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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Comments

Jody

Hmmmm.

I don't know. I can see how one experience would snowball onto another, and before you know it, perceptions and experiences are so intermingled that it's too hard to figure out a way to start fresh. I also wonder whether they never really liked the town in the first place. But it's entirely likely that I'm radically discounting the oddity of their family structure within the system of their town.

I do think that any kind of active involvementin the community can help you quickly feel tied into the place in positive ways. If playdates and preschool aren't working, why not join a political campaign or sign up to volunteer somewhere? Simply having folks know your name can make a huge difference. I'm socially inept and endow even the least intentional slights with cosmic significance--they don't like me! We don't fit in! My life sucks! I over-identified a little too much with the author when she wrote about her preschool experience....

It's hard not to want to say to this author, as I say to myself, suck it up and go talk to them first. But then, I don't always listen to myself, either. Which is why DOING--signing up to teach Sunday school right away, or signing up for a local political campaign, or signing up to coach a sports team--always seems like the smart way to get involved. Being busy covers my lack of social graces.

It must suck to feel like a tourist after five years. I've found the last nine monthts tough, and that's been as we've put down some pretty fast roots. It's been my experience that kids actually sped my ability to "feel at home"--they endow places with significance very quickly, and (because they're children and this is what children do?) they don't let new stuff throw them for a loop the way I do. Or am I projecting onto all children some temperamental traits that my children just happen to have?

Brian

I too felt a mixture of compassion and irritation on reading that article. The irritation may be unfair. But it's hard to tell whether it is the townsfolk or the author and her husband themselves who are more uncomfortable with their anomalous situation. The husband feels weird hanging around "other men's wives" and has bought a garage full of power tools. Maybe he should think of them as "people," not "other men's wives," and be less concerned about defending his masculinity. (That may not be fair; maybe he just likes power tools. My sister-in-law does.) And the author seems to think that because her colleagues are either childless or older, with grown children, they don't have much in common. I couldn't help thinking that they should open up a bit.

Maybe that's not fair. The author did say that she and her husband have tried to fit in. But maybe the other mothers at the school didn't open up to the author because she hasn't opened up to them. Maybe she intimidates them, either by what she says or who she is. Or maybe she or her husband just gets on people's nerves, without realizing it. I know a few people like that; they want to be outgoing and social but they rub people the wrong way because they never learned the little social graces.

Belphoebe

[confused]I thought your "home" institution was Granolalan, and Granolaton was your "leave" institution?[/confused]

Teri

I'm a long time lurker who wondered when I read that article in the Chronicle whether you would talk about it here. I'm a professor waiting to hear about my tenure decision at a small state college in the "blessed Northeast." My dear husband and I have had a very hard time fitting in here, for many of the reasons that the article mentions. My department, unlike the author's, is wonderful, but the town is so dismal and the schools so bad that none of the faculty of child-raising age still lives here. They've all fled across the border into New York state, where the Regents exams and slightly more welcoming atmosphere makes day-to-day existence more palatable, and their 40 mile commutes make socializing a rare and precious thing.

It's been very difficult to fit in, despite our best efforts. My husband is a long-haired stay-at-home dad, and although he was very active in the presidential campaign, founded a local arts organization and sits on its board, writes for and is on the editorial board of an upstart local paper, and is spearheading efforts to create a local arts center, he's still dismissed, ignored, or outright rejected by many of the townspeople. I think that part of it has to do with an enormous town/gown divide, and part of it has to do with the local politics (nasty and overwhelmingly tilted away from our political beliefs). Staying home with the kids while his wife works is just the icing on the cake for a lot of our neighbors, I suspect.

Still, we love our house (two blocks from my office and practically free), we drive to larger college towns as often as possible, and we know that tenurable jobs in English aren't to be tossed away lightly. Our dream? Hitting the lottery and moving to the Pacific Northwest. Sadly, we would leave here with very little regret.

Rachel

I wonder if it's a Midwest vs. Northeast thing. I'm also in a Midwestern small college town and although I don't have kids, I think the trailing spouses have fit in here pretty well. Actually, it's part of what attracts me to this place...dads stay at home with kids, moms keep their own last name, we have a lot of adopted kids, etc. Yes, it's a small town, but it's so different from the place I grew up because there's a diversity even among all of the pasty while people.

buzz

As a childfree person who intends to stay that way, I wonder if the connections between those with and those without children might be stronger if reproductive status were less important as a category to be used for deciding when to socialize.

