Happy Tom’s Day and Meacher Appreciation Week to You!
By Jane Tawel
May 7, 2016 Reflections the Day Before “Mother’s Day” on Parenting and Teaching and Teaching and Parenting
Okay, let’s say upfront — tomorrow is a Hallmark holiday. But hey, it is mine own Hallmark Holiday so with minimum fanfare and fat, we’ll celebrate it. The best parts are always the cards that make me think I’m probably terminal but the kids haven’t told me yet, since they tend to gush about how great I am and always have been. Later that day I will drive them crazy again making me hopeful I’m not –unbeknownst to me– dying of something. My son I suspect will be terse and cheap — as he reminded me on my birthday, “Mom I didn’t buy you a present because I’d just have to use your money to buy it any way.” Good call, I gotta say. Hope he’s always being that honest — especially when he tells me where he’s been until 11:00 pm at night.
This past week incidentally has also been Teacher Appreciation Week — now I think rather than teachers accepting mugs and apples and flowers and candy and free lunches during this week of appreciation, we should have just that one week, when like other government officials and professionals, we can accept bribes and slush funds — in the forms of cars, vacations, and monetary bonuses at least 4 figures long. But hey, maybe I’ve been both a teacher and mother too long. I have been both to the same four kids quite a long time too. June 29 will mark 26 years of parenting plus the previous 9 months of gestation — which I count by the way.
So parenting and teaching always go hand in hand, whether you acknowledge one or the other or not. Good parenting is like helping someone ride a horse. At first the parent rides behind on a sturdy saddle, clutching the baby tightly and firmly speaking nonsense to both horse and child. As a toddler, you let the child ride along, ensconced in a very sturdy saddle but, you lead the horse. In fact you lead the horse AND the horse is tied to a pole that goes around in a very small circle. You have realized by the time you are out there alone with the reins clutched and your eyes on the child’s delighted or terrified face, that all horses are dangerous and as a parent you are responsible for every waking and sleeping moment, every bump and poop pile in the road of your child’s life. When the child hits the preteens and really begins to rebel against riding any horse, especially one that a parent has picked, you run behind with a long stick and you prod the horse or you run recklessly before the teen’s horse and coax it forward with a carrot. Some time around then the mom begins to stand on the sidelines cheering when your “baby” rides her horse over the hurtle, crying privately when the horse throws the kid into the mud, and hugging your taller than you baby (sometimes you are only allowed to hug them in in your mind) when he comes home dirtied but safe, having learned a valuable lesson in riding through a day, or a test, or a broken relationship — riding through life all on his own.
Then one day Mom/ Teacher looks in amazement as the child has found and does new tricks on that one horse– the dream horse of a certain breed and color that your child can ride without any one holding the reins; she is riding it, flying through life’s courses bareback on her very own horse. You had thought a few times while the child was growing up, that that horse would be his “dream horse” but you had no idea, what he could accomplish, could envision, could love in the way he rides that horse. That’s when you know you have parented and taught to the best of your ability — because that one horse is exactly the one your child was created to ride — it is her dream. Your kids will still fall a lot and get hurt and you will often want to go grab them and ride with them in front of you holding on so tight they will never, ever get hurt again You are more than willing to take the falls for them. But you can’t. It’s not your horse any more. There isn’t a saddle for you. You can still cheer from the sidelines. You can still cry when they break an arm. You will pray your knees raw for them. You will be in agony if they are so badly hurt they can’t ride that horse any more. But you will be okay with doing all of that. Because you love them. And you still have your own horse to ride.
Once you become a parent/ teacher or teacher/ parent you will have found your own horse to ride bareback. No matter how many other horses come along to fulfill no matter how many of your dreams — you will still be always and forever riding the horse that your child or your student gave you on that very first day you became a parent / teacher. And your riding abilities better be pretty darn pliable because that child will put your heart through tricks and tumbles, turns and jumps you never ever thought you could or even knew you wanted to do. But I wouldn’t trade my parent/teacher rodeo for all the Rodeo Drives in the world!
