Thursday, September 08, 2005

Familio-Academic Grudge

I had an unsatisfying conversation with my mom today, and it brought up something that happened a couple years ago that, while really brief, was nonetheless devastatingly disappointing.

A couple of years ago I was finally writing my Master's Thesis on Bapsi Sidhwa, a Pakistani author who wrote _Cracking India_. I was working out a new paradigm for interpreting the novel, based upon my understanding of key elements of "The Ramayana." Defending Bapsi from Western feminists who were starting to snark at the novel for being not feminist enough. I was trying to assert that if we view the novel through the proper cultural and artistic lenses, we gather a fairer comprehension of Sidhwa's achievement. Sort of a post-colonial feminist criticism, grounded in folklore. If you will. Ahem.

Anyhoo... I was REALLY ragged out. Totally sleep deprived and, I think, a little hormonally imbalanced after Simon. He never slept through the night until he was 2 years old. NEVER. And that does something to you. And I never could work on my work until after he and Ethan went to bed. So I was constantly up all night, every night, grading (I had to keep teaching so I could make money to keep Ethan at school), lesson-planning, reading, and thesis-writing. I was so lonely in those long, quiet hours while everyone else slept. And I was SO teetering on the brink of fatigue-induced insanity it's not even funny.

Finally though, I finished my first chapter, and had gone over it with my thesis advisor, and I was, I have to say, pretty dang proud of myself. It sounded alright! Good even! So I, ever the approval-seeking wayward child, drove right over to show it to my mom. BIG mistake. I paced around while she began reading through it. After about a page and a half, she turned to me, disbelieving and confused, running her hand across the type, and asked, "YOU wrote this?... All by yourself? These are... YOUR words?"

And not in an "I-can't-believe-how-brilliant-my-daughter-is-I'm-so-stunned-by-pride" sort of a way.

In a "There-is-no-way-my-disappointing-failure-to-live-up-to-her-potential-daughter-wrote-this-very-intelligent-stuff" sort of a way.

The difference is quite remarkable, and breathtakingly unmistakeable. Like between a caress and a punch.

Here's how beaten down by her belittling assessments of me I had become:

1) Rather than raging defensively as I would have done once upon a time, instead I quietly removed the sheaf of papers from her grip, and merely answered, "Yes - all by myself Mom."

2) I gave up on my second chapter about 2 pages in - after a manic depressive, sleepless night all alone, freaking around the associate faculty office at school, nauseated and physically unable to type another word about my subject.

3) I went home and had escapist sex with my husband.

4) I got pregnant.

5) I essentially dropped out of grad school 3 thesis chapters shy of finishing, after straight As and the euphoria of discovering my true vocation (teaching literature).

6) I now have Charlotte instead of a thesis.

Pretty much a fair trade off. Not that I don't daily manage the grudge against my mom and the grudge against myself for being unable to withstand the withering effects of her inability to believe in my ever achieving anything academically. And my subsequent proving her exactly right by leaving off.

I'm still teaching. I still kick ass at it. I'm a natural. No lie.

It's just that every day that Master's degree gets further and further away from me, and I'm stuck right here in the limbo of my own making.

I'm pretty happy in my underachieving world. I'm a damn good mom. But still.

This one really gets to me sometimes.


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