Falling on your face (or someone else’s)

I am not a coordinated person. It was never meant to be. My brain hears rhythm, but my body makes chaos. This can be easily understood when I dance, but I love dancing, and I rarely maim people in the process.

Gymnastics, though, is another story. I hate gymnastics. I think gymnasts are amazing, but I have less than zero desire or ability to mimic them. When I was the age that people had birthdays at gymnastics studios, I wondered why one would want to celebrate with outright torture.

I do not like being upside down, hanging on things, walking on narrow things, or bouncing around. I am not good at it, and I am terrified of it.

On the upside, it has proven to have a purpose recently. My son has been trying lots of new things, and not all of them have gone well. Gratefully, he is coordinated. (Yay, Dad!) But he is working on learning to ride a bike, and he’s scared, and he’s struggled a bit. Notably, our neighbor who is the same age is riding without training wheels. He’s very aware of this.

Sure enough, he went into the sad place and told me no one is worse than him. I was armed and ready.

When I was in 5th grade, in a fit of flaming insanity, we had gymnastics class in school, and we had to do penny drops. The premise is that you hold onto the upper bar of the uneven bars, hook your legs around the lower bar, and let go. You spin around, your legs release, and you land on your feet. There is no reason this would even be a useful thing, but it was required. I failed at negotiating, so I hooked my legs over the lower bar and let go.

Here’s the thing: thanks to gravity, you go upside down. I am not meant to be upside down, and my body, realizing this, did what it does best: flail. If there was an Olympics of flailing, I would get the gold. There is not now, nor was there in 5th grade, but there was a spotter who was a very kind, wonderful teacher who never knew a human could flail like I could. My foot caught her face. I landed, probably thanks to her, and she had to leave to go to the doctor.

I told my son this story. He looked at me. “Mom, what happened?” “I broke her nose.” “Oh, no. But it was an accident.”

It was. It was a total accident. Things don’t always go as we plan. Sometimes we struggle, and sometimes people get kicked in the face by 10 year olds. But, I did what you are supposed to do. I got back on the proverbial horse, or in this case, the balance beam.

The teacher returned. Her nose was all taped up, but she was in good spirits. I can’t help but wonder if she had a head injury, because she volunteered to spot me again. She decided that my issue was fear which was probably true, and the solution was to face my fear, so I should do a leap on the balance beam. I did. Guilt is a powerful thing but not as powerful as my innate sense of chaos. I fell. On her. She went to the doctor again. I broke her arm.

My son looked at me. “You broke her arm?” “Yes. It was an accident. I spent the rest of the class on my own mat in the corner where I couldn’t hurt anyone.” “Am I ever going to ride a bike?” Yes, you will. In your own time, when you’re ready. But if I’ve learned nothing else, not ever fear needs to be faced, at least not right away.” “Want to do yoga?” And so, a kid and his spastic mom did yoga in the yard. Conquering the bike will wait.

Wherever that teacher is, I’m sorry. Thank you for trying. I still can’t do any of those things, but it taught me a lot about failure and the inner voice that asks why we do things and listening to it.


COVID-19 and Education

It’s a strange time to be a professor. I had to shutter my lab and help my colleagues shutter theirs. I am teaching online. I prepped a course for moving online in 2015, but I had months. We will be this way through the Spring, and I wonder what will happen in the Summer and Fall with the virus and with our university.

The only reason I am functioning in this is that I have incredible students. They have been beyond generous in moving online, discussing what is working and what is not and explaining basic functions of the software. I am definitely the learner in so much of this. The students in my lab have brought all of their humanity and work ethic home with them. They are trying to do as much as possible, teach themselves, and support each other.

The students are doing this while dealing with so much. Some have moved. Some have lost their income. Some are not sure where they will live in a few weeks if they know now. They are struggling with finding places and spaces to work and managing their mental health at an incredibly hard time. Some are sick and worried they have the virus. It is so much for them to carry, and yet they find the space to be so incredible to each other and to me.

What makes a College special? I went to a college where there was a strong sense of community, a particular culture (around engineering), and a place where I had a sense of identity that empowered me. I think that community, culture, and identity are incredibly important parts of education. Our students are showing that in this incredibly difficult time. I am in awe of them.

I also wonder as this virus progresses, how do we support and build community, culture, and identity when we are all in different places? So much of what helped me in my time as a student was the student groups and cross pollination between different ideas and activities. How can we have performances and audiences online and sporting events online? We’re seeing examples. It is an important time to figure it out, and along the way, support our students and help make our corner of the world in academia a little bit better in a terrible time.