Notta and Young People, Part II

NOtta and Young People, Part II

Every so often, my “class” consists of myself, Notta, and two students. Or less. Life has a way of interfering for many of my students. Sometimes it’s an unsympathetic employer; other times it’s miscommunication about rides or class schedule. And sometimes it’s rain. In any one of these cases, I let the class structure loosen to focus on what those who come wish to get extra time/help working on.

Often, these are the days when what needs work is not academic.

Last week, after one such class, Notta brought the extra study materials back to my office and slapped the pile down on the table.

“Problem?” I asked.

She stopped for a moment, as if to gather her thoughts or her self-control, then said, “You know, I would really like to punch Sigmund Freud right in the nose!”

I stopped my usual notation of the day’s activities. “Aside from the fact that he’s dead, why would that be?”

“This whole business of blaming your parents for what you’ve screwed up in your life. ‘I’m a drop-out because my father didn’t like me.’ Or, ‘My mom never got me up on time, so I got expelled for being late.’ All the time, ‘It’s not my fault; my parents did it.’” She spat out a disgusted sigh. “Makes me sick.”

“Well,” I said, “I don’t think that’s all Freud’s doing. There were a lot of other folks who built on his work.”

“He started it!”

“Possibly, but aren’t you playing the blame game, too, by pinning our students…foibles on him?”

“Foibles? You want to talk foibles? How about getting your tail out of bed on your own? If you’re eighteen and old enough to work and vote, why do you still need mommy or daddy to get you up in the morning? And so what if you can’t get a car ride. There’s the freaking bus!”

“Not everybody feels safe on public transit,” I said.

Notta gave me a pitying look before she continued her rant. “And what the heck is the big deal about coming to class when it rains? Snow and ice, I see that, but…”

“Notta, what’s this really about?”

That put her on pause for several seconds. I wondered if I had offended her. Then her shoulders sank. “I don’t know. Just seems that, with that logic, I screwed up my own kids because I didn’t get to a soccer game, or I didn’t get that favorite pair of jeans mended or washed or God knows what. My kid gets diagnosed with depression, it’s my fault. Another kid has liver issues, that’s my fault, too. Where does it stop?”

I have never been the best at recognizing rhetorical questions, so I tried this answer. “I’m not a psychologist or a social worker.” Yes, I know: I wimped out on that one.

“But you have kids.”

“Three, and they are all good people. Not perfect by a long chalk, but good people. I’m proud of them.”

“And when they screw up do you blame yourself?”

My smile felt sad. “That’s a question I always ask myself when something goes wrong for them.”

“Or when they actually do something that pisses you off?”

“That, too.”

“So what do you answer yourself?”

“Well, Mrs. Winnie-the-Pooh –“ progress, Notta was smiling back – “I try to look at the situation and first see how it happened. If it’s my kid’s own fault, I might think, ‘you dumb kid’ or something like that. If not, I start looking for ways to fix them, but I don’t say a lot. Truth is, I rarely do more than listen and make a few suggestions. They can take them or not. They’re all over 21 and they can choose.”

“You never beat yourself up over it?” She looked a little too deeply into my face.

“All the time, especially if they can’t solve the problem. I wonder what it was I didn’t teach them, or what character flaw they had that I didn’t see. Was I too busy to see it or did I not want to deal with it because I saw the same character flaw in myself? It’s hard to parent when you haven’t dealt with childhood issues yourself.”

Notta started waving both arms to fend off the idea. “Don’t you start on how your parents screwed you up.”

“No, my folks did the best they knew how to do. As most of us do, but how do you learn to adapt to this changing-at-the-speed-of-light world when you grew up in an insular world where change was not welcome and rarely accepted?”

“Nobody likes change.”

“Not unless it’s change by choice. Then we cling to it like a security blanket.”

“And don’t want the change to change,” Notta agreed. “Always does, though. We change or we die.”

“Tell that to our students. They’re about as receptive to criticism as the White House.”

“Don’t go there, Notta. Let’s have lunch one of these days and then we can rip the current Administration to pieces. There’s still hope for our students.”

She sank into one of the empty office chairs. “You think so?”

“I have to think so.Can’t say I understand them all, but there are things I don’t understand about my own kids.”

“Not to mention time you want to just smack ‘em.” We laughed.

“That’s easier than fighting with them, but harder to repair afterwards.”

Notta nodded. “That can also get you fired,” she said.

“Yes, it can.We’re not parents, we’re not BFFs, we have to be more.”

“And sometimes that means listening,” Notta said. “And sitting on our hands.”

“And not making it personal, “ I added. “These are people, not clones.”

Notta brushed wrinkles out of her long skirt.

She looked up at me with a grin. “With identical neuroses. Or do you think Freud would have blamed for father for one and the mother for the other? Or would he have blamed the test tube?”

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