHING during that time is beyond me, but I suppose she benefits from…something or other.) She sits, she does her work, and we talk about life, liberty, and so on. Today she saw the fatigue on my face and looked pretty surprised - she assumed (as most kids do) that teachers are made of steel and stone and feel nothing. Meh, she's nearly in high school, ought to know better. Fine, whatever. I explained that this time of year tended to be exhausting - more so for me in this case. She's got this play tomorrow night that Amy and I are attending since it's at the wife's school, and I did my usual grumpy-grouse routine about it interrupting my day, rescheduling my dinner, and so on - and she was quite surprised that Amy and I ate together at vaguely regular times. We got to talking about her schedule, and how all her friends had similar schedules with a million events going on at all times. Seems that's pretty strange these days among kids, families eating together at normal times.

I know Amy and I want that for our child. I also wonder if, by insisting they have some spare time to hang with the fam, I'm damning my child to the same life of being-different-from-day-one that I was cursed with. People look at me and the fact that in high school and college I didn't party, that I was nose-to-grindstone, the good little student, and say "It's good, it's the right thing, it's noble, etc, etc, etc"

Strangely, this doesn't do a damn thing to make me feel better about the fact that I didn't do what everyone else did. While I'm proud of the fact that my attention to learning is pretty clear (Couldn't control my overuse of knowledge and grammar if I wanted to) it's also pretty damning. I don't know about popular television - don't care; can't develop any attachment to obviously predictable storylines. I couldn't give two craps about pop-anything. I have no idea what most party beverages are - I never "learned the taste" in college to fit in. I'm as categorically boring-square as they come. I am, in every measurable way, different. Different interests, different viewpoint, different priorities, different sense of right and wrong. Some of it's tragically old school, some of it wildly, rebelliously new and different. I struggle with that a lot, but I accept it with a certain stoic pride; I like my life, I like who I am, and I like what I stand for. I don't fit in, and I'm proud of that.

Problem is, I sure as hell don't like how I got here. I think about what I'm planning on raising my kid by: regular family meals, not a million different after school activities so they can be a kid, demanding the best teachers and the best schools, not letting them stay out at a party till 4am, expecting a regular, checked-on, regulated bedtime…. and it hit me today how massively, profoundly different that is than most kids - including the very kids I teach, the best of the best, the ones I imagine my child mixing with in due time.

Am I condemning my own child to the hell of my youth? To the absolute certainty - before the child is even born - of being not a little different like their mother, but PROFOUNDLY, "wow, you're WEIRD" different like their father, because of not only who they are (and having Amy's "love the world" and Jesse's "eye the world with arrogant, bitter scorn" for parent role models, the kid is GOING to be a bit odd) but because of how they are raised? Will my kid be the one who has to go home and miss out on things because their weirdo parents want to have dinner with them, AGAIN? Will my kid be the one not in the clubs everyone else is in, be the one not at the party everyone else goes to because I don't want to pointlessly endanger them? Will my kid be the one that wonders what they missed while they studied and stayed in because I care about their grades? And if all that's true, will my kid be glad for it? Or will some small part of them always wonder if the sacrifices they made were worth it?

And most importantly - will they thank me for that choice that I made for them? The one and only good thing I give my mother is that she, for the most part and with one strict exception, allowed me to make nearly all my own choices growing up. I willingly embraced my elitist, arrogant, I-turn-my-nose-up-at-social-gatherings,-for-I-am-a-scholar place in the world.

By demanding my child be well-raised, well-educated, well-cultured and well-balanced, am I damning my child to social isolation and marginalism? Is being a good parent so unusual now that good parenting is in and of itself damning to the child?

For me, knowledge and control are bread and butter. Being ready, being prepared, understanding the situation and all it encompasses are my goals. I sacrificed huge amounts of my life and time making sure I had them - and it, for the most part, has paid off big. I'm doing exactly what I want with my life right now, even if I'm not being paid properly for it.

I'm coming to realize that for all I supposedly know… I don't know a damn thing about what matters most. Just like every other parent, I haven't a clue if I'm going to raise my child well, or ruin them. Just like every other parent, I am utterly witless in this situation.

Pregnancy: the great intellectual equalizer. Those people who see me as arrogant must be crowing right now.

So why the hell did I not go out more in college again?

