This I Believe

Jacquelyn - Newtown, Connecticut
Entered on September 11, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: parenthood

This I believe is an essential truth for all people: we all need power over something.

My seven-year-old daughter must wake up every morning at 6:20, dress, brush her teeth and hair, and get in the car by 6:40 to go to daycare. She must do this because her parents are divorced, her mom commutes to a job that starts at 7:30, and it is impossible to find a sitter willing to start work at 6:30AM. Given her way, my daughter would sleep until 7:30 or 7:45, eat a leisurely breakfast in front of a morning television program and work her way out to the bus stop at the corner at 8:40. She has no power to make these choices.

She does have the power to make me late for work. She can refuse to get up, whine, yell, pull the covers over her head and throw a world-class tantrum. She can accuse me of all sorts of insults, injuries and inconsideration…some of them may be accurate…all of them hurt and she wants them to. That is her power.

For the last three days we have had power-brokering discussions. I have acknowledged her awesome power to screw with my job and beseeched her to use her powers for good, to leave behind the dark side, and to be the one element in the system most responsible for making the whole enterprise function smoothly…so far it is working…there are 174 days of school left.

I, too, feel powerless in a job where I operate on a bell system and my bathroom breaks have to be scheduled on an eight-period rotating basis. Some days my opportunity to use the bathroom facilities drops out of the schedule; other days I am free to pee as nature dictates. My contractual obligations have become burdensome, exacting more work out of an overly taxed day for no increase in financial compensation or intrinsic benefit. And I must pay, more than I can afford, for the daycare my daughter must wake up to attend.

But where do I have power? At the risk of bootlegging Taylor Mali I nurture and advise, I critique and challenge. I set high standards and teach my students about all of the possible resources available to help them meet those standards. When all these efforts succeed my students develop a desire to learn and select me to mentor them in years to come. And, of course, I authorize the almighty grade and all of the power that it embodies.

I earn a paycheck, I drive a car, I say “yes” to this unhealthy snack and “no” to the junk food. I make (and cancel) playdates. I mete out rewards and punishments. I regulate TV, computer, gameboy, Wii and DS. I cook dinner – this is not a restaurant; you will eat what I made.

Back to my daughter. Today was a bad morning. Tonight I need to make something she likes for dinner.