In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.
Thanksgiving is coming at the right time. On campus, every few weeks we get a new bulletin from the state telling us to anticipate an even bigger cut than the last bulletin. At this point, it feels a lot like when you're standing in the sand and a wave washes over you and recedes, carrying the sand from around your feet with it. Every time you think there's finally a solid perch, another wave hits, and you get shorter without even moving.
In the midst of the doom and gloom, taking a moment to reflect on how well off we actually are, compared to most of the world, is helpful.
The Boy and The Girl are happy, healthy kids who are thriving in their schools. TB loves basketball and reading and building stuff, and he takes after his mother in ways that still surprise me. TG loves her "ballet gymnastics" and her friends and her Daddy, whom she takes after.
(An example: a couple of months ago we all went for a hike on an uncomfortably hot day. The Wife enjoyed herself tremendously. TB bounded ahead like a puppy. I lagged behind. TG lagged conspicuously, saying at one point, "I wish we were in a hotel." I had to concede the point.)
I'm glad that we've been able to give TB and TG the kind of stable, secure home that lets them not worry about anything beyond their years. Every so often I'll see a sign of depth in one of them that catches my breath. Earlier this week at dinner, TW asked spontaneously "if you could start your own restaurant, what kind of restaurant would it be?" Without skipping a beat, TB said "a soup kitchen." He went on to explain that that's where people go when they don't have money for food, and he'd like to feed them.
Unprompted, from a seven-year-old, I thought that was pretty good.
At the parent-teacher conference for her preschool, TG's teacher reported that TG is the moral compass of the class. She treats everybody well, and the other kids seek her approval. But she also stands up for herself, showing some backbone (and a trace of vinegar) when some other kid tries to, say, take a toy away from her while she's playing with it. She may only be four, but she knows from 'fair.' No doormats here.
I'm glad, too, to be able to make a living doing work that squares with my sense of ethics. When I do it right, my job involves helping to establish and improve an environment in which people can improve their lot in life through hard work. I'm okay with that. I can sleep well at night knowing that my college helps people help themselves. We've had students who slept in their cars when they came to us, and have since gone on to the Ivy League. If we didn't give them that first shot, I don't know who would have.
Sometimes it's hard to keep the larger good in mind. The annoyances of everyday life build up, personality conflicts are always there, and the accelerating downward spiral of state finances is getting harder to ignore. (On the home front, no matter how committed you are to being a good parent, sometimes you're just wiped. It happens.) And those pesky personal failings don't seem to go away, either.
All of that, granted.
But I still have a great deal to be thankful for, including the holiday's reminder. Compared to most other times, and most other places, and most other jobs, and most other life circumstances – including ones I've had myself – this is pretty damn good. It doesn't hurt to remember that.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
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Anthropology Open Rank (Assistant, Associate, or Professor) of Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts