The hardest thing I’ve ever done…

So, the fall semester started a few weeks ago. I teach a section of Social Diversity. This course becomes personal for my students and for me because there’s no point in talking about diversity (real diversity, not that fluffy-we-celebrate-cinco-de-mayo stuff) without an eye for personal transformation. So, my students and I share a lot of personal information about ourselves with each other. I don’t find this problematic, at all, actually. I lay a firm groundwork for doing this that allows my students to feel as if they are in an atmosphere where they can reveal their true selves and not be judged. I make a  point of sticking my foot firmly between my tongue and teeth at least once in the first few minutes of class so that the tension is broken and they feel comfortable doing the same. Mostly, though, I think a lot when I teach this class.

I can’t, however, ask my students to reveal themselves and open themselves up to transformation without doing the same for them. If we are creating an open atmosphere for learning, then there has to be mutual trust. If I keep that barrier between student and teacher firmly in place with no leakage, then they have no reason to treat this course like anything but another class where they memorize shit and spit it back out. I hated those classes as a student, and I do not want to be that teacher. Of course, having just read Paulo Freire, I’m still on a bit of an idealistic kick. Really, though, this is just me. There’s no point in engaging in any social interaction if we don’t come out on the other side just a little bit different. I teach with this philosophy. I don’t, however, tell my students this up front. Instead, I teach with this in the back of my mind and the front of my mind simultaneously without letting it slip and then watch as transformation unfolds in front of me. It’s absolutely fucking incredible. Whoever said chocolate is amazing has never had a student tell them they learned to think from them. There is no high like that one.

I say all this to go somewhere completely different. But, like always, I felt the need to give some background info. So, on the first day of class, I give them 10 minutes to ask me anything they want and I will answer honestly and, mostly, without hesitation. I, of course, filter myself, but there are ways to reveal enough without revealing too much. However, I find that revealing certain details about my life is important because it’s inspiring to my students. I can be an example of where they can go if they just understand the world around them and understand the obstacles in their paths. On the first day of my social diversity class, one of my students asked me if we could schedule another “open forum” or “ask Porscha time” later in the semester. Tonight, we had that time. The student who asked wanted to know more about me from experiencing my classroom before asking questions, but she wanted to know she could. I think fostering this kind of dialogue in a classroom is amazingly important, so I said yes when she asked. OF course, then I had to open myself up to whatever questions they might ask.

Tonight, I got one I wasn’t ready for. Usually, they ask things that aren’t really important. Tonight, I got one that I had to lie to answer in a way that wouldn’t reveal too much of my own pain and hurt. The student who outed me on the first night of class raised her hand. She said “What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do?”

That’s a really loaded question. I could tell, by the way she asked it, that she expected me to talk about coming out blah blah blah. Honestly, though, that was NOTHING in my life. There are so many other things that have shaped me. So, It old her about having my mother involuntarily committed. That’s one of the hardest things I’ve done. I don’t know if there are levels of hard, so maybe I wasn’t lying. But, it was one I could give that was honest, heartfelt, serious, and relatable.

Then there’s the actual hardest thing I’ve ever done: I told my mom to be happy.

That was a loaded statement. I have developed a relationship with her again. She was going to therapy and getting help for herself, and I made the deal with her that as long as she makes and continues to make good decisions for herself, that I would be a supportive part of her life. That, however, is a loaded promise on my part. I don’t expect her to make the decisions I would make. I just ask that she thinks about her actions before taking them. It’s not a lot to ask of most people, but for someone with a mental illness and an impulsive history, it’s HUGE! I also realized at some point that I have to give her credit for being able to make progress in a good direction for herself, not just the way I define positive progress.

But, back to why that’s loaded and the actual hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

So, Mom called me to talk about a lot of stuff that’s going down. She, for the first time in almost a year, mentioned her husband, Daniel to me. They’re still married, even though she kicked him out last Thanksgiving. If you read the letter I actually sent and the letter I will never send, then you know that he’s a thorn in my relationship with my mother. I kicked her out of my life because I told her (after 14 years) that he molested me when I was 12, and she left him. For a full year before removing her from my life, I listened to her cry to me about losing him. I listened to her talk about how she missed him and how he was and is her best friend, and never once ask about the emotional crap that slung in my face. So, I reacted like the 12 year old girl who was finally dealing with telling her mother that big secret she’d been living with. That’s the thing about trauma – it marks itself in us like a tree ring, and until we really face it, then that particular part of us is stuck at the time period when it happened.

So, even knowing that this was a source of pain for me, she mentioned him in our conversation. And what was I supposed to do? My immediate response was an “I’m going to vomit” feeling. But that was the 12 year old.

She began to tell me that he had been calling to check on her every day since the last time she was released from the psyc ward. That’s impressive for this guy, actually. He wasn’t that attentive the many years they lived together. He told her it sounded like she needed a vacation and if she wanted, she could come stay in the guest room at his place at the beach and have that vacation. He would even give her gas money to get there. She wants to go. She needs a vacation. But she’s torn. She begins to cry and tells me she doesn’t want to lose me again. She’s going through some serious shit, but in one of those rare moments, she’s thinking like a parent. She’s actually thinking about the impact her actions have on her children. This is MAJOR progress for her.

So, I told her to go.

That single moment was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Sometimes, telling your mother to do what makes her happy is the hardest thing you can do. But a good one all around. When she came back from that trip, she told me he apologized for all the things he had done wrong in his life (he’s about to die, we think, so he’s hitting that life-changing stage) and that she knew it didn’t erase it or make it better, but that he was making an effort. In those few days, she hung out with my stepbrother’s toddler son. She’s missed that kid. She loves that kid. She hasn’t been able to see him in over a year. That was not fair on my part to ask of her.

She also got to process some things in an adult way with the husband she’s separated from. The 12-year-old me that reacted by kicking her out of my life couldn’t realize how important that was for her. Before she could move past the place where she was circling around in her brain for answers, she had to actually deal with shit. Just like I had to deal with that 12 year old.

This, however, is not something I can reveal to my students. It is, though, something I can write about because writing about it makes me feel better – whether or not any of y’all read this.

One Response to “The hardest thing I’ve ever done…”
  1. Allison says:

    Porscha, you are one of the strongest people I know. Your students are lucky to have you.

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