I have to qualify this blog entry by saying that my granddaughter and I are very close. She is my namesake and she likes to remind me that we are two Priscillas but not gorillas. And suffice it to say, John and I are the quintessential grandparents—we love everything she does, we laugh at all of her bad “knock-knock,” jokes and John has been known to play Calico Critters well beyond what should be expected of him. We also dread when holidays come to an end, and it is the sight of her waving good-bye and crying as her parents pull out of our drive that wrenches our hearts. →
Over break, Middle School teacher Hadley Ferguson sent me a wonderful article:
“At Home in the Liminal World: Living in transition between cultures, we are discovering who we are.” A fascinating lens, the article is based on the works of several anthropologists including Ruth Behar, about whom I have some familiarity having read her book, Traveling Heavy: A Memoir in Between Journeys. In it she references what she has named “the liminal space, that in-between place where what has been is no more and what will be is not yet.” In her book, she writes of her own liminabilty as she and her family moved from and between multiple cultures—Poland and Turkey to Israel and Cuba, and finally the U.S. Behar, who was born in Cuba, helped her family to make the final move from a comfortable middle-class Jewish community in Havana to Brooklyn, where she was forced to learn another language and adapt to another culture. For her family the task was further complicated, as her relatives were both Sephardic Jews and Ashkenazi Jews. Language, climate, culture, and economics all converged to make it a difficult transition. Behar managed through hard work and her commitment to education, becoming a cultural traveler, not always at home, but always learning and growing.
Many years ago when I was a young mother, I lived on an army base in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Having come from Philadelphia and Washington, DC, I was unused to what I considered the lack of sophistication in the rural south. Life on an army base tested my resiliency, taught me a great deal about humility, and helped me to understand the value of community in the most profound ways that I have never forgotten.
In the winter of 1972, I flew from DC, having spent several years in Georgetown as my husband finished his doctoral work in economics. It was a lovely cerebral life but nothing stayed the same, as this was the Vietnam era and we all lived by the roulette wheel of the draft. I arrived on the base, alone with two very sick babies and a husband in the field. I stayed in guest quarters knowing not a soul and with no one to help. There is an old adage in the military that if the army had wanted you to have a wife, they would have issued you one. It felt a little true back then. I spent a long two days until a soldier recognized a harried mother and drove me to the army hospital and stayed with me as my children were treated. He then checked on us every day until my husband could come retrieve his non-issued family. Yet in a short time I had had my first taste of the kindness of strangers. From there, I would live for four years among women I would never have known in my former life, yet we banded together and took care of each other’s children, had huge communal sleepovers, and attended to the hardship of living much of the time alone in cramped housing with little money for extras. A lieutenant’s pay was scarcely able to support a family, but we did not lack for fun, friendship, and the ability to fix cars and ovens, paint and repair our homes, and manage the red tape of simple shopping and doctor’s appointments. We had to be general contractors and single parents all the while living with the uncertainty and dread of husbands who might be deployed with little notice.
As an educator with many years under my belt and gray hairs under my hat, I have watched hundreds of children enter school beyond excited but a little unsure, a little unsteady, and a bit baby bird-ish—not having been out of the nest for very long. It is then such a joy to be able to watch them depart as young adults, giddily ready and anticipating their next adventure with assurance and confidence. And I have had, without question, the best seat in the house. Having worked in partnership with wonderful parents, we have, together, weathered many an in-school drama, while back on my own ranch, there was often my children’s rendition of The Three Penny Opera in full production with multiple and often simultaneous Nicene Wars going on. I can safely say that for every bromide I may have offered, one of my own offspring was busy undercutting all of my cherished and/or conventional wisdom.
As an educator and a school head, I have always fought down a niggling frisson of shame when asked about my family, as it usually comes up that my children are from a previous marriage. Maybe it’s my age, but divorce has always felt like a failure of sorts. There was certainly no Ozzie to my Harriet. And no rose-covered cottage on Main Street. Even still, I sometimes fall victim to the feeling that I should have led a more exemplary life, although the truth is I am actually proud of the life I have led, lack of a finale in suburbia and all. But reflection often stumbles into my conscious self without planning, and after hearing Rachel Simmons address our parents about the valuable role of fathers, I went back to the place of all thoughts, hopes, and dreams—the rearview mirror into the lives of my children.
My son, Geoff, is a boys’ lacrosse coach in California. As a high school and college player, he was fun to watch because he was a consummate teammate who loved to assist as much as he loved to score. It’s part of who he is as a person, but it is even more compelling as he takes on the role of mentor and teacher for young men.
For eight years, his dad and I saw many more of his games than we missed, in spite of our busy work schedules. And because he went to college in Massachusetts, we rarely remember balmy spring afternoons. Too often we were huddled under blankets, clutching cooling coffee held more for warmth than sustenance. Occasionally we even left our Philadelphia in the wee hours to drive five hours, see a game, take him and friends out for dinner, and drive home because of our own commitments. It was fun but not for the feint of heart.
When I was in 4th grade, I was elected president of the class. You might think of this as an honorific position, but I assure you, this job carried great responsibilities. It also served as an opportunity to get out from under the absolute authority and dictatorship of my older sister and flex my own leadership (read bossy) muscles. And flex them I did. You see, I was in charge when the teacher left the room, and I enforced a strict code of behavior and high expectations.
Over the years, I have read many books about how to change culture within an institution. With a recent merger under our belt, there was good reason to seek advice from the experts. After all, schools are thought to be traditionally hidebound places populated by underpaid, underappreciated academicians who are hell-bent on keeping the towers ivory and thought unsullied by real-world problems, while libraries are sacrosanct temples for high worship of “the book.”
From the moment we touched down Sunday night, we had a sense of an otherworldliness that was part Arabian Nights, part Disneyland, and completely Dubai. Love it or not, the place is unique and the people enormously affable and friendly. The airport was clean and extraordinarily quiet, and the process of getting through immigration was seamless. The frustration of waiting for our bags was ameliorated by a digital announcement of the time for the arrival of the first bag to an estimated time for the last. I was not in Kansas—nor Philadelphia for that matter.