Wednesday, July 31, 2013
How Two Specific Presidents Turned Me Into The Woman I Am Today
I realized recently that I've written six years of blog posts without one "tribute" to the two people who gave me the ability to write in the first place (in that they gave me life, which gave me hands, but also in the general parental support and guidance way).
But I didn't want to write some generic, mushy account of what my parents mean to me. It's too much to cover in a generic, mushy account, and trust me, I know my way around accounts of that nature. So instead I got to thinking about the specific moments that best explain who my parents are - both as people and as parents - and how it's made me the kind of person I am today - a woman one week away from her 30th birthday (you didn't think I'd make it through this whole post without mentioning that fact, did you?).
I thought about our annual drives down to Florida when Mom would deliver my sisters and me the hand-made activity books she'd slaved over for hours (we're talking an entire marble notebook filled with word finds, tracing games and the like that she made by herself), and Dad would painstakingly rig the mini TV into a standing position between the two front seats so we could watch Newsies on a loop for the entire 21 hour drive. I thought about all those dance recitals - Mom on a 10 ft. ladder managing stage decor and Dad crying behind the 10 lb. camcorder from the center back row. Then there were the expertly organized Thanksgivings and Christmas Eve dinners, the insane book report covers that Mom and I would design while Dad carefully edited every word I wrote, and later in my "youth" the hours and hours of time spent driving to and from Boston College, mini van packed with all my requests from Sam's Club. My parents are dedicated people, but there's nothing they're more dedicated to than being parents.
But among all those memories, one phase of my life stood out, and it's the time my parents were The Presidents - Mom, Madame President of the Freehold Learning Center P.T.O (central jersey speak for P.T.A), and Dad, Mr. President of the Freehold Borough Board of Education (I think that's what it was called?). What's weird is that I couldn't tell you if it spanned the course of one year or five, I don't really know how old I was while this was happening, and I'm not even sure they were both technically presidents at the exact same time. I feel like there was overlap based on the times I spent sitting in a dress from Simply Outrageous on Rt. 9 while one or both of them were sworn in, but I have a lot of memories of sitting in dresses from Simply Outrageous on Rt. 9, so I could be wrong.
None of that really matters as far as the influence this experience had on my life. In fact I don't remember a single thing about whatever parental politics went into these positions. Did they run for election? I'm sure they did, but I don't remember. I had a sense that it was a ton of work on top of my mom managing four kids and evenings teaching at a college and my dad commuting to the ad agency in NYC, but they didn't complain about it. So instead I was filled with two overwhelming senses about my parents as they took on these more-than-Mom-and-Dad roles. One, that my parents cared deeply about education, specifically my education. And two, that they were rock stars.
We'll leave the first to the side because, while important, it's only informed my personal politics and ideas of how I'll be involved in my own kids' educations. That's my person but it's not my personality. The second - that rock star status - is the thing that made me who I am today.
Because of this whole "presidents" thing - in most adult rooms I was in for a large portion of my childhood, one of my parents was in charge. And not only were they in charge by title, but they were usually sitting at the front, speaking to the entire room. I can see both of them right now - Mom walking through the PTO agenda at the front of the old music room shaped like a amphitheater and Dad at the head of the U-shaped tables in the Park Avenue Elementary School library. I think he even had a gavel!!
Because of their skills at communicating, leading and organizing, they commanded those rooms, and I internalized every move they made as I watched from the back row, pretending to do my homework. To me, my parents were so freaking cool for being in charge of whatever it was they were in charge of, and I wanted to be just like them.
Because of this whole "presidents" thing - my three little sisters and I were a well known "entity" in our small, suburban town. This was cool because I felt like a rock star myself everywhere that we went, but it also instilled in me a sense of responsibility. I was the presidents' daughter. I was allowed to sit in the back of adult meetings. And if I misbehaved, there was no way I was going to get away with it. I aspired to be good to make my parents proud, but I was also afforded opportunities to be by best because their roles created an incredibly safe and supportive place for me in our community. I felt know, and when you feel known you feel comfortable. Comfort is a little kid's greatest ally, mostly because it turns them into a comfortable adult.
And finally, because of this whole "presidents" thing - my parents showed me the value of hard work. I'm not sure if it was a co-presidents thing or just a P.T.O thing, but the Freehold Learning Center had a Fun Fair every year. To me it felt like a state fair-sized day of games and activities attending by 50,000 people. It probably happened in a parking lot with 100 people involved, but it was the biggest day of the year for my family. Mom hand made the games out of plywood and paint. Dad manned the ticket table, usually with my Poppop as assistant. Every single detail was organized down to the minute. Yes, this may somewhat contribute to my obsession with over-planning, but I like to also credit it with my work ethic. That and the fact that I believe anything can be done with a little plywood and a lot of elbow grease.
I've never talked to my parents about why they decided to be the presidents. I'm sure it was because they wanted the best education possible for my sisters and me and felt being involved in that process was a way to ensure their voices were heard. But I wonder if they were trying to be my role models? I wonder if they even know how much I worshiped them as rock stars, of the small town public education system, but still? Could they have known that the way I aspire to position myself in this world is directly a result of this specific phase of my life?
If they did, I wouldn't be surprised. They've been pretty consistently good about this whole "raising kids" thing. But if they didn't, I'm glad they do now - exactly seven days before their first born turns 30 (did you really think I'd make it through this post without mentioning that just one more time?)