Friday, May 18, 2012

Learning and shame

Therapy was unusual last night in some awesome ways. I showed up half an hour early because I wasn't sure about public transit to the new location and the appointment before me cancelled so she was just sitting around. We could have started early but instead she decided to pick my brain. She moonlights as a guidance counselor at a middle school. The school is more than 60% black and over 30% latino. They have some problems. I don't think I can explain how good it felt to talk to her about how to handle these children. She is the "emergency" therapist who sees the kids who are in serious crisis Right Now. I had a lot to say. It was interesting how the end of the conversation was quite sad. We had to plainly discuss the fact that there ARE things that can be done for these kids, but how much time and energy do you have? What are the things that you can really sustain doing? It's hard to evaluate. She took notes on the things I said. I felt so respected. She told me that she is going to strongly consider how she can get me up there to talk to her really at risk kids. She thinks it will be good for them to hear a white person with my history because they don't believe a white person can understand. I used the fuck out of that misperception when I was teaching. You can't buy tools as handy as that.

I told her about what an asshole I am being to a friend who is having issues with the public education system. I told her I don't understand why I still have friends. This directly linked into a lot of my attitudes about education and child rearing which ties into a lot of my feelings about having less worth in society because my earning potential is really quite low. Being a stay at home mom is not a very respected position. Oh well.

We talked about my frustration and confusion that Americans don't seem to be training their children to be adults. They prepare the kid for preschool so the kid can be prepared for kindergarden so the kid can be prepared for the lower grades, then middle school, then high school, then college, then graduate school, then a PhD program, then a postdoctoral... I suppose we should all be college professors? I suppose some people transition into working in industry. Many companies run a lot like schools. It's odd. Outside of academia I have worked in food service. I worked in the library and the theatre in college. I have taught. Really those have been my jobs. I feed people and help them learn. I like it--mostly.

I feel a lot of uncertainty about the future. I'm sadly aware that many of the people who are alive and making decisions now care very little about the long-term consequences of what we are doing as a society. I feel like it is ridiculously important that my kids understand that we are animals that require food. What are all the steps involved in arranging for adequate, constant food. My children will probably never know food uncertainty. What can they learn and figure out about how to help other people have the same life experience? What problems are going to crop up in our food supply? I'm quite nervous about this. I want my children to be incredibly practical. One of the up-sides of doing all these home improvement projects by myself with the kids is they are seeing how to do these tasks. Very soon they will be learning how to do them.

I also think my children will need to know how to program. I suspect that will be a mandatory skill for people who want serious job prospects in the future. I want my children to have options. I want them to feel like they are prepared to take the world by storm when they are adults. I want them to know so many things that they feel completely competent to go learn whatever they need but don't yet know. I want them to see themselves as strong and able to assimilate new information.

I struggle with learning a lot of things. I don't have the best memory. I read extremely quickly and I can synthesize ideas quickly but I forget things. That's kind of a problem. I hope my kids get Noah's memory.

My therapist and I talked extensively about how I feel like the next fifteen years are a gift. I have always wanted to go learn things but I didn't want to go alone. Soon I will be able to go to dance events with my kids. Soon I will be able to do martial arts classes with my kids. I already practice languages with my kids. I'm discovering that I remember more Spanish than I think. I'm not as incompetent as I assume. It's nice. I have these wonderful companions to learn with.

Shanna and Calli don't think I am lame for how little skill I have at gardening. I feel really pretty silly for the intensity of my emotions around gardening. I grew up with people who had no respect for farming as a career and as a result they tried hard to never touch anything growing. My family felt they "got off the farm" and they had no interest in looking back. My family hasn't farmed in at least three generations on all sides. Why is there so much hostility? Such disdain? We don't garden.

Only I'm going to have this house paid off in another decade or so and I'm going to be stuck looking out that back window for all the remaining years of my life. I'd like it to be pretty. I feel kind of vain and silly about that. I would like to look at a colorful, interesting yard. I want it so bad I ache with wanting. I want to feel like a stupid, incompetent, worthless person still gets to look at something nice because I have the physical ability to create it.

It's always harder than I think. I forget to water. I don't have good weeding technique. I would starve to death if I had to take care of a whole field in order to eat. I feel ashamed of that. I feel weirdly pathetic because I can't figure out the physical motion that will allow me to do this work quickly. It's hard. I don't know what I can do without damaging the plants I want to keep. I'm trying things and experimenting. It's a slow process.

