Tag: grad school

Optimus Prime vs the English Major

It was 6:30 am. 6:30 in. the. morning. It was dark outside. Birds were sleeping. I should have been sleeping… instead I was sitting in bed trying to shake off the delirium from having been awoken suddenly in the middle of a dream and trying to comprehend why I was holding a half transformed Optimus Prime toy. A few inches from my face were the big bright wide awake eyes of my four year old.
“Do it mommy! Transform him back into a truck!”

“Huh? What?”

“I need him to be a truck again. I made him a robot, but now he wants to be a truck.”

“Okay. Yeah.”

Optimus Prime waiting to be turned back into a truck at 6 am

I’d been parenting for five years – I wasn’t fazed. Of course my four year old was awake and in my face. Of course I needed to transform this toy right now before the sun came up.

I turned the toy over in my hands. I remember Transformers, I love robots, I can totally do this. I looked Optimus over with my bleary sleep deprived eyes. Hmm. I moved limbs, twisted pieces different directions. He was definitely transforming into something… but he looked less like a truck and more like an unfortunate robot that had had a run-in with a truck.

Oh crap. This was freaking hard. Kai was watching my every move and I could tell he was beginning to suspect the obvious. I could not transform this toy.

For those of you who are unaware: transformers are hard… like ridiculously hard. They are a 3” child’s toy that comes with a full page of instructions. A FULL PAGE. When we bought Optimus the day before, Paul was home. I saw him and Kai playing with it without issue and so I made a terrible mistake, I didn’t read the instructions.

Now, it was Monday and Paul had gone into work early. I was on my own with Kai and Optimus-the mangled truck bot-Prime. I was starting to panic a little. Then, in a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life, Kai looked up at me and said encouragingly, “Come on. Daddy can do it.”

What he was actually saying is: Daddy can do it. Why can’t you?

It was then that I realized that my vast amounts of education and advanced degrees from prestigious universities meant nothing. Kai was unimpressed. Knowledge is relative it seems. I may have studied the Didascalicon, and the works of Rousseau and Woolf. I may have written papers on the importance of Mozart’s operas, or wowed literary scholars when I compared Voltaire’s Candide to the plot structure found in a work of Russian literature. It didn’t matter; I now lacked the one skill that my son found valuable: transforming Japanese auto-bots.

I sent Paul a quick text message: “Omg. I can’t transform Optimus. Kai thinks I’m stupid. Please help me” and waited for inevitable “What’s really happening?” response text. I then set out to find the instructions for Optimus’ transformation. If there’s one thing my degrees DID teach me, it was how to look up weird obscure stuff on the internet.

Parenting is teaching me that the world that I thought I knew pre-child, and the skills I had developed based on that idea are vastly different from the ones that are of actual value to me now. Maybe one day I will again spend my time with academics who care about my opinions on which translation of Beowulf is the best, but for now, I need to learn to integrate my education with my actual knowledge. Education is most valuable when it transforms us into something that helps us to advance ourselves and those around us.

Maybe I should have studied the Didascalicon a little more closely. Hugh of St Victor felt that it is the integration of the different areas of knowledge that leads to human perfection. This is where children are the perfect teachers. Everything is one. For Kai, transforming a robot is as important of a skill as feeding him, reading, or writing. He hasn’t applied preconceived values to knowledge. The knowledge that will help him in the present is the most valuable.

And that’s another thing I’m learning from Kai. He is always present. Right here, in this moment, nowhere else. He worries little about the past or the future, but what his feelings and needs are right now. And right now, he needed me to transform his robot.

With a little help from obsessive Transformer fan forums, phone coaching from Paul, and some patient encouragement from my son, I eventually transformed Optimus back into a truck. I won’t lie, when I slid that last piece into place and saw the tiny truck in my hand… it felt freaking awesome.

My son, whom I am tasked with teaching, is teaching me. I’m learning what’s really important, I’m learning to be present, and more importantly I’m learning how to transform myself into what he needs.

**UPDATE: This essay was featured in the family section on BlogHer.com!  http://www.blogher.com/optimus-prime-vs-english-major

The Bathroom Cheerleader

I was packing for a family trip back to Houston. The commencement ceremony for my Master’s degree was the next morning and I had decided to participate. I was torn between feelings of both pride at my accomplishment and dread at wearing the regalia when I heard a faint cry from my son’s bathroom.

