I brought my son to work on Thursday last week. He was just with me for three hours--tops. I wasn't teaching that day, so we ran some errands around campus, and headed over to the library to set up a film for my students. I seated him in one of the old squishy orange chairs outside the glass windowed media room, and while I cued up the film, I watched him hunched into the bulk of the chair, a little figure with crazy sticking-up hair and glasses, head bent over one of his train books. He seemed out-of-place there and yet, strangely at home as well, and I thought about how much I like to have him with me on mornings like that, when he's my shadow--my buddy--following me as I do my job, soaking in all the details of my life here at work.
When I was little, one of my favorite things to do was to go to work with my dad. He is a college professor and used to teach in the most interesting campus building of all--the Education and Technology building. In the long, dim hallway leading to the elevators at the back of the building, there were display cases filled with student projects. One huge glass case held a diorama of a farm scene, and if you pushed the buttons on the front of the case, lights illuminated the different sections of the scene. I used to stand in front of the scene while we waited for the elevator, pushing the buttons and staring at the tiny cows and tractors, the little farm people with the bobby-pin sized farm tools. In the building where my dad taught (since then a new building was built and I haven't been back to that older one in years) there was also a huge woodshop for the woodworking students. Sometimes we'd hear the buzz of the tools, and the thump-thump of hammers on nails. The smell of warm sawdust always wafted down the hallway--a cozy, warm smell that made me feel content inside. Then the elevator would ding softly, gather us up, and swoop us upstairs to the classrooms, and my father's book-lined office.
Sometimes I would go to class with my mother, too--she taught in an entirely different building--a Humanities building, which, alas, one not nearly as exciting. But still--I remember the thrill of sitting to the side, in a real student's desk. I'd set out my pencils and color, listening to my mother's voice, and the discussions from the students. I don't remember ever telling myself that when I grew up I would teach, too. But clearly I absorbed some of what I watched my parents do, and I have always felt at home in a college classroom, relaxed even by the sounds and smells of chalk and paper--I'm weird that way. The first ever day I taught, my hands shook and my throat felt dry, like sandpaper; but after that I never once felt nervous again. Although there were many classes I dreaded, I never felt the degree of nervousness I'd felt that very first day--maybe this was the gift my parents gave me, all those days when I shadowed them on campus.
I've taken my kids to my office often (they know just which file cabinet drawer houses the books and crayons, and that my office-mate has the best lollipops), but T. is still too little to sit in my classroom with me while I teach. L. has done it a few times, even at the tender age of two. He long ago mastered the art of whispering and would sit in the back of the class, his toy cars and trains lined up along the desk. Sometimes now he even takes "notes" and looks at me while I'm talking, something some of my real students don't even do. I can't imagine having kept this world--this working world of mine--entirely separate from my kids all these years. Whether parents work outside the home or inside the home--in whatever it is we do--I always think it critical that we share this other side of ourselves with them; that we open the doors periodically and let them in--let them see this other life of ours, and show them that they are important enough to be a part of this world, too.