I am happy to spend time with people and their chilren, but I've found that parents usually think those of us without children only want to do things that don't involve kids.

Ancarett

I understand her thoughts entirely. If I didn't have the internet, I'd have succumbed to a deep depression and who knows what would have happened. Hundreds of miles from anyone I know, not a friend around, no one who shares my hobby interests, a city that sucks -- but my kids can call it home. (And I don't even have a hope of finding another job at this point in my career. Maybe in five or six more years, but not right now. Damn.)

Brian

Me again. Maybe it's because I grew up in a small midwestern town, but I find it hard to understand why some people seem so alienated from where they live. OK, there are a lot of places I would feel uncomfortable. A friend who moved to Nashville felt uncomfortable when asked "Where do you go to church?" until she realized it was just the locals' way of making friendly conversation. I would probably feel the same way. But it seems that there are those who make the best of wherever they end up in a competitive national job market, and those who feel uncomfortable moving too far from the kind of place where they grew up, physically or intellectually. The latter might be happier if they considered that before going on the job market, and if necessary, opted for other careers rather than taking the tenure-track job in the outskirts of Hell.

Buzz is right that reproductive status ought, in an ideal world, not matter for socializing. But I chatted this afternoon with a friend whose active 3-year-old is charming to me and my wife but, unfortunately, not to a lot of childless people. (Heck, I figure he's going to pay my social security, if he moves to the US at some point.) There are plenty of intolerant childless people who can make couples with small children uncomfortable; it's an unfortunate fact of life.

-Brian (whose e-mail is now correct in this posting)

Emma Jane

Belphoebe, sorry for the confusion! My home institution is Granolan College, which is located in Granolaton, Ohindinois. Currently I'm visiting a little institute that lives in the shadow of a large university in California, but I'll be back in Granolaton in June.

I've been planning to write about these issues for a while. I think what surprised me about the Chronicle piece was how, in reacting to it, I didn't end up featuring the years of unpleasant isolation: instead, I realized that it's become somehow okay to live in the middle of nowhere. Going back will be going home.

I was surprised, too, to read of a couple who sounded like they'd fit in here just fine having trouble in a nominally more progressive part of the country. Granolaton is a complex place. We have town-gown and school-quality issues up the wazoo. I tend to blame a lot of what's wrong with the college, and the town, on the political history of the place. But, I think both town and gown are more welcoming—at least to me and mine—because of that history, and perhaps I should be more grateful for it.

If anything, I've felt excluded in Granolaton when I've done or said things that adhere too closely to traditional gender mythology. Example: a new neighbor (who has since gone on to build a family in a highly non-traditional fashion, and been cheered by all around) complained about some minor car trouble. "Maybe you should ask Beaker to look at it?" I felt her face freeze. "Look, he really knows a lot about engines." More icicles form around her temples. Conversation drifts off. After a couple of similar iterations over the next few weeks, we stop trying. (Internal rant: damnit, my husband isn't just another English professor! When he plays with power tools, he doesn't get hurt! In our house, he fixes stuff, 'cause, you know, he's got the engineering training and years of experience! I'm not referring you to him because he has balls, but because he actually knows how to fix things!)

Buzz and Brian, don't forget that child-ful people have very different kinds of time available to them for socializing. They wake up earlier and go to bed earlier (urrrrrgh). And then when getting decent food, or seeing a foreign movie, or even just hanging out at a bar that's not full of students, means driving over an hour each way...

Brian

Sorry if I was unclear - I know that having kids changes when and where you can socialize. I'm happy to fit my schedule to that of my friends with kids. I just meant that I know other people who aren't, unfortunately. (Well, and then there are parents who can talk of nothing else besides their children.) This is a frequent topic on Carolyn Hax's Friday chat.

altmama

Hi--just stumbled across this blog and was so happy to find it. I am currently ABD and just started trying to get pregnant. I'm at sort of a different phase of the discomfort this article describes, because my "peer" group is so -not- thinking about babies and families, etc. And then I feel uncomfortable with myself, because I never thought I would be the one plowing ahead into mothering, with all the professional risks that involves.

Anyway, just wanted you to know that with all the alienation this article describes and I generally experience, it's very comforting to find someone a few steps ahead of me in both the parental and professional spheres. I'll be back! :)

Belphoebe

Whoops--I realize now that I'd misread one of your posts so I thought that Granolaton was your current "here." Thanks for your response. . . .

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