“Mommy…. Mommy, I need you.”

I dropped the gown and hood and ran into his bathroom to find him sitting on the toilet looking pale.

“What’s wrong baby? Are you ok?”

“No,” he replied breathily like a solider just off the front line, “I can’t get the poo poo to come out; I need you to cheer for me.”

What?? He wanted me to cheer for him… to poop??

I stood stunned for a second. I was upset that my son was in obvious physical distress, but I was also beginning to feel the creeping dread that every parent knows quite well: my child is going to ask me to do something weird and uncomfortable that I wouldn’t want my friends to know about…and because I’m a good parent, I’m gonna do it.

I stood there silently for a moment and then asked him in a weak voice, “cheer? For you to poo poo?”

“Yes,” he whispered, “you know, the potty cheer,” and he started to sing it.

The dread sharpened. I now knew exactly what he was asking of me… and it was not awesome.

The Potty Cheer

Potty training didn’t come easy in our house. There was no “training” per se. Kai simply refused to use the toilet. Refused.

The whole “let children advance at their own rate” thing that Paul and I had practiced rapidly became, “oh my god what If we screwed up, why didn’t we teach him how to use a toilet, we are the worst parents ever and will be changing diapers on a grown man.”

Kai was always a bright and articulate child, the kid who flew past milestones months early: crawling at 5 months, walking at 9 months, and running away from us by his 1st birthday.  So, as a sort of cosmic balance, he refused to use the toilet at all until he was 3.5 years old. There was no “potty training.” He wouldn’t use the potty, and then one day he used it perfectly.

During those last few non-toilet weeks, Paul and I went a little crazy. We are not bathroom people, we don’t like potty humor, but having a kid who won’t use the toilet will break down the best of us. We became simply ecstatic about the bathroom, going on and on about how great it was to use the toilet, and how fun it would be to use the restroom in public. See? Crazy people.

One day, we were watching a cartoon called “The Mighty Bee” which has a super-fast intro song that repeats the words, “Bee, Bee, Bee, Bee.”  Later that day, when Paul had somehow convinced Kai to actually sit on the toilet, he started singing, “Kai’s gonna use the potty, he’s gonna Pee, Pee, Pee, Pee.” And that, it seems, made a huge impact on Kai. He didn’t use the potty that day, but apparently held onto that song, and labeled it, The Potty Cheer.

So, here he was months later, requesting me to sing The Potty Cheer to help him. I was confused.

“Baby, isn’t that song about pee?”

“Yes,” he said, “but, I need you to sing it with poo.”

Right. Yes. Of Course. I need to sing about poo.

I sat down on the edge of the bathtub, ran my fingers through his hair, and gently sang to him, “Kai’s gonna use the potty, he’s gonna… poo, poo, poo, poo,” over and again until he felt better.

Nothing else mattered in that moment. I was about to have a Master’s degree conferred upon me the next day, I was being asked to submit applications for PhD programs, some of my work was being published… none of that mattered. Those things didn’t matter to Kai and they no longer mattered to me.

I was sitting on the edge of the bathtub singing to my little boy, cheering for him. He trusted me. He believed in me. He knew that I would help him feel better, that just the sound of my voice could fix his body. He knew it.

He didn’t think it or hope it, but he knew it –and that is powerful stuff – powerful, transformative stuff.

My son may have made me sing to him while he was on the toilet, but in return he makes me a better person. He makes me stronger, braver, more gentle, and yet, more fierce. When I am his mommy, I am not the awkward 30-something woman still trying to figure out adult life. I am not the scared and lost little girl I accuse myself of being all the time. I don’t need degrees or accolades to feel whole in his presence. He makes me whole through his trust and love… even when that trust equals bathroom singing.

I am his mommy, and I will sing at the top of my lungs in every bathroom in the world if he needs me to. I will sing songs about things that I would have sworn 5 years ago I would never sing about. I may feel silly or awkward later when I retell the story, but in that moment when he cries out, “Mommy, Mommy, I need you,” I will come running and I will cheer for him.

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