Four of my five uncles are ministers (one’s a theologian), and two of my four aunts married ministers, so almost ALL of my 25 cousins are PKs (preacher’s kids). I’m sure there are things about that kind of upbringing that my cousins can relate to that I can’t; both of my parents were devout Christians but chose teaching as their profession instead. Having teachers for parents means you don’t get away with much when you’re a kid; my folks were pretty strict, yet they didn’t do some of the things you might expect: our house wasn’t full of books and no one checked each night to see that our homework was done. We each had our own library card, however, and my mother was an avid reader, and I’m sure there would have been consequences had we brought home anything less than straight As. I’m giving a talk this Thursday before the UFT—our local teachers’ union—and being at the Teacher Resource Center this morning reminded me how much the field of education feels like “home” to me. Being around teachers, stepping into a classroom—the smell of chalk, the scrape of chairs, hands shooting up into the air…I feel like I’ve been around that all my life. And I have! I spent lots of time in my mother’s kindergarten classroom, helping her take down or put up displays, typing her report cards, minding the kids while she stepped out to speak to the principal. After the divorce, we moved to a different school district and so my holidays didn’t always coincide with my mother’s. Rather than leave me at home, she’d take me to school and put me to work. I’m not sure how my big sister wiggled out of this, but it was good preparation for the work I’d later do in after school programs and community centers. And I’m always proud when a stranger will look at me and correctly guess that I’m a teacher. Yet my parents never really talked about what inspired them to teach. Maybe that’s why I love talking to educators now. Anyway, I’m working on my presentation, which will include lots of photographs. I was struck by Jill’s remark in her review of Wish that I’m a “beautiful swan,” yet somehow know how it feels to be an ugly duckling. Well, that’s b/c this “swan phase” is fairly recent! And I think your self-image somehow crystallizes at fourteen, which was a difficult moment for me. I decided to show through photos just how it is I know about teenage girls with self-esteem problems…I’m starting at Grade 7 and going all the way up to Graduation–the photo taken AFTER my hair fell out. Do I dare post those horrific photos in here? Well…why not!
Not that much difference, right? So in the 6 years between Grade 8 and high school graduation, I managed to grow my hair out, perm it, grow it past my shoulders, and then lose it all through mismanagement and a malicious hair stylist who didn’t care that I left her salon with a bleeding scalp. The worst part is that even after it fell out and I had to cut my hair to Grade 8-length, I KEPT ON PERMING MY HAIR! Just nuts. I’m going to go see Chris Rock’s documentary soon, and then I’m sure I’ll have more to say on the topic of black women and hair…anyway, if you’re a UFT member in the NYC area, I hope you’ll come down and hear my talk—they’re even giving away free books!