The calling

May 12,2009
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

On my way to my car yesterday, feeling grouchy and deflated, and after a full day of two long back-to-back meetings (I love my job, but I wish the powers-that-be would understand that a week of meetings and workshops right after a long and grueling semester is just not going to sit well with most people) I fell into step with an older woman headed to her car. I'd seen her around, and didn't know her, but she started talking with me anyway. She was headed out of state for a job, and to go to night school, after quitting her current job cold turkey and doing an about-face career change. She must have been in her early sixties. "What brought about this change?" I asked her, because I'm always intrigued by these things. "I heard my calling," she told me. I would have loved to sit down with her and hear more, because I always wonder when people claim to have heard their calling. Did something--someone--literally call her out of the dark? I imagined her being propelled out of her current job, like a sleepwalker pulled by some invisible thread, out to a new job in a state far away. Did her calling come to her in a dream? Was it sent to her from above? But we parted ways, she heading off to explore her new calling, and I to pick up my L. from school. *********** In the car that morning as I drove L. to school I listened to him tell me all about a Scientific American article he read in the bathroom the other day about spying in the digital age. He found it remarkable that in the current Hardy Boys novel he was reading on the way to school that morning there was mention of the basics of that same technology, there, in print, decades before most of the devices had even been invented. It was an astounding connection to make, really, and his recall of the Scientific American article was equally amazing. And even though I'm a completely unscientific person I can appreciate how we all want the things in our lives to make sense to us, whether we crave the order and logic of a scientific, mechanical world, as L. does, or whether we want the weighty personal decisions we make to yield results we can feel good about, or the behaviors of others to jibe with our intuitions about just what kind of people they might be. Which is why, I think, I have been so angry and frustrated and upset over this past school year. Nothing has seemed to make sense, or connect and I have felt often as if we are trapped, along with L., in some illogical Alice in Wonderland-type world made up of rubrics and worksheets and assessment tests. I have listened to him describe in tremendous detail all sorts of scientific and historical information the likes of which would put many college students to shame, yet he's rarely given a chance to demonstrate all this at school. I have listened to L. tell me remarkable things about the books he's read, yet also listened to his teachers tell me he can't summarize a book. I have listened to L. dissect the complicated growth cycle of bamboo plants to us at the dinner table after learning that the deadline for the report had come and gone--unnoticed by L. It's hard when you're a parent to wait for it all to make sense, when you want the best for your child RIGHT NOW. Yet even as I feel so frustrated I try and bring myself out of it by telling myself that in the scope of things elementary school is but a small blip on the screen of L.'s life, as it is for all of us, really, when held up against the tremendous things we each are capable of achieving--whether it's now, in ten years, or forty years; whether we hear our calling at eight, or sixteen, or sixty.