Friday, July 29, 2011

Driving in the Dark

Several years ago, the Matron found herself doing a lot of late night driving. She was teaching a night class way out in the 'burbs. The class ended at 9:45 pm, just in time for her to make the forty minute drive to downtown Minneapolis to retrieve then 8 or 9 year old Scarlett from her stint at The Guthrie. Little did the Matron know that this was just the first of many late night runs she would be making to pick up her stage-minded daughter.

But the gift in the driving?

The Matron discovered The Story, American Public Media's late night devotion to the drama of real, non-celebrity lives. Each night during that drive to The Guthrie, the Matron was transformed. Hurtling through the darkness, in the midst of headlights and blinking city skies, a stranger shared his or her story -- heartache, surprise, tragedy, success, joy and pain. It was a strangely intimate experience, hearing these people pour out their hearts, yet also completely solitary. Just her, the van, the voice, the black outside her windows.

Yesterday, the Matron listened again as she drove home, late (no theater this time because Stagedoor Manor is just three days away and that's another blog post).

Her night class had been long and demanding, and had included the most cherubic, chunkiest, adorable five month old baby in the history of babies -- and she (the baby) wasn't even the Matron's!

You see, one of her students is a new mom, struggling with this little dumpling who needs to nurse every twenty-five seconds. The new mom's night class --the one the Matron teaches -- is three and a half hours long, three nights a week. The new father? Tearing out his hair and texting his wife throughout his own three and a half hours of torment, three nights a week.

Student: "This is so hard! She never sleeps! I'm trying to work and go to school, take care of my in-laws and I can't even go to the bathroom. My poor husband can't do anything to calm her. I don't know if I can finish this class -- I'm really sorry."

Let's just add that this student is an unusual person, someone who has endured hardships most of us cannot imagine (and is not quick to share these, but sometimes the teachers get a view) and has left her entire family half a world away so she could live in safety. This brave woman, felled by a five month old. This, the Matron could not stand.

Matron: "You can bring the baby to class if you need to."

Student (shocked): "Really?"

Matron: "Really."

She didn't. Until the next to the last day of class when her husband's psyche needed some rest and the baby needed her Mama. So last night, the Matron got to hold, cuddle and play with the beautiful K -- while her Mama worked on her papers. It was fun to realize one can lecture while holding a baby.

The entire class went "AAAH" and "OOooo" more than once.

Then, on the way home, tuning into The Story, she was treated to this: The Longest Shortest Time.

Her landing in the past was swift and bittersweet, remembering her firstborn and his demands --and how she struggled to meet them, railing against all she lost: freedom to move, an intellectual life, quiet evenings with her husband, a good book in a cafe. As a new mother, the Matron felt she had been given a life sentence of constant demand, need and feed.

Now of course, she realizes she had been given a life.

She finished the drive home, thinking of that baby and her own firstborn, far away in Chicago (summer camp -- debate institute) and a good foot taller than his mother. He's planning for college with an eagerness that doesn't escape anyone in the house.

And the sky drifted clouds and darkness as the voices of those new mothers traveled with her, women in a different place on the same journey, a journey that seems forever and an instant.

The fire fly lives we lead. Bright, rapid -- short.


Anonymous said...

Bless you for that great kindness to that new mom.

trash said...

You will stay in her memories forever.

Deb said...

What a wonderful post! I, also, try to glimpse and understand what is going on in my students' lives. I know many (most?) of them struggle financially, trying to balance full time school with almost full time work. I try to remember that most of the time the image they try to portray in the classroom does not reflect what they are actually experiencing in their lives.

I remember what it felt like to sit in class, counting the minutes, until I could leave and go visit my dying husband in his hospital room. The feeling of being torn between knowing I needed to think of providing for my children in the future and wanting to spend time just sitting with him.

I try to remember that when I teach my students and try to be compassionate when they open themselves up. I realize that few of them do, but hope that the ones that do, feel supported.

I applaud you doing just that, and not just for that student, but for modeling that for all your students. It will be a lesson that is long remembered.

MJ said...

This post (& the mother's memory of it) will be part of the family's history as it will be told over and over. You done good, Matron! (And I appreciate that sentence wasn't grammatically correct!)

Anonymous said...

I spent the afternoon going through old family pictures with my 80-year-old mother, seeing the faces of grandparents and great-grandparents when they were young and had most of their lives in front of them. There were pictures of them holding their babies and later their grandchildren, celebrating birthdays and weddings and anniversaries, and ordinary days. Snapshots of firefly lives.

So glad you're back, Dr. MM. I missed you and your thought-provoking posts during your break.

Minnesota Matron said...

Thanks, guys! I was going to give up the blog but comments like these keep me going. I've decided to just write every other day instead of nearly daily which takes the pressure off and makes it fun again : -). And I love that there's so much generosity of spirit in the world even borne of struggle and pain, as these comments show.