• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Square Pegs

Different talents.

September 29, 2013

As I have mentioned here before, my parents didn't believe in higher education for girls. A couple of my high school teachers needed to intervene, strenuously, before they would allow me to apply.

I was determined to go to college, in part because I had so few non-academic strengths. I had ADHD and an organizational learning disability that weren't diagnosed until much later, and that made it mysteriously hard to function in the world outside the classroom. I felt strong and competent in humanities classes, and nearly nowhere else. (I could also act and sing, but the chances of being able to support myself through those activities were dismal even when I was young and cute.)

So I persevered, and eventually triumphed. And my mother never forgave me. Every time I did something stupid (which was fairly often, see above: my young adulthood was littered with fender benders, lost plane tickets, misunderstood directions, botched home-ec projects, and other mortifications that caused more conventionally abled people to tear their hair and rend their garments) my mother would raise an eyebrow and say, "They teach you this in college?"

Without fail, this made me feel guilty and wrong. I felt that I had somehow fooled teachers and friends into believing that I had strengths, but that my mother (because who should know me better?) saw through this smokescreen to the failure and fraud I really was. If I couldn't even manage to leave home in matching socks, what right did I have to take up space in the universe?

Parenthood cured me of that nonsense. Ben has many of the same issues I struggled with, yet it has always been clear that he is a brilliant, worthwhile human being with a great deal to offer. As I educated myself about his (our) conditions and fought to explain and defend him to teachers, my belief in my own abilities grew, along with acceptance that I would probably never attain competence in some areas that normal people take for granted.
I wrote here a few weeks ago about an audition in which I was asked to scream, and for which I screamed so convincingly that neighbors tried to break the door down. They did teach me that in college, actually--when I played Mary Warren in Arthur Miller's The Crucible, I needed to produce a bloodcurdling scream at a pivotal moment, and I worked on it until I had perfected it, and startled the bejeezus out of the audience every night.
I got the part. So last Monday, I spent an hour in the West Fourth Street train station, screaming, as the stars of the movie (Josh Lucas and Stephen Plunkett) stared at me from a nearby bench and made dialogue comments to the effect of, "If I ever get that bad, shoot me."
I loved every second of it. I can barely drive a car, organize my house or read a tax form, but I have a PhD and I am a world class screamer, and how many normal people can claim that?


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