Friday, May 20, 2011

Married until proven single. Pregnant until proven fat - or having eaten a big meal.

The first time a student asked me if I was pregnant, I had been teaching for about 10 days. It was fairly jarring. I mean I have heard of small chidren circa age 4 asking their mothers if the obese woman in supermarket is pregnant - followed by a large "shhhhh-ing" episode and embarrassment all around. But in my case the student was 14 not 4 and I am not obese. I'm not gonna lie, my first thoughts definitely went to how few times I managed to go running since the year had started. But I told said student that they only thing I was pregnant with was knowledge and that he should avoid asking women that question...um...ever. Clearly I waited to cry into my first-year teacher ice cream sundae until later that night.

But this is not an isolated phenonmenon. In two years working in schools, I have been asked if I am pregnant 4 times. Right around that 4th time I decided to do some careful questioning of why, oh why, I am such a baby-carrying mirage. Here's what I learned:

1. The general rate of pregnancy questioning from students to teachers goes up after lunch. No, young teen, I am not pregnant. Just full. And maybe I wouldn't be so full if I didn't have to stuff my face in my 5-minute lunch break because I spent the other 25 minutes helping you learn to divide for the 37th time. (Shockingly, being mistaken for pregnant does not bring out my most patient, nuturing side).

2. I drink a lot of water. And pee a lot. Whether they were just trying to save me from a fat joke or not, 2 out of 4 of the times I was asked this question, it was explained away by referencing the number of times I have had to leave the classroom to go to the bathroom. They're not wrong.

3. "White women like you have skinny bodies and round stomachs." That's a direct quote from an 11th grader. I think what she was trying to explain was a possible difference in anatomy between teenagers and adults, but for some reason she went racial and well, wrong. Not the best theory, but I thought I should include it for the sake thoroughness.

There is a much broader trend represented by this with-child enigma. I am not sure what the equilavent would be for men (perhaps I will extend my careful questioning), but female teachers are presumed to be married and mothers by all students until proven otherwise. Every man I talk to is my husband or at least my boyfriend. Every weekend I go home to my large brood. The idea that I am a single, unbrooded women remains in the entirely inconceivable category. And when it is finally absorbed that I am neither pregnant nor betrothed, this is the result:

Kristal, 8th grader (at the end of class): Ms.Pace, are you going to have kids?

Me: I hope so. I'd really like to have kids someday.

Kristal: So you're going to adopt?


Me: Maybe. But there might still be time for me to find a husband, no?

Kristal: I guess. But you should probably adopt. Just to be safe.

So just as it is jarring for students to imagine their teacher doing something like grocery shopping or sleeping in a bed rather than a coffin or upsidedown from the ceiling, it is also comforting to them to picture me as perpetually middle-aged and entirely settled. And as long as it doesn't mean being pregnant with anything but knowledge, I will indulge them.

1 comment:

  1. I just started reading your blog today. I do not plan to stop reading it anytime in the near future. I also might have just read three of your entries aloud to the great amusement of my sister and boyfriend. Nice. You're a terrific writer.