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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Mothering at Mid-Career: Conferences and Colleagues, part two
June 18, 2012 - 9:54pm

Last week at this time I was about to leave for my annual conference, which is now over. As I mentioned, I brought my daughter with me, and I promised to report back on how attending a conference with her went. In a word: great.

OK, I can write another few words. One of my favorite things about attending conferences, as I’ve said before, is being able to interact with colleagues. Doing so with my daughter didn’t really change things as much as I thought they might. She came to panels with me, often asking thoughtful questions of the panelists — many of them my friends — when the talks were over. She came to my panel and was a friendly face in what was already a pretty friendly audience. She went to a few panels on her own and then we reconvened and shared notes. And, over and over again, she gracefully smiled and nodded when colleagues said, “You look just like your mother!”

Interestingly, it was that last that was perhaps the biggest surprise, as she’s a blue-eyed blonde, and I am decidedly not. But perhaps as she matures she’s picking up some of my characteristics. (It’s also true that on my best-dressed days she’s been my fashion consultant, so we often dress somewhat similarly.) I also had a chance to re-introduce her to a friend from graduate school who hadn’t seen her since she was a toddler, and to introduce her to a number of other colleagues who have heard me tell stories about her and her reading — which has been central to my education in children’s and young adult literature — over the years.

Several of my colleagues were at the conference with their much younger children — babes in arms who occasionally had to be taken out of a room if they fussed too loudly or older children who spent most of the day with a sitter or parent. It’s a friendly conference, and everyone’s happy to see the children there, But when I’ve attended a conference with family members in tow I’ve felt split, knowing that they were on vacation while I was not, wanting to accompany them on jaunts to interesting new places but also wanting to hear as many talks as possible. This time, with my daughter, I didn’t feel so split. She had dinner with friends from college a couple of nights while I joined colleagues; another night, just the two of us ate, and yet one other night we joined a larger group. It was all easy.

Susan O’Doherty noted in her post Monday that she and her son are becoming more “fond friends” than “parent and child,” and that seems about right to me as well. We will always, of course, be parent and child, but it’s nice to have her as a friend and even near-colleague as well.


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