My sister is working toward her degree (and I’m SO proud of her!!). One of her assignments is to conduct an interview with someone and then give an oral presentation to her class about what she learned about that person.
Auntie decided to ask Mother Chili if she’d consent to be interviewed, so I forwarded the request and questions to my MIL last week. As I read over the questions, I thought that they might make interesting blog fodder, so I’m writing about them here. Please feel free to boost them (and to change the nouns in some questions to suit your gender if need be). If you decide to use them, leave a link in the comments so that Auntie knows where to find your answers.
1. How would you describe yourself to yourself?
My answer to this question changes a lot more than I care to admit, actually. I start out with something like “smart, capable, thoughtful, caring and compassionate,” but I always second-guess myself. The voices in the closet remind me that I was raised to believe that I was a talented impostor and a good liar. It’s not necessarily a good thing to have those insecurities, I think, but they do keep me constantly investigating whether or not the things I think about myself hold up under critical scrutiny.
2. Is the way you see yourself now different than the way you saw yourself in the past?
Oh, GODDESS, yes! I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but somewhere in my middle twenties, something inside of me went “click!” I started to “see beyond the plot,” which is a term I use with my students when I’m trying to get them to think critically and grasp what’s going on behind the obvious. I started getting serious about my relationships, I started recognizing that I could only control me and the way I behaved, and I came to realize that I had a great deal of control over what happened to me. I stopped allowing myself to live in the victim role.
3. What led to the changes?
There were a lot of things that contributed to these changes. I was finally able to gain enough critical distance from my youth to understand that I was not responsible for the way my parents treated me. I met someone who loved me for me and was willing to stick it out even when things were messy and difficult. I started thinking about what I really wanted to be and about what I needed to do to find that woman. One of the big ah-ha moments came in a writing class where I was asked to write my own obituary. What kind of legacy did I want to leave behind when I was gone? That exercise really helped me clarify my priorities. Marrying Mr. Chili and having the girls were both profound moments for me, too; I became responsible to people who transformed my picture of myself, and I wanted to behave in a way that made me worthy of those relationships.
4. Everyone has had the experience of being in situations where they had to make a decision but weren’t sure what was the right thing to do. Could you describe to me a situation where you weren’t sure what was the right thing to do? What was the situation? What was the conflict for you in the situation?
I actually agonized quite a bit about going back to college for my Master’s degree when I did. To that point, I’d been a 100% stay-at-home mom. I never worked a day when Punkin’ Pie was growing up (well, outside of the home – you know what I mean), and I worried that, to a very real extent, I was going to short-change Beanie by going back to school before she was enrolled in first grade. My course load was such that I wasn’t as attentive in the evenings as I was before, and my pursuit of a degree meant that Mr. Chili was going to have to pick up a lot of the slack I was going to leave behind.
5. In thinking about what to do, what did you consider? Why?
There were a lot of things that entered into my thinking through this process. The first, and perhaps most important, was that Mr. Chili was 100% behind me. He knew that I would need a professional life to pick up once the girls got older, and he was completely and enthusiastically in favor of my continuing education. Second, I knew that I wanted my daughters to witness something that I never did; a mother who was both ambitious for herself and attentive to her family. My biological made a few half-hearted attempts at community college, but never stuck with it. She blamed my sister and me for that, too; I remember overhearing her complain to her friends that, if she didn’t have kids, she’d be able to “DO something” with her life. I don’t want my girls to EVER think that they held me back, and I don’t want them to grow up thinking that it has to be one or the other, either – one doesn’t have to have it all, but one can, with the right attitude and some good support, do an acceptable job at both professional and family obligations. Finally, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it; that I was really smart enough for an advanced degree. Oh, and I wanted to be able, at some point in the future, to contribute to the financial well being of our family.
6. Were there other things that you thought of in trying to decide what to do?
I think I answered this in question 5 though; if I’m being honest, I have to admit to wanting my parents to know I’d earned a Master’s degree. It’s a terrible motivation for wanting to do such a thing, but I was also interested in proving the naysayers in my life DEAD WRONG about me.
7. How did you weigh the alternative?
Once the suggestion was raised that I should go back to school, there really was no alternative. We did what we had to do to make sure that everyone was properly cared for, that I could still meet my commitments to my children and perform adequately in classes, and that we could stick it out to graduation. Mr. Chili comes from a family that absolutely treasures education, so I was encouraged and supported the whole time.
