My life has had some weird quirks in it, but not so weird that I’ve ever seriously considered writing a memoir or anything. (Isn’t that the standard now for remarkable childhoods?) But I think these quirks have helped me ultimately be a better teacher, scholar, and person.
I was born in New York in the 1970s. My parents were hippies. Serious, unapologetic, Woodstock-attending, peace-loving hippies, my mom from Montreal, my dad from New Jersey. So serious that we moved to rural Ontario to the absolute middle of nowhere when I was a baby. It’s not entirely clear to me the reasons for doing this, even now, but it had something to do with a commune farm of which my uncle was a member. Along with many of their hippie cohort in that decade, my parents decided to go “back to the land.” Never mind that neither of them was really “from the land” in the first place.
Most of my childhood was spent on a farm-ish (more recreational, not practical) property in the Adirondacks of upstate New York. There, we raised and ate our farm animals. We kept a menagerie of animals as pets: goats, a pony, ducks, chickens, geese, sheep, ferrets, cows. We were buried in snow for most of the year.
Once I began to realize as an adolescent that shoveling cow poop was no longer the way that I wished to pass my time, I begged my parents to let me go to boarding school. It did not deter me that we knew no one or had even heard of anyone going away to prep school. I had read a series of books, similar to Sweet Valley High, about the adventures of several girls at an all girls boarding school outside of Boston. And I wanted to do that. Eventually, my parents relented, and I got a scholarship to an all girls school in upstate New York that I loved. To say that boarding school was a culture shock is an understatement. It was overwhelming at first, but I met a lot of international girls and other nerdy kids who made terrific friends. Then I went to Wesleyan for college, majored in sociology, and won a fellowship to enter a phD program in sociology on the basis of my honors thesis, which was an interview study of first-time mothers. (It’s so funny to remember myself driving all over Connecticut for the year, before and after the babies were born. All of the women were thirtysomething, and I kept wondering, “Why are these women just so old?”)
While I loved the research and writing of academia, I didn’t love the quantitative aspect of my program and couldn’t stand being in school for another year. I was a writer and researcher for a Harvard psychiatrist for a year, helping out with a project about the brain. Then I went back to graduate school at Boston University, finished my master’s, and began teaching. I ended my teaching career with a few years at a private day schoolin Cambridge, Mass. The best part of my experience there was helping to create a writing workshop program for the upper elementary grades.
I went back to graduate school, when I realized I wasn’t getting any younger and always wanted to finish that doctoral program from more than a decade earlier. I returned to BU, this time in educational development and policy, also taking a few courses in the doctoral program in sociology. My dissertation is about the experiences of female students of color at elite boarding schools. These girls are graduates of a preparatory program in Boston called Beacon Academy that helps urban kids get into, apply, and stay in independent schools throughout New England. I can relate to their feelings of not quite fitting into a world where most of the other kids come from backgrounds that are not like yours. These girls are extraordinarily talented and resilient and have been given the tremendous amount of support necessary to excel required from children who are born into challenging situations.
I hope to finish my dissertation this spring. Wish me luck with that….