Who are you? What do you say? What do you do? We have so many ways to describe kids and so many ways to describe ourselves. My daughter and I are both adding identity labels on and it’s an odd process.
Today, I forgot to tell Elizabeth that she got into the gifted program. In my defense, my husband was out of town and the morning was a little rushed. Also, I was purposely making it “not a big deal” since a) her brother is not in it yet (they identify at 3rd grade mostly) and the two of them are so competitive that he is likely to shut down and not even try to do well if she is already in (if he can’t win, he doesn’t play), and b) I want to emphasize things she DOES have control over like effort and neatness, rather than grades or program placement. Because I forgot to tell her, she went to school and got to hear how a bunch of her friends got in. She and I had already talked about how she may or may not be “accepted” and how that it wasn’t a big deal either way- so she felt sad, and in her incredibly plucky way, went and found a friend, “Hannah” (all children’s names are changed) that also had not gotten in. She came home from school and told me that her bestest friend “Emily” HAD gotten in and wouldn’t be in her Thursday afternoon class anymore. ”Oh yeah,” I said “I forgot to tell you- I got the letter and you’re going to go with her”. She shrieked, ran out the door and jumped up and down with Emily, very happy and thrilled.
Later, once dinner was on the table, she asked “Does this mean that Hannah’s mom forgot to tell her, too?”
“I don’t know, honey”… and Elizabeth sat and pondered a label that she didn’t have before and now she does and how that changes her friendships. We talked a brief bit about how really the job of a teacher is to help all kids learn stuff that is hard and you might be in different classes and do different things, but you’re still friends.
“Will I be able to stay in?” she asked. ”How will it be different?”
“Remember, you’ll have Emily,” I reminded her.
“Yeah,” she said with relish. ”And now I get to carry the special notebook the gifted kids carry.”
And I’ve gotten the label of “Author”. My book is now available for pre-order and I’m getting ready to go on a small book tour, and I’m not sure what an “author” is. I saw the cover for the first time and it was exciting and thrilling, and… foreign to see my name on the title page. I wrote the book this summer because it was therapy- it was the book that I wanted to read when we were scared and panicked and thrashing about looking for the “right” label, therapy, program- trying to find a new “normal” and integrating what I knew as a professional with what I felt as a mom. I wanted someone to hold my hand who knew what was going on and yet would be deeply sympathetic. Someone who understood the toll it took on my marriage, my friendships, my job, and my finances- and yet, provided a way to celebrate, and laugh, and and be really curious about what was happening. But somehow, while I was writing this book for others that I could help, it wasn’t real. I showed it to my husband, my mother (who both read every word and had lots of ideas and insights), my friends (some of whom read it) and some other mommies (who gave great feedback and added their own stories). It was a bit like writing a really big paper- and having a doctorate means that I’ve written a lot of papers. But now, it’s out- it’s beyond my “just one more edit” place. It has a COVER and is available for pre-order. It’s a process of connecting to other people who I don’t know- going to Barnes and Nobles and being “that” person.
I’m actually rather shy- new people and situations make me really anxious. I so relate to my son when he hangs on the periphery of a crowd and has screaming meltdowns when I have to leave to travel to a conference. Familiar roles are easier. I’m comfortable with being a teacher. Teaching is wonderful, when the students (of any age) have the “oh wow- I GET it” moment. When you can visibly “see” the connection that was made. Being a professor means that I present at professional conferences and I write professional articles for other professionals just like me. If I know the “script” that teaching content that I know and love, I’m happy.
But I tend to keep my professional life fairly separate from my personal life. My personal life is much less clear. Parenting is something I’m figuring out, as I get to know these little people who are my children. (Adolescence will change the rules again- I know…). Wife- working on every day. Daughter- I’m pretty good at that, too- most of the time. Friend- I could always do better, but I’m there when I’m needed. All of these are roles that are defined by a relationship to someone else- someone I know- and the scripts and relationships are well-established. But “author”… that’s a role of something DONE.. and now what? It means talking, blogs to communicate with a larger audience- and sharing with people- just like me- whom I don’t know yet. And that’s perhaps the scariest part of all. Being an author implies a relationship with people who (hopefully) want to read my book and have questions about both my professional and my personal sides, and being shy, I’m nervous to meet people in this new role. I don’t know the script.
So, if you see me in my new label as author, I’ll probably be carrying the “special notebook”. It’s working for my daughter as she tries on a new label, too.