Man, I hate the holidays. Next blog will be full of cheer and pre-parental joy. Promise.

-MT out.


Daniel Stutzbach said...

I'm as categorically boring-square as they come. I am, in every measurable way, different.

You contradict yourself. ;-)

First, background: quite some time before meeting Alisa, I had a 3.5 year relationship with a woman who had a kid from an earlier relationship. I gradually got pretty involved and ended up with some child-rearing experience covering roughly ages 6 through 10.

As a teenager I was introverted and prided my intellect, but cared only a little about grades (meaning I got A's and B's with little effort ;) ). I went to an science and engineering college, meaning that I was suddenly surrounded by an entire campus of the weird, introverted brainy kids. I, too, took the the little-partying lots-of-work road, with similar mixed feelings upon reflection. I think slowing my academic pace down a little and socializing more would have been good for me. Except that at the time I didn't want to and didn't have the social skills anyway.

Weird is very much a relative scale. You seem very normal compared to the transexuals, polyamorists, drug fiends, and the guys who at all times dress like Dr. Who (a scarf when it's 90+ degrees out?! that's *weird*).

While at first your kid will be utterly dependent on you, eventually they will be their own person. They will care about their grades, or not. You can make them sit down with a schoolbook, but you cannot make them focus and learn. Although as an experienced teacher, you probably have a better skill set for tricking them into focusing than most parents.

They will embrace being weird, want desperately to fit in, or something in between.

At first the rules you set will be of the utmost importance, but as time passes the example you and Amy set in how you live your own lives will become more important than any rules you try to enforce. (Along these lines, I strongly recommend reading Chapter 5 of Freakonomics).

If in time they don't like the rules you set for them, you can be pretty certain that they'll tell you. Repeatedly. ;)

Merry Christmas!

Oh--by the way! You left Munchkin and Ninja Burger here...

Medieval Teacher said...

Thanks Dan. It's always nice to know that compared to transexuals, polyamorists, and drug fiends, I'm a happy, sane normal....LOL

Fair point that we came from the same thought process - having going to a Liberal-Arts type school (and in some ways I wonder if I erred not going math/science) I suspect while you got reinforcement, my "math guy in a Liberal-Arts world" weird complex only deepened. Heh.

Thanks for the input, though. I guess my control-freak nature sometimes forgets to account for the possibility of free will in others. Hah! Free will in the young? Not in my house- I'm a teacher!

Don't think too hard on that.

jeepgirl79 said...

ummm...this is a hard one. i completely agree with you in some ways. i want my little girl to have dinner with us every night. i did that as a child, and it was 'weird' even then.

i like who you are. i respect who you are. and although i do enjoy stupid sitcoms and hour-long predictable dramas, I appreciate how you are, and even identify in some ways.

i think your little one will turn out just fine. know why? because she has two parents that love each other, and who will love her or him. and that, my friend, is what is so categorically different from most of the kids we work with.

you can't force them to be the exact way you want them to be. you'll only be setting yourself up for failure. you can guide them to learn to make the right decisions.

and i'm pretty sure with the two of you as parents, your future child will be balanced out pretty well. :)

compromise is the key. i'm painfully learning that as well.

Happy Holidays! Hope you're getting some stress-free time.


Deb said...

Wow! Jesse, what a beautiful piece on your impending parenthood. That you know what you don't know is a testament to your intelligence. Me, I just waded right in, gave birth to my daughter, and THEN said, "Okay, now what do I do?"

I'm certainly not an expert, but our children are now 32 and 28, happy, healthy, decent, loving and contributing members of society. Some of that because of us, some in spite of us. Hold tight to the plan of dinners together. It's what keeps you connected as a family and lets you really know your kids on a daily basis. You will never regret it.

What happened with us was, as a family where a parent was always present and there were regular mealtimes and homework times and bedtimes, we became the place where our kids' friends wanted to be, too. So if you're thinking your child might be isolated, just the opposite may be true - kids are smart; most love structure and a safe and welcoming environment and will gravitate to friends who have that.

I'm not saying that by being so hands-on we avoided every child-raising trauma, we didn't. But I believe we came through them more successfully because of the tight bond we share.

You and Amy will be fantastic (not perfect) parents and the best advice I can think of is to take joy in every exhausting, wonderful, fearful, hilarious, miraculous minute of it.

Happy New Year!