I’m writing this on the eve of my son’s third birthday. My daughter will be five in April. Looking at them both, seeing how much they’ve changed and grown in the past year has made me reflect on how much their development has reshaped my own development as an academic.
(And, no, this isn’t a nostalgic post about how quickly they’ve grown and how much I miss their little baby selves. I have always looked forward to the next milestone, the next stage, all while remembering to enjoy the one they are in. I can’t wait to see who my kids become as they get older. That, and they both walk, talk and go potty on their own now. Don’t miss the pre-mobile, pre-verbal, diaper phases, thanks.)
My daughter has always looked to be the center of attention, even as a tiny baby. She is in a great big hurry to grow up, because of the learning that she will get to do. I’m not sure if she loves to learn new things or craves the approval and praise she receives from showing off the new things she has learned. I see a lot of myself in her; she is a quick learner and tends to get very frustrated and give up when she can’t master something immediately. I’m trying to get her to be patient and keep trying. She is stubborn and talkative and curious and social. It is also very easy to hurt her feelings and send her into what I call a spiral of despair. No is not a word she likes to hear very much.
My son, on the other hand, has always been a bit more mellow and low-key, again, even as a not-so-tiny baby. He is in absolutely no hurry to learn new things and doesn’t really respond to any sort of praise in order to encourage things like walking, talking, going potty. He does things right the first time and he does things when he’s good and ready. He’s so quiet sometimes that you “forget” he’s there, but he’s always listening and paying attention. He doesn’t do well with change, but will rarely spiral into despair like his sister; instead he silently protests his situation. Because he doesn’t show off like his sister, it’s easy to overlook the progress he has made or noticed what he has learned; it’s seems sometimes like one day he doesn’t know something and next day he does.
Both are smart, empathetic, and all-around good kids. But they are so different. I’m sure some of it could be chalked up to gender differences and birth order, but mostly they’re their own person. It’s certainly helped me become more sensitive to the different personality types and learning styles in my own classroom. Both my kids learned to walk, talk, go potty, learn their shapes, colors, letters, etc, in much (outwardly) different ways. “It’s always the quiet one” the saying goes, and I try much harder now to remember the quiet ones in my classroom.
They also, in part, inspired my decision to do peer-driven learning. My kids, in their own way, both love learning. My daughter can’t wait to go to school, and when my son finds something he’s interested in, he’ll spend hours (ok, extended minutes, but he’s not even three yet) examining and asking questions. I see my students sitting largely dead-eyed and unenthused in my classroom and I dread the day that this happens to my own children. Why can’t I make learning interesting and fun again, remind my students what learning used to be like? So, I did.
Finally, and most paradoxically, becoming a parent has made me a little more inflexible in my classroom policies. They stereotype is that parenthood softens people. Instead, I’ve learned the importance of a routine, of clear rules that are consistently followed, and that sometimes, as a parent and a teacher, I have to push. Bored kids means trouble. Bored students means trouble, too. I have to continually find ways to challenge and provoke (in a good way).
But perhaps my kids' biggest influence on me has been my move towards more vocally advocating (or trying to advocate) on behalf of those who are off the tenure-track. In 15 years if and when my daughter is getting ready to go to college, I want to have helped shape it for the better so that she (well, both) can benefit if they chose. Trying to understand and embrace digital humanities is also an attempt to make sure I am not completely and utterly disconnected from their evolving reality.
It’s also fitting that this will be published while I’m away on a trip with my husband in New Orleans (don’t worry, they’re with their grandmother). If my kids taught me that my career wasn’t everything, they also taught me that it was important to me, as is my relationship with their father. I want to teach them that life is about hard work and hard choices, but that they have to power to make those choices, especially my daughter. It is, to me, the most important lesson of all.