the long, long, long, long commute

I am a healthy representation of the Motor City ethos. I drive–on a good day–an hour each way, to and from campus. On a bad day, well. Let’s make it an even 4-5 hours round trip.

I spend a depressingly large amount of time in my car, going anywhere from 7 to 75 mph.
Sometimes, I use all the worst words in my vocabulary. All of them.

This morning was, I would say, an average commute. It took me 1 hr. and 15 min. I sat through the usual congestion, listening to music and thinking about my day, which began today with teaching. I knew that we had to pick up a group activity where we had left off on Friday. I was thinking about how to shimmy the rest of my class plans around to account for this, when my mind drifted over a student comment from the beginning of Friday’s class. What the comment was is not important. What is important, is the familiar tension at the back of my neck, whenever “the one” student makes himself or herself known.

Every class has “the one,” or sometimes multiple ones. These are the students that say things–sometimes germane to the class plan, but often not. They are the students with NO TROUBLE talking loud enough for all to hear. The students that get right up your nose. They are difficult.

In my car this morning, I thought over how I had reacted to my student’s comment: pretty typically. It caught me off guard, and I tried to take it in stride. But, I felt I came off as awkward, and worse, that the student had “caught” me. With a sigh, I had to admit that I had not handled the situation with the aplumb I had wished for. And, I reflected that even though this was so, I had a fresh opportunity laid out for me this day. Hopefully, this new opportunity would find me revising my attitude toward this student. Simply being cheeky and extroverted shouldn’t be grounds for me to not like a student. It should be a chance–one among many that I get every day–to teach.

Class today went really well. Students worked diligently to finish with their groups. “The One” student asked me a couple of off-topic questions, sure. But I didn’t let them knock me off my mental game. As I get my students ready for the first project, I am trying to help them synthesize all the ground we’ve covered in these first few weeks. I have lots of fodder for meditation as I drive home. Hopefully, it will take me less than 2 hours.

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The Zen of Baby Carrying (and reading for class)

There is not much you can do when your two-and-a-half-month-old is crying. Crying, not because she is hungry or needs a diaper change. Crying because she is tired, should be sleeping, but is fighting it with all of her tiny being. Ah, the sound. When my baby is crying, I want nothing in the world as much as I want her to be soothed, for the crying to stop. What usually does this for B when she is overtired and in denial about it, is for one of us to carry her around the apartment–constantly moving. Like a shark.

Jake can pull this off by laying the baby across his arm like she’s a football. I do not have such arm strength, and so usually have to wind her up in our Moby wrap, binding her to my torso. We walk, shimmie, sashay around the house. B cranes her neck out of the wrap to see all around. I will her to nod off, so I can, you know, fold some clothes or something. I have one hand free when she’s awake, but the other is occupied supporting her head and generally keeping her from wiggling right out of the wrap. It is best, I’ve found, if I just don’t think that I will be able to do anything else. I can’t sit or stand still, can’t cook, can’t go to the bathroom. Just move. And hum whatever song is stuck in my head. And meditate on how sometimes I have to just let go of my goals and walk my baby around.

The other day, though, I managed to sneak in some reading for one of my classes this semester. I swayed on the balcony of our second-story flat, letting a delicious breeze blow on B and I, as I read a couple of pages in “The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere” by Jurgen Habermas. “Aha!” I silently extolled, “I have it! This is how I can calm B *and* reach my goals!!”

No sooner had I luxuriated in this thought, when my precious angel woke suddenly from her doze, crying. As I fed her, I had to smirk at my goal-oriented self for 1) jumping at the chance to do homework and 2) thinking that I’d found a loophole, a way around the simple fact of monotasking with B. Just let it go, I’m constantly reminding myself. Let it be what it is: a dance around the house with your daughter.

I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.