When I present at a conference, there are rows of chairs all facing me. For about a half hour or an hour, I talk. I generally have a power point with “talking points” and some visuals, some points of humor and a conclusion. People come to hear me because they want to learn something that I have researched or have thought through, and it will help them in their own research or their own teaching processes. This… wasn’t that.
When I teach, students are in small groups and I am at the front of the room or walking around, facilitating their learning, setting up activities for them to come up with their own answers, their own meanings, their own way of doing things. I am a ringmaster, with the students actively contributing, but I direct them, coordinate the timing of things, and ask for responses to questions I have planned ahead. I am trying to take them somewhere, to master a set of objectives. This… wasn’t that.
When I talk with fellow parents, we sit in a circle or across a coffee table from each other. Everyone is equal and the conversation flows. One person asks for opinions, for information and we poll the group to get the best responses, to explore the wide experiences that everyone in the group has. We talk about our day, our concerns, our hopes and share moments. This… wasn’t that.
What is was… was a strange amalgam of all of these. The chairs were in rows facing me, but I was not there to lecture. I had passages from the book highlighted, but no power point. I was extremely happy and honored there was ANYONE there! Most of the people there were my family, who are interested in what I have to say, but only vague interest in the topic. My editors were there- who knew the book better than I know it myself. And some parents were there. I talked with these fellow parents, found out why they were there, why they came out on a Friday night. I asked questions, and I facilitated responses. I shared what I knew and I heard from the other parents of experiences that are not my own. I made recommendations of other books besides my own. I talked about the book, some, but I talked about the experiences of parenting a child on the spectrum. I formed a small support group.
And I learned. I learned about one dad, who is struggling with his 8-year old son with Aspergers and his worries that the support system came too late, and how the pain of the diagnosis is harder on him than on his son. I learned about one mom whose son has name-the-label and her struggles with the school system and medical professionals to think of him as one child, not many labels. I learned of one mother who has multiple family members with autism and is struggling to raise her children. I tried to facilitate, to share, and because it was my job being there at Barnes and Noble, to discuss my own book. However, I found other books that they needed to read as well, more resources that they needed to tap. “Calvin and Hobbes” came up more than once- as analogy, as a book to read, as a support for their own child.
I left exhausted. I know the role of professor- I love presenting and teaching and writing. I know the role of parent- I love sharing and commiserating and dialoguing. I’m not sure of my role of “author/book signer”. I found myself craving the familiar, the routine: the language I use when I’m a professor and the language I use as a parent.
Afterwards, everyone clapped. One parent left, book in hand, but no signature. Did she buy? I have no idea. I misspelled the name of the dad who handed me a book he had bought, in ink. I wrote “oops” next to the misspelling. I felt terrible. I signed books that my family bought out of family pride and one book for an aunt-in-law who could not be there , but has a son with high-functioning autism- ready for college. They have already lived the diagnosis/fighting with the school/treatment routes. My book comes too late for them. I signed more books for the bookstore to keep as “Autographed by author”.
Next time, I’ll stand in front of the table, rather than sit behind it. I’ll learn about more parents. I’ll share some information/facts/suggestions in my professor role. I’ll share with fellow parents.
My mother asked me if I had “fun”. I’m not sure… but I know that I’ll learn even more… the next time.
Louisville, April 1st. Barnes and Noble at the Summit. Hope to see you there!