Random thoughts from an animal-loving French prof / mom of three on things she finds beautiful, funny, sad, or strange.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Things we (shouldn't) take for granted

The other night, my middle daughter was invited to an awards ceremony at UC, aka my workplace since 2001. We didn't think twice about it until the announcer started listing the participating schools. We realized that many families drove an hour, even two, to a place we see so often that well, we've stopped actually seeing it. As we walked to our car, parked in a nearby lot that only an "insider" would know, I commented that I hadn't realized this would be such a big deal. My daughter replied something like, "that's because it's Cumberland. It's just always here."

Two days later, our conversation still won't let me go. When did my privileged place in the world become so...I don't know...ordinary? I know that's probably just the dual effect of habit and of time, but still, that doesn't make it okay.
I mean, look at it. This is an American college campus, which are among some of the prettiest spots I've ever seen (and I've seen an awful lot). That this one is full of red brick buildings –a personal favorite– and located in the beautiful Appalachian mountains is the icing on an already delectable cake.

Besides, being here means I get to work with a lot of incredible people. My administration supports me, my colleagues sustain me, my students motivate me to get out of bed each and every day. No, it's not perfect (we all have our dark places), and yes, this Francophile with a Yankee attitude has days where she probably creates more problems than she solves, but hey, that's all part of the adventure.

The best part, though, is that I am getting away with an epic scam. I love languages, especially French. I love to read. I love to write. And by some miracle (okay, a miracle plus a PhD...), I have stumbled into a profession where people will actually put me in a room full of books and pay me do all three. There's even a coffeemaker, for crying out loud! Do I do it perfectly? No. I don't always even do it very well, or at least not as well as I'd like. But I come at it with energy and passion and a constant desire to improve. The result? I feel like I've won the lottery, only better. Unlike plain, cold, hard cash, this the kind of thing that stays with you forever.

So here's to our blessings and our loves. May we never take them for granted again.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Yeah, this is real too

A child, maybe 12, moves across the parking lot. Progress is slow, weighed down as he is by a leg cast and bulging backpack. He places his crutches carefully, looking up every so often, only to drop his eyes again when he sees how much parking lot remains.

The other parents stare, first at him, then at his mother, waiting alone by her car. 

"How long has he been crossing this lot, anyway?"

"I'd never let my kid get away with that."

"Bless him. That'd stop if he just got a little extra attention and love."

"That kid needs a good whipping. Then he'd move!"

If you are horrified, you should be.

If you think this cannot possibly be real, you are probably right. At least I hope you are. After all, what kind of person would criticize a child so obviously in pain? What kind of jerk would blame his parents because a broken leg had slowed him down?

Yet thousands of families endure something similar every day. Every. Single. Day. Not because of something visible, something obvious like a broken leg, but because their child suffers from wounds unseen, some of which were inflicted literally from the very first. Some combination of hunger, abuse, trauma, and neglect caused the child's brain to develop in unexpected ways, with a broad range of maladaptive behaviors to match. 

For parents of these kids, the phrase "pick your battles" takes on a whole new meaning. We have to pick so often and so quickly –yet somehow also carefully–, that I can just about guarantee we're not picking the ones you want. Yet trust me, we believe in love and discipline and everything else that goes into making a family work. It's just that our normal looks way different from yours. I wish I could say we 're sorry, sorry that our families make you so uncomfortable, so concerned. But we can't. We can't waste time apologizing for something that isn't our fault. Like the mom whose son is wobbling around with cast and crutches, we have bigger fish to fry.

What we can do is ask you to give us the benefit of the doubt, accept that we are actually doing the best we can, however imperfect that may be. Maybe this video will help. Do we all experience everything in it equally? No. But it does give people a chance to speak a lot of hard truths, truths they want the rest of the world to hear.

Remember, the support you give the family is love you show the child.