When People Seem Extreme

This week’s blog includes a personal true story intended as an allegory. I hope my friends and readers, fellows in arms in the fight against corporate reform, will garner some helpful meaning from it. But in the words of song writer Anna Nalick:

2 AM and I’m still awake, writing a song
If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer inside of me,
Threatening the life it belongs to
And I feel like I’m naked in front of the crowd
Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud
And I know that you’ll use them, however you want to

(Please note that the views expressed here are purely my own and may not reflect the opinions of colleagues or organizations with which I am affiliated).

My daughter was born March 8th 2007, and my son was born March 16th 2005.  When they were much younger it was pragmatic to have one birthday party for the both of them.  On the day of the joint birthday party when my daughter turned two and my son four, my husband and I had the worst argument of our shared life.  Let me back track a little.  We had our children rather quickly after our marriage began.  I was of “advanced maternal age” (a term that still makes me cringe) and Len had assured me that he was ready.  So we pulled the trigger.  But it turns out that the idea of having kids was a little different than the reality for Len. He had tremendous struggles adjusting to this new role.  I’ll spare you the details as they do not relate to the purpose of this story directly but suffice to say he was miserable and angry most of the time.

From the time Conor was born until the day of that fateful birthday party four years later we had talked. And talked. We tried various solutions.  We kept assuring ourselves things would get better. But they didn’t.  We are both reasonable people who love each other and are accustomed to using a whole host of tools to find solutions to life’s problems. But none of it was really working.  Finally I just hit a wall.  I had had enough.

The friends and family had gone home.  Wrapping paper was strewn across the living room floor.  The kids, exhausted from the days events were happily seated downstairs watching a movie.  I sat on the second step of the stairs to our split level ranch.  Len was standing right in front of me.  I looked at him and said “You have a choice. Either get your shit together, or pack your bags and go move in with your mother until you can figure out exactly what it is that you want.  This cannot go on.”  I said this not because I WANTED him to leave.  I did not WANT to get divorced!  But in that moment, which was not impulsive but had been building year after year, was born from such exhausted frustration that, at that moment, I could see no other options.  It was a call to do the opposite of what I wanted to have happen because I feared without some extreme actions the end would become inevitable and I wanted to stave that off.     It was a statement of last resort. Sometimes the extreme words are needed to get people’s serious and real attention. Everything else becomes rhetoric.

Maybe your life is more perfect than mine but for me, there are those times, those moments, where extreme statements feel like they must be made.  The ones that make us feel sick as we utter the words, but we utter them nonetheless because we hit a breaking point where anything else less extreme just feels like enabling of the problem itself. Sometimes the other person needs to know just exactly how serious the probably really is.  Len would tell you that in his mind he knew all along that our problems felt insurmountable, that I wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t know. But at that moment, when I gave him the stark choice, the reality hit him on a much deeper level. It brought to a head the grim reality of what would happen if things didn’t change. He could have said “You bitch. What, you want a divorce?” Or, “Fine! That’s what you want? I’m leaving!” But he didn’t. I am grateful.  He knew the truth was that in fact ending our relationship was the LAST thing I wanted.  I had no control over how he would take my challenge-i cannot control what other people do. But I am grateful that he understood my intent.

My ultimatum wasn’t indicating my desire for him to leave but my desire for him to stay, but with deep drastic changes that HAD to happen or the hard reality was that we wouldn’t survive.  Fortunately this allegory has a happy ending.  We are celebrating our 9th year anniversary in August.  We both worked together on the problems.  All relationships are 50/50 and we were both willing to look in the mirror and see what our half of the problem was. But that moment of desperation- where I acted rashly out of emotion, frustration, confusion, exhaustion, and anger,  where I took a huge risk unsure of how it would play out, was a defining moment.

It was a wake-up call we needed.  I know it could have gone another way.  But I didn’t feel we had much else to lose at that juncture.

“I don’t regret setting bombs,” educational activist Bill Ayers told the New York Times in 2001 about his experience with the Weathermen. “I feel we didn’t do enough.”

A lot of relationship counselors might tell you what I did was foolish or ill advised.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  It was what it was.  It was what I needed to do at that exact moment.  Not what I needed to say the day before or say the day after. I wasn’t ready the day before and I might have changed my mind the day after.  Would I say it again? Maybe.  I think the universe is too complex for oversimplified theories about going back in time and changes ones fate as if in billiard ball form we could then predict all the other changes that would ensure. I ascribe to the butterfly effect of time and cause and effect.  We do the best we can with what we’ve got. And we make decisions that at the moment that they seem to make sense, even if we cannot predict what the outcomes might be, intended or unintended.

In our fight against the undaunting attack against public schools, teachers and our children, we have defining moments like these-You know the feeling.  We are angry, tired, frustrated, we feel betrayed, sold out, dupes for the plan of the 1%.  We have breaking points.  Are the statements or actions we make at these moments right or wrong?  I don’t know.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Much of life is a matter of perspective. I don’t think that’s asking the right question. The only response is that “in that moment it felt necessary.”

I end with Anna Nalick again:

Cause you can’t jump the track, we’re like cars on a cable,
And life’s like an hourglass, glued to the table.
No one can find the rewind button, boys,
So cradle your head in your hands,
And breathe… just breathe,
Oh breathe, just breathe


Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

3 thoughts on “When People Seem Extreme

  1. Reminds me when I yelled “Our children are not test monkeys!” during my public comment at a community forum held by our local city county counsel and in which the Mind Trust (what an oxymoron name) was going over their proposal of how to reform Indianapolis Public Schools. The Mind Trust was paid over 1/2 a million by the Indiana Department of Education to come up with their plan for IPS.

  2. Your post today is fantastic. I totally “get” what you are saying and hope others will appreciate the need for people who are willing to stick their necks waaay out there to wake up all the others who have their heads buried in the sand.

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