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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

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Mothering at Mid-Career: Silence

I’ve had laryngitis since last Wednesday. Not just a little scratchy throat, a gravelly whisky voice, a sultry contralto—no, I’ve been pretty thoroughly silenced. For two days I had not even a throaty whisper—then I developed a little Kathleen Turner-esque huskiness that quickly turned back into silence when I tried to use it too much. I’ve had to cancel seven meetings, one class, and a planned trip to speak at another college. Every evening I’ve hoped I’d wake up able to speak, and every morning it’s been clear I can’t.

November 21, 2011
 
 

I’ve had laryngitis since last Wednesday. Not just a little scratchy throat, a gravelly whisky voice, a sultry contralto—no, I’ve been pretty thoroughly silenced. For two days I had not even a throaty whisper—then I developed a little Kathleen Turner-esque huskiness that