Saturday, June 02, 2007


This is one of my favorite pictures of my Joey.
The image is one that I draw up when things get especially hard. When we've had a screamy day and the school people are blowing me off and ETS isn't giving me enough work to pay the bills and friends are in troubled waters and the world seems to be spinning a little faster than usual. I've mentioned this picture elsewhere, on occasional comments on other blogs, it seems to be getting mentioned a lot lately. So here it is. The Image.

The large, round one is me. That's me, writing my dissertation. And that's my baby boy, fast asleep on me. He loved to sleep on me. He still likes a good snuggle.

When I was writing that dissertation, my world was very different. I knew where I was going and how I was going to get there, more or less. I had trained hard to be an academic. I would spend lovely jaunts in India looking at wonderful sites and objects, gain an understanding of how people lived, communicated, understood the world around them and expressed that understanding to each other. I would bring back presents that would make my little guy laugh and wonder about people who were different from him, who saw the world differently, who valued diferent things and dreamed different dreams. I would teach my little boy that there was more than one way to think about a problem, a pleasure, an experience; that there was more than one solution, more than one explanation, and these different ways of thinking, feeling, understanding could be tools for making his own sense of the cosmos. I would write wonderful books about people and the objects they made, the survivals of time and weather and cultural storm. I would stand in classrooms and share these visions and ideas with other young minds, and see where they could take thee ideas, what new thoughts could arise just by thinking in a new way, or from a new point of view. Yes, I was going somewhere. I was young. I'm still young for a PhD. I was ready. I had my dream in my pocket, and needed only for time to open out and unfold the events, so they could be savored, shared, and then committed to fond memory.

Academia is a funny place, especially if you're fool enough to take up an obscure field. The whole publish or perish thing is just one facet of the trouble. Children are a big no-no in most departments. Having a family is something reserved for folks in areas more popular with students (and therefore the faculty are in higher demand, and more allowances are made). Teaching experience can actually count against you; it only counts for you if you are also a prolific publisher. What prestige and funds will you bring to the college? That is the question. How many butts will you put into seats? How many donors are at your beck and call? Good teaching be damned, its all about the research. You don't have to be a good writer, you just have to be a published one. Quantity is far more important than quality.

I have a friend who is faculty over at the college while raising an Asperger's child. She's got the full-time gig. Her husband is also a prof. They both do an elaborate juggling act to be sure the children are supervised while they do their research, write their articles, teach their classes. It helps to be in subjects where travel is not a big deal. You can study English quite well without ever setting foot in England. Being full-time gives you more control over the schedule. I often stop to admire how well that family works together as a team to be sure things happen. The flexibility of the schedule is key- there is no way to maneuver through schedules of buses and therapists and hold a full-time, regular-hour job here. Respite and childcare that can handle an ASD child (or even WILL handle one) is practically non-existant without a medicaid waiver. I admire her greatly. She finds time to do her job, expand her work, and advocate for her son. That's a true wonder.

I hadn't secured a full-time gig before I had my guys. I'm an adjunct, when the local schools have money. I grade standardized tests, too, which is the best-paying gig I've got. There's been no time for much research, with running the guys to their appointments. I'm lucky if I get to shower. Trips to India? That's a laugh.

Back to the photo. A dissertation to nowhere. Such is the world I lost when I decided to be an advocate for my son. Not all parents make the choice I made. In fact, I find it disconcerting how few take up the challenge to support and advocate, and instead toss their kid at the school and say "fix it" then disappear. The ones that take up the challenge are always people of strength, fortitude, and often, attitude. Fighting everyone around you all the time is not for the faint-of-heart or weak-of-stomach. All the parents I know who are actually in there pitching are absolutely amazing people. I do my best to be like them. Such is the world I gained.

So this is also an image of what I gained in my life. I have a beautiful son. I hug him close whenever I get the chance. Boys tend to reach a point when they don't want hugs and kisses from Mommy anymore, so I get them in now while I can. Here is an image of the joys of being alive, the comforts of having my baby with me, my little buddy through thick and thin. Even on screamy days, he's my baby.

If I hold really still and think of this image, I can still feel the warm weight of him on my chest and belly, the little hand pulling on my shirt as it clutches at a button, the curve of a diapered bottom in my palm, the soft fuzz of hair, the even breathing sweet with milk. I could tip my head and kiss the top of his, lay my cheek against that little forehead and be instantly in heaven. One little nuzzle and the thoughts would untangle, the words arrange themselves according to thoughts, and sometimes the hand could keep up.

Did I give up my life? I admit there are some moments I wonder if I did. I certainly turned away from the world that was, and entered a whole differnt way of existing, and began to evolve a whole new way of thinking about the world, the cosmos, and my own place in it. Perhaps that is why Welcome to Holland speaks so well to me. I still have moments when I wonder what could-have-been. That old Two Roads in the Wood thing. Don't you ever wonder what was down that well-traveled lane? Even while you appreciate the wonders of the road you have actually taken?

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