All parents have the minds of teachers and all teachers have the hearts of parents — because both of these life-roles — they are so much more than jobs, that the word “job” becomes a besmirching lie when used for either — both mother and teacher pour their hearts into the care of the child and both teacher and mother want the child to gain skills, to grow, to learn, to gain wisdom and character, and to at least pass the SAT test, for Pete’s sake. Really we should have a hybrid name. It would be really useful when the calendar comes up with Mother’s Day and Teacher’s Week in the same week of the year. We could all be called Meachers or Toms? Paculty? or Farents?
We often say as teachers that our goal and our happiness are the same — to see “the lights go on” in students’ minds. When you are teaching a young child, they are completely in the dark. It is your house and you grab his sticky little hand, turn on a light and start flipping switches in rooms and turning on lights. You turn a switch and they learn to say “Dada”; you turn on a light in the next room, and they learn to read Go Dog, Go; you turn on a light and in that room they learn to drive a car, go on a date, play the violin, or do calculus — or maybe that calculus room stays forever dark, like mine did, who knows. But you are turning on lights and saying, “See!” “What do you see here?” “Do you like it?” “Sit here awhile”. “Turn the page.” “Watch out!” “Slow down or you’ll trip, let me turn on the light first. See? See? See?”
Now some teachers and parents get stuck thinking that it will always be their job to turn on the lights. Of course, every kid knows that is not the case, so some teachers and parents think they are still holding the student’s hand and turning on the lights and that’s a wee bit sad. It’s a ghost hand. The kid is in another room. I still do it myself time and time again, and it’s sad. But when you get teaching right, you move from the first stage of leading and turning on the lights, to the second stage of still holding their hand, but letting them turn on their own lights, even though it’s still your house. But the final stage is when you as a teacher/ parent are out in the front yard of the child’s house and you aren’t in any of the rooms — if you did a good job, the kid will have a framed photograph of you on a couple of the walls, nicely backlit, but you it is not your house any more, you are on the outside looking in.
And as you watch in the gloaming of your life if you are so blessed, you see the most astounding thing — no matter how many students and how many kids you have “stalked’ — standing outside their houses — it will every time amaze and move you to tears, laughter, joy, and bittersweet memories and hopes– all at the same time. Because you will be standing outside that house of that child’s and you will see– way in the back corner room, a little nightlight glow; and then in the upstairs front bedroom where in your house, you taught them how to correct their term papers, you will see a strong desk light turn on — like magic it seems– the child must have turned it on himself! The kitchen will light up bright and cheery — that’s where you put together puzzles and meals, sometimes mistakenly getting the pieces of them mixed up together with Waldo in the spaghetti sauce and cookie dough on the Santa Barbara Mission! And then the living room will become warmly lit from within, and through your tears of pride and the front room window, you will see that child of yours hold her baby, read to his very own toddler, defend his dissertation, or change the oil in her car, and you will know that you did turn on some very important and wonderful lights indeed in the child’s heart and mind. Because that is how he can now love and teach, teach and love, how she can turn on some lights for her very own child and student — because that is how you first taught her.
The porch light will sometimes come on while you are standing out there in the front yard. It is welcoming you in — but it is welcoming you into the no -longer- your- home. It is welcoming you as a student into your child’s home. When you become a teacher /parent you are always a parent / teacher, and because of that you are always a curious child and an eager learner. The front porch light means the Owner of the house is saying: ” I may not do it the way you did, I may not have gotten everything you thought you wished I got, there are some things I didn’t learn, but others I never thought I could and maybe you didn’t either! –but I have this brightly lit house because of you Parent/ Teacher and now, I love you as my Friend. And now, I want to teach you. Now I want to parent you. Now I want to share my lights with you. Come in. Watch out, don’t trip, let me get the light first. Have a seat. Let me show you something. See? See? See?”
I don’t know if today you as a teacher/ parent are in the riding – behind the child phase or the holding the reins of the toddler’s horse phase or in the watching silently from the sidelines phase of your parenthood. I don’t know if you as a teacher are in the switching on the lights, pointing out the light switches, or standing outside the house watching all the brilliant chandeliers and nightlights and lava lights go on. But wherever you are, enjoy the ride, don’t be afraid of the dark, keep the lights burning so they always know they are welcome, and take a daring leap now and then on your very own special dream horse.
Don’t tell the kids, but every day is a special day for Farents and Paculty. Where ever you are in your journey—
Happy Meachers/Tom’s Day to you!