Thursday, May 21, 2020

"I Try to Experience This Strange New World Through Her Eyes"

When my wife Jennifer gave birth to our daughter Josephine our lives were transformed. This is the experience of every new parent. Prior to that moment, you've listened to other people's stories, read books, and made plans, but until the advent of your actual child, it is all theory based upon the person you were before. But now you are irrevocably a different person with your own stories that are infinitely more meaningful than those you've heard or read, and, of course, all your best laid plans must be re-laid and re-laid again as you begin to live your way into your new and irrevocably transformed life.

In my two decades as a teacher in a cooperative preschool most of the new parents I've met were well into the throes of figuring it out. Perhaps for some parents it's as easy as dropping their baby off at child care in order to return to what's left of their old life, but from my experience that's rare indeed. Parents who've chosen a cooperative, with the time commitment to serve as assistant teachers as well as being actively engaged in the day-to-day operations of the school, are typically parents who have either made the decision to stay home to raise their child, at least during the early years, or who are seeking some sort of balance. Most parents, however, either don't have the cooperative option available to them or are compelled by economic necessity or choice to spend their days apart from their young child.

I don't judge anyone for their decision and feel compassion toward those who would otherwise choose to stay home with their children if they could afford it. I likewise don't judge those who don't want to jeopardize a meaningful career, especially since I know they have nevertheless been transformed and no matter how rewarding the work, there is always a shadow of guilt hanging over their decision.

Over the course of the last few months, and especially these past few weeks, I've become increasingly aware that this disruptive moment in time has give many parents an opportunity to reconsider their decisions. We have tended to focus on the challenges of working from home while caring for young children, but I'm beginning to see that there are many parents, perhaps not the majority, but a significant number, who are taking this time to reconsider their priorities. I've received an uptick in messages from young parents who are experiencing a kind of joy right now that they hadn't expected. Left alone all day with their child is taxing, of course, but they are also getting to know their children in ways they didn't before. This beautiful Mother's Day photo essay from Vogue encapsulates much of what mothers and fathers are experiencing right now. As a teacher, I see in these pictures every child I've ever taught and I'm filled with joy in knowing that this parent, that thousands, if not millions of parents, are in these tragic times having the opportunity to fall in love all over again, and to see what their children's care takers see:

I was also terrified for us, and my heart was breaking for those who suffered. I woke up every morning filled with dread. We started making pictures as a way to pass the hours. These are the only times I am completely in the moment, not worried or anxious. I look for magic and escape. The in-between times, the tender grasp of her hand, a wet curl on her perfect skin: All of this I want to hold in my heart. I think of the love I want to remember, and I try to experience this strange new world through her eyes.

A survey of Seattle area working families performed last month found that more than half do not currently have child care. Twenty percent report that either they or their partner are considering not returning to the work force post Covid. Nearly forty percent are considering having family (e.g., grandparents) move in with them. From an historical perspective, our current system of segregating parents, children, and grandparents, is an anomaly. These numbers seem to suggest that in this time of crisis, many are seeking to draw their families closer together in ways that more closely reflect our "ancestral normal," the one that we lived for most of human existence.

I imagine that most will simply return to "normal" as soon as that's possible, but if even a small percentage of parents follow through on their intentions, it could be transformative, not just for them, but for our entire society. And if nothing changes, something will have nevertheless changed, even if it's only that there will now be a generation of parents who, for a magical time, got to experience this strange new world through the eyes of their children. That's not a small thing.


My new book, Teacher Tom's Second Bookwill be back from the printers any moment now! I'm incredibly proud of it. I just checked the sales page and noticed that the publisher has forgotten to end the pre-publication discount, so if you hurry you should still be able to get a price break not just on the new book, but also on Teacher Tom's First Book! Heh, heh . . .

And finally, this is uncomfortable for me, but I earn most of my income by speaking at education conferences and running in-person workshops. I've had 95 percent of my income wiped out for the next 9 months due to everything being cancelled. I'm hustling to become a new and improved Teacher Tom. I know I'm not the only one living with economic insecurity, but if you like what you read here, please consider hitting the yellow donate button below.

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
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