I don’t like when people ask me what my plans are for the midterm break. I start feeling kind of defensive. I’m recovering and preparing, and that pretty much takes up the extra five days when we don’t have to be actively teaching in front of a class of students. I’m catching up on all the small threads of work that I had no chance to address in the run up to midterm, I’m getting some rest and some exercise so that my body can function, I’m spending some time with my husband and children without (hopefully) being too cranky with any of them and I’m cleaning – sorting through the mountains of laundry and dust bunnies and clutter that have piled up because it hasn’t been a priority when compared with class prep for the next day and fighting off the spectre of utter exhaustion.
There, see? Defensive.
Because the question isn’t just a question, it’s loaded with the implication that this is a holiday, and this is not a holiday, it’s a bandage.
When I worked in an office if I’d had a week off at the end of November, I would have expected myself to go on amazing outings or trips and spend my days doing fancy activities, but now the thought of organising anything more extensive than dinners for the week is exhausting. I’m exhausted, I’m drained, I have nothing more in me from where to produce anything and so my answer is “nothing” or “ordinary things”. I’m doing enough ordinary things to prime myself for the next push so that I can survive the coming journey to the Christmas waypoint.
But look, I don’t like feeling so defensive. People don’t understand because it takes a conscious effort to shift your thinking into someone else’s mindspace and each person’s experience and set-up has unexpected stuff that even when you’ve prepared yourself to try to think like them, you’re still going to miss those inputs. What I’m trying to say, in my own tangled way, is that I don’t blame people for not “getting” it, and certainly for not, by default, expecting it.
And yet, clearly I do blame people, because I feel so goddamned cranky about that question.
It reminds me of that old foe “What’s for dinner?” even though I guess it bugs me for other reasons. I think there’s something lazy in both questions. Or maybe it’s more like the “Are they good?” or “How are they sleeping?” or “Are they doing X?” question about babies. Of course they’re good! They’re your stupid painful heart in tiny squalling form! Of course they’re not sleeping! They’re goddamned babies and this is sudden hell on earth and no one prepared you for this! Doing X? Are they meant to be doing that already? Am I doing something wrong? Did I get a defective model? Shit, if something is wrong then I’d better get on that, or I’m a neglectful parent, but … if something’s not wrong and I run about like the sky is falling, then I’m that over-reacting parent that I promised myself I wouldn’t be.
The questions blindside me, because I’m nowhere in the space of thinking about whatever the hell it is the “polite conversationer” has decided to ask (Yes, blindsides every time even though they should maybe be expected. Blindsided because I’m too bloody busy dealing with the actuality of my life to have been thinking about [questiontopic]), and the question puts me under pressure because all of a sudden I feel that I should have been thinking about that stuff. I should have made a plan for dinner, I should be paying attention to what milestones my babies are reaching, and goddamnit, they should be reaching them! And I should be appreciative of how “lucky” I am to “be” (not “to have worked for and have become”) a teacher who “gets” to have a “holiday” right now. And I should have plans and I should have the basic decency to realise that this is holidays during which I do no work and share those exciting plans with the poor misfortunate people who have to actually work all the days in the year.
So yeah, I guess it’s a laborious question for me. But I don’t think I can expect it to change ever. Most people are unlikely to do the emotional work of even attempting to step into my perspective, and even if they are willing to try, they’re still going to make incorrect assumptions about what it’s like.
After all, I do the very same thing to them.