Last weekend I was able to catch up with several Mama Phd friends who live in New York City. Many of these women are my age, but have (smartly) waited to have children until their careers/degrees/relationships are more established. Two friends have several tots under ten running around while seeking tenure, publishing books and chairing departments. I was impressed by how these friends still manage to be turned on by new ideas as much as by their partners. Indeed, many of these friends have taken motherhood out of their homes and into their research, art and service work.
Isabel Grayson, mother of two, spent her dissertation years working at DKNS, the largest bone marrow registry in the country. Grayson led drives for children such as Michael who need transplants to battle leukemia. Grayson’s doctoral work was completed only after working to save these children’s lives, much less parent her own. Laura Tropp has three young children and chairs Communication Arts at Marymount Manhattan College. Tropp is soon to publish A Womb with a View: America's Growing Public Interest in Pregnancy, an analysis of new media’s impact on the experience and commodification of motherhood. (No doubt she has some personal research in this area...)
I am not really surprised then by Scott Jaschik’s review of “Academic Motherhood” whose authors, Kelly Ward and Lisa Wolf-Wendel claim, “In contrast to the prevailing belief that tenure-track women ought not to have children (or to delay children until after tenure) we interviewed women who didn't wait and who are living happy, productive lives as both professors and mothers.” Mothering in academia may be more commodified these days, but it certainly seems more supported than when I gave birth at a university with no maternity leave policy seventeen years ago.
As I was leaving class this week, passing Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, I was startled by a giant spinning, light display that spelled in big neon lights, “MOTHERS.” Martin Creed’s outdoor light sculpture expresses the idea—he told the BBC-- of "mothers spinning out of control." For the Chicago show Creed softened his interpretation to the press a bit--“Mothers are always bigger than you are…It feels like mothers are the most important people in the world.”
Mothers may feel like they are spinning out of control, but at least we're up there in lights...