When I agreed to teach United States Civilization: 1877 to the Present, I never dreamed all that it would entail. I couldn't envision weeks in which I spent upwards of fifty hours, reading, researching, preparing lectures, writing quizzes, grading papers. I couldn't imagine the months of feeling chained to the couch, textbook to my left, computer on my lap, while I plunked out pages and pages of lecture notes. I couldn't fathom the idea of actually having to fail students, or at least give them very low Ds (I'm supposed to be the nice one!). I couldn't predict that even being home all day, every day, with my little girl, I would still feel like I was neglecting her because the Gilded Age or the Gulf War was more pressing at the moment.
It's been an incredibly full nine weeks so far, with the tenth finishing up, and the final exam looming in nine days. My baby still loves me; I know this by the way she greets me with a wide, two-toothed smile every morning, and by the way she reaches for me, even when other people she loves are holding her. My hips might be a little wider for the wear, since a great deal of that couch time was formerly spent taking that little girl for walks. And I might be a little behind on some other things, least of all this blog, let alone photograph organization, housework, and perhaps even a few relationships.
But what I truly did not expect from what has become my greatest adventure since childbirth, is the level of appreciation I have gained for 20th-century American history. Three months ago, I was a self-proclaimed history snob, believing that nothing interesting happened in the United States after the Civil War. I figured in teaching this class, the faint glimmers of interest I had in the Great Depression and World War II would sustain me through all the rest of that garbage, but when it came down to it, I just loved studing the 1950s! And the 1960s. And the Vietnam War and the 1970s. Oh, wait, and those Roaring Twenties and World War I. Where did all of this interesting stuff come from?
I guess it was always there.
And what's more, I want to know more. I don't know if I will ever teach this class again, and if I do, where it will be, but, unlike when I took this class myself during my undergraduate years, I now have this driving thirst to increase my knowledge of the twentieth century. I certainly don't own many books on these topics, as my personal library is dominated by colonial and early national history (and my interest in these periods has not decreased). But just the fact that I want to know more has surprised me, and continues to surprise me, as I finish up this week's lecture on the 1990s...the decade during which most of my students were born.
Aren't surprises the best? Ask anyone I know...I am a difficult person to surprise. And this surprise, I suspect, is one that will keep on giving, so long as I hold on to what I've got right now.
(DISCLAIMER: I still have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude about the Gilded Age. Not sure that one can ever be cured...)