Sunday, January 07, 2007

Mama's Boy

I better finish up these five things so I can get back to an African focus here at Bazungu Bucks.

So far I've given a chronological narrative about my life and foibles. Naturally throughout my life my mother is a presence; so that's hardly a surprise.

Mama's Boy:
Synonyms: baby, big baby, crybaby, gutless wonder, lightweight, Milquetoast, mollycoddle, mother's darling, namby-pamby, pansy, sissy, softy, teacher's pet

"boy." Roget's New Millennium™ Thesaurus, First Edition (v 1.3.1). Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. 07 Jan. 2007.
Wow! what am I admitting to? Gender ideas get pretty complicated. I've heard it said that where in one society an occupation is exclusive to one gender it often the exclusive province of the opposite gender in another. Nowadays in America it seems as though there's a rash of hyper-masculinity that's based on masculine as being not-feminine. That's rational enough, I suppose, but so much of the posturing sounds downright anti--women and misogynistic to me. That I don't get because a world without the feminine is unbearable to contemplate.

I love my mother. Even though now she's no longer living and breathing her presence is still palpable in my life.

I mentioned before that I'm a Southerner and mentioned how my claims to that identity have been contested. We moved to Greenville, South Carolina just about a month before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law. About a year after that my younger brother was old enough to begin school and my mother became a teacher.

Her degree was in Bacteriology so she had to go back to school to earn credits for her teaching credentials. I suppose that her being a student when I was in school contributed towards my interest in pedagogy. But it was also quite important when and where she became a teacher because of the great social change happening. Actually, my father is the only one of his siblings, who wasn't a teacher of some sort--he even taught for a while. And both my mother's brothers and their wives were teachers. So a positive view of the profession, if not individual teachers, is something I inherited rather naturally.

Before I flunked out of college I had wanted to major in Child Development. As I mentioned I was so eager in college to figure things out and the way that people learn was a burning topic for me. Alas I was too much distracted and did poorly. When I returned to college, partly in recognition of my interest in the ways that human beings grow and learn, and partly out of a lack of confidence about my capacity to succeed I choose to major in Elementary Education.

I very much enjoyed studying to be a teacher. Despite its reputation college preparation in education is demanding. It would seem that being a guy in classes of mostly women would have been great for me. Maybe because I was old, but I think it was more, I was not popular at all among students in my classes. And really given that my academic career in the main was rather unhappy, I should have known teaching wasn't a good fit for me. In fact, just before student teaching that understanding seemed so clear to me. But having successfully graduated an holding credentials, inertia kept me on track to get a job as a teacher.

Damn, and I got fired right after the second grading period. Contrary to popular belief, it's not uncommon for new teachers to be let go rather quickly when they're not working out, and I wasn't. This was a huge blow to me. I'd picked up stakes and moved from Pittsburgh to Florida. I was making a living waiting and busing tables and probably would have made a go following that trajectory, except my mother got sick with colon cancer.

When I came to visit her she'd been operated on and the tumor removed, but as a complication to the surgery she got intestinal adhesions forcing a second operation. When I saw her she was gray and very weak, I did not think she would live long.

My mother was a bit eccentric and one of her eccentricities was that she collected a lot of stuff. I didn't have a clue what it would be like for my father if my mother died and decided to move home. The good news is my mother lived for more than ten years after that bout with disease. Oh and the dynamic of living at home has had it's complications. For whatever self criticism I might make about myself over the years, I do think it's quite objectively true that I enabled my parents to do what they wanted.

My mother died in 2002 just shy of her 84th birthday. In the years since I've seen how the place has been neglected. But one of the things very important to me while she was alive is that I created many gardens here. I've dug and move tons of stone and debris, and planted thousands of seeds. The funny thing about a garden is they are very much connected to the gardener. A garden really isn't something for posterity, although some of the plants I've introduced are weedy enough, they'll probably out live me.

Today I was at Wal-Mart. I noticed a very dark-skinned man with two kids in his buggy who had lighter features and straighter hair. I wondered whether the guy was African. On my way out to my car I saw him loading up the kids in his mini van, a white woman sitting in the driver's seat. What I noticed was Dad encouraging his young son to step into the van. The essence of being human and adult is protecting what we love. It's easy to read too much into these sorts of vignettes, but what I imagined was a mom happy to have a few moments of solitude. I imagined a dad happy to spend some moments his kids and to offer his wife a few minutes without them.

It's no news that men and women are different, but our similarities are so much more than our differences. When people help each other be human, well, that seems a pretty good way of being. What's more masculine than being a father who spends time with his children? What's more masculine than loving a woman?

My mother was remarkable in so many ways; my sister's too. When I see and hear so much masculine hype premised on misogyny I'm so dumbfounded. Don't guys want to spend time in the company of women? It doesn't take a genius to know such talk won't get a guy anywhere fast. I suppose I've just been lucky in life to have a good mother and wonderful strong women as role models and mentors. But it gives me a blind side too because I don't always recognize the bias and prejudice against women that are all to common. Call me a mama's boy, I suppose I am one.

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