Sunday, April 02, 2006

This One Riles Me.

A woman's place: it's a vast topic, but one I am experiencing in a particularly personal realm, as I sit on my sticky spot in my little life. I am a puzzle piece in the wrong box, destined not to fit. Here's the scenario for me, and I am guessing, based on extensive research of women whom I know and like, that American culture is squeezing us out unless we adhere. Adhere to the looking pretty and plucking. Adhere to the mothering well and making bucks. Checking on one's parents when they're needy? Children when they're ill? Caring for one's self - or one's partner - when we are ill or needy? Is any of this new? Of course not. So this is a tale of an ogre - that would be me - who is uncomfortably roped into a world where she is expected to do tasks with delicate little fingers that she doesn't have; and to master assignments with strength that's already sapped.

My brother died last July. He was murdered. It was random but purposeful. I somehow went back to work a few weeks later. He was one of my best friends, my quirky pal as a kid, and the only person who never, ever, judged me. We won't get into the muppet voices, the Thai food, and his excellent guitar playing.

I went back to my teaching job. I tried to comfort my parents, my brother's wife, my dear sister, and my kids, all of whom were devastated. We comforted one another. I wanted to comfort them - what else would I do? At work, I did strangely well. The word "excellent" was used. I heard it as if from a long distance, and kept on moving. I managed; people helped me. By the holidays, I started coming unglued. Even typinging this into my electronic box I feel the pulses in my fingers as I trank the keys to think of the presumptuousness of people who advocate the status quo even when it has been utterly violated. It is like an ogre-tale: remember the college guy in American Werewolf in London? And all of the inferior subsequent rip-offs? He became angry as he lost the ability to do the every-day stuff. So this winter I made some mistakes at work. Not awful mistakes. No children were injured or tormented. A couple of classes were lousy and boring. I consulted with colleagues; considered a leave. Couldn't afford it.

And then I recovered my abilities at work, pretty much. But in our profession, in the female teaching profession, and I am guessing that nurses, and others, put up with analogous crap, that just wasn't good enough. I was told that I was "good," but that in my snotty school system everyone needs to be excellent. Women are dispensable. My husband does more around the house - he is the neatnik - but who is caring for my grieving children? Who in our society cares for ailing parents, grieving parents? Isn't it usually the daughters? I was encouraged to take the leave when suddenly the idea that I wouldn't be invited back next year arose, but who would pay for it? The Grief Fairy? The Goddess of Devastated Siblings? Is she related to The Maternity Banker?

I don't know my place. It seems, ironically, that a private school would be a better fit: they are less rigid and have fewer legislators making arbitrary rules about how children learn. Psychologists say that when one loses a sibling, it fucks with the whole perspective, because one's fundamental reality has shifted. Some days I am better, and other days I take the pills they gave me, and I try to imagine how I could possibly fit, without my brother to argue with me over which t.v. shows suck and other such important matters.

Did I shed a new light on an old topic? I'll tell you what: for me, I'm not waiting for someone else to figure out the best way to mother my children. I'm not laughing when the joke isn't funny and I'm not speaking to my students as if they're idiots. So if my unpleasant area smells a bit, and makes some folks want to stay away, they can go right ahead. Like I tell my students, 'we're all yoo-mun beens.' I know my right and I know my wrong. If that doesn't fit in anybody's All-American bad-suits in bad-colors hierarchy, may they be subjected to the purgatory of micro-management, standardized testing, and a perpetual sense of alienation. And if they are already subjecting others to the aforementioned blights of society, well, I'm considering ogre as a full-time profession. Until then, anybody gotta job?


  1. Grieving is difficult these days. No one wants to acknowledge death - it is too uncomfortable for those at a distance. For some reason, our society expects us to "get over it" in a few days or weeks when a year may be too short to deal with losing a close family member. We are expected to compartmentalize our lives as if we can leave our feelings at home in a little basket with our knitting. There is no insurance for grieving. I don't know how things work there or what your financial needs are but you might consider job-sharing or even substitute teaching for a year to give you more personal time. With subbing, you could just decline altogether on a "bad" day. You are not an ogre - just the opposite I would think. Hoping you get what you need to feel yourself again.

  2. Jeannie - thank you for your kind words. my heart appreciates it, but my wallet isn't listening!

  3. That's a really crappy situation you're in. It isn't fair at all. I hope that you find a better job soon.

    (surfed over from the Carnival of Feminists, fyi)

  4. I work for a university and we have leave sharing. When a coworker's young daughter drowned, I donated a week of leave (my kids are older now so I don't have to take off as much as I used to).

    I'm sorry about your brother. Mine died when I was 18 and I can't say that I've ever "gotten over it" (I'm 49 now). I managed to go on, but I think about him more days than not. I wonder how he would have turned out, what he would have thought about things, who he would have married and what his kids would have been like.

  5. Your grief and your grievance are two sides of the same coin, it seems. Your school district wants to view people as fungible automatons, and tries to structure the job (I take it you are a teacher) as if this were so, threatening you with replacement when you deviate from the norm. But your personal devastation comes from the fact that people are not fungible--your late brother was a unique, irreplaceable person and so are you. His death changed the shape of the world as we know it. If our children are to become real people they need to learn from and about real people, not teacher-bots, and the school district should be a place where real people can work and also live.

    Well, that was very abstract, so let me add a hug and and my sympathy.