8. What did you decide to do? Why? What happened?
Clearly, I decided to go back to school. I managed to arrange my class schedule such that I was ALWAYS available to pick Beanie up from preschool – neither of my children ever spent a moment in day care. Mr. Chili did single-parenting duties during the night classes that I had to attend, and gave me plenty of time to do readings and homework (not to mention listening to EVERY paper I EVER wrote). I manipulated my graduation time so that I could do my teacher internship when Bean entered full-day first grade, and I made sure that my internship schools understood that I’d be leaving about half an hour before the final bell rang so that I could be home to meet the girls’ bus. It worked out extremely well; my schedule was tight, but perfectly timed.
9. Looking back on it now, did you make the best choice? Why or why not?
I absolutely made the best choice, and for a number of reasons. First, we were able to model for our girls what strong families do to support one another. They got to see me do what I had to do to make happen something that I thought was important, and they watched their dad do what he needed to do to help me get there. I got the training and the credentials I needed to do a job that I absolutely adore (and my girls get to see that, too!).
10. Thinking back over the whole thing, what did you learn from it?
Oh, man – what DIDN’T I learn? Beyond all the stuff I mentioned already about how important this was for my daughters to see, I learned that I really AM smart enough. I was reminded of how whole I feel when I’m actively thinking and investigating and talking and collaborating. I was able to confirm that teaching really is what I’m meant to do professionally in this life, and I gained a new-found appreciation for the kind of man my husband really is.
11. Looking back on your life, what relationships have been really important to you?
It’s interesting, but I think I find that my troubled relationships have been hugely instructional to me. Of course, my marriage is the defining relationship in my life, but I learned an awful lot about how to be in a good marriage by the experiences I had in the relationships that didn’t last. I’ve learned a lot from the friends who’ve not stayed. My relationships with my sister have been incredibly important to me (and yes, I left that noun plural for a reason; the relationship we have now is NOT the same one we started with); she is the only person I’ve known my whole life – she’s the only one who really knows my whole story. My relationship with my mother continues to be instructional to me; as the terms of our togetherness change with time and situation, I learn a lot more about who we are in relation to each other, and how I want to be in the world.
12. Why were those relationships important?
Ooops; I answered this in #11. Maybe I should start reading ahead on these questions, huh?
13. Have you had a relationship with someone who helped you shape the person you have become?
I don’t think I’ve had a relationship that’s NOT helped shape who I am right now, and I’m convinced that, as long as I maintain a certain level of self-awareness and inquisitiveness, every relationship I ever have will be formative. Every person in my life has something to offer me in terms of growth and learning – I just have to be aware enough to recognize it.
14. What does being a woman mean to you?
This is SUCH a loaded question, and it’s one that I think about a lot now that I have pre-teen girls who are looking to me as an example of womanhood. For me, being a woman means being at the same time strong and compassionate. I try to exemplify womanhood as being a combination – a yin/yang sort of thing – that combines no-nonsense practicality with a little bit of squishy sentimentalism. I treasure my marriage, but I’m not entirely defined by it. I make my own choices, but I consult the opinions and concerns of others when considering what to do. I can be a full-time, stay-at-home mom, or I can go into the workplace but, more to the point, I can do both. Can I do everything? No; but I can decide what’s most important to me and order my life so that I can give my best to those things.
15. Do you think there are any important differences between girls/boys, women/men? What are they?
I do think that there are important differences between male and female, and I think that a lot of it has to do with perspective. Never having seen as my husband sees, I can tell you that I’ve noticed that, even though our priorities are almost exactly the same, he and I have a slightly different take on a lot of things; he picks up where I leave off and vice-versa. I don’t know whether the differences between men and women are cultural or biological, but my observation shows me that men are more concerned – or, at least, more in tune – with big-picture things, while women tend to be more immediate and detail-oriented. Mr. Chili is able to strike a nice balance, but he thinks about long-term, big-picture things more than I do – is he adequately supporting his family, is there enough attention being paid to college and retirement funds, that sort of thing. I tend to look at the right-now; is everything clean and orderly, is the oil changed, are appointments being made and kept, that sort of thing. The short answer is yes; I think there’s a difference between men and women, but I think that difference is necessary and important and, if good communication is happening, those differences needn’t be problematic.
16. Has you sense of yourself as a woman been changing? In what ways?
My sense of myself as a woman has been pretty consistent, really. My role as a mother is constantly changing, and I’m finding lately that I’m doing a lot less direct instruction than I am modeling behavior, so I’m hyper-aware of the things that I’m doing and saying and thinking because I KNOW that little women-in-training are watching my every move. As my marriage grows and matures, I see myself as less dependent on Mr. Chili (I was very dependent at the beginning of our marriage) and far more of an equal partner. With my age comes more confidence; every experience that I am able to incorporate into my knowledge base brings me closer to my fullest expression of myself. Professionally, I’m able to use both academic and real-life experiences to improve my practice as a teacher, and my experiences as a parent only add to my ability to be an effective model for my students. It just keeps getting better.