When I can remove my idiotic self-deprecation from this thought process I find it really kind of wonderful that I am learning all of these things and talking them through with my kids. Calli is too young to really understand yet, but Shanna is picking things up. I am really moving at about the right speed for Shanna. I feel ponderously slow and incompetent. Really I'm just moving at four year old speed. If I went faster she would feel left out. I wouldn't want to outpace my companion.

It's a lot of how I think about running. How do you find a pace for running with other people? I worry about it. I have several upcoming opportunities for running with friends. Some who are far more experienced runners than me and at least one who runs less than me. I'm fucking thrilled by the idea of running with someone who runs less than me. I won't feel like I am slowing her down. I won't have to feel embarrassed when I need to walk. I'm scared of running with people who are honest to dawg athletes. Standing near them makes me feel like my low status in their world is blinking in neon over my head. LOSER WHO CAN BARELY RUN. Physical Education classes were never kind to me.

It was an odd experience to look around the park on Tuesday and realize that whereas the home school kids will have various "coaches" they won't have a PE teacher. If they do that position will fall to me. What athletic activities do I think my kids should know how to do? I have to figure out how to teach them or arrange to have someone else teach them. I think I should buy a small soccer ball and bring it. I feel odd about that. I want them to love things I don't love. I want them to have access to ideas and hobbies I am not actually into.

This was one thing that surprised my therapist last night: how focused I am on trying to figure out what I don't know that I should be teaching my kids. I feel intense pressure to work constantly on dealing with the extent and damage of my ignorance. I feel crippled by the extent and volume of my ignorance. I am not trying to be a know-it-all. I'm trying to be an actual competent person. The problem is that I value an odd combination of competences. I am extremely specific in what I care about and I totally ignore things I don't understand or see value in. That's kind of a problem. I simply can't limit my children due to my biases. I want them to be competent adults. I want to know in twenty-five years that I have loosed two extremely fucking competent women on the world and they are off building and learning things I can't wrap my mind around. They took the genesis of information I gave them and went off to do things I can't understand.

I like being a jill of all trades. I don't really aspire to master many topics. I'm a generalist. I like and highly value generalists. But like many people like me I feel like my lack of mastery means I am low in status. I'm not the best at basically any task. I notice and have a hard time with that emotionally. I don't do competitive things because I can't handle the fact that I'm never fucking going to be first. Do you know what second place is? The first fucking loser. I cried watching people pass me during the half marathon. I'm an idiot.

I want my kids to either be such prolific generalists that they terrify people or able to become masters in something. Other than talking to abused kids, which really... I'm awesome at that, I don't think I will attain mastery of any subjects in this lifetime. That really kind of bothers me. I'm trying to gain peace with the idea that I will never really take anything to eleven. I will never be the best. Not everyone gets to be. lame.

My wonderful daughter just wandered out to sit on my lap. Today we are going to the redwoods to cut down trees so I can build her a play house. I should really take pictures of this process. I have a vision in my head. I know what I am going to do. It's going to be really neat. You'll see. I'm good at taking pictures in my head and turning out a decent approximation. Heck, look at my daughters.  This looks like my picture in my head of a family. We are kind to each other. Maybe I do have a reality distortion field.


  1. I want to feel like a stupid, incompetent, worthless person still gets to look at something nice because I have the physical ability to create it.

    This hits deep for me. It's a lot of why I like making things.

    I want them to have access to ideas and hobbies I am not actually into

    This seems less weird to me because I want *me* to have access to ideas and hobbies that I'm not actually into.

    I don't love math, but I have a math degree. I have good basic skill and it's really useful for what I do. I didn't get a skin-of-my-teeth math degree. I got a "did well, did the hard stuff, dived deep" math degree from a good school.

    Similarly, I plan to make absolutely sure that by the time our daughters are sixteen or so, they will *know* that even higher math isn't black magic, and that if they need what it provides they can turn an investment of time, effort and (if necessary) instruction into that stuff that being good at math gives you.

  2. I'm trying to gain peace with the idea that I will never really take anything to eleven. I will never be the best.

    Remember when we talked about how you want to write a children's book about hard issues and abuse, and how you're one of the best-qualified people in the world to write such a thing? Between your abuse, your teaching ability, your focus and your basic talent and dedication to writing you really are. Seriously, who can you name that is better qualified and writing books like that? What's one book like that that you can look at and say, "I can't do that well?"

    You should probably get used to the idea that you will never give yourself *credit* for taking things to 11, instead. Then you can go ahead and be awesome and just know that your feedback mechanism is broken.

    I'll grant you it will still suck just as much to be you, but it will get in your way a bit less.

    Then you should go write the first of those books. Because it'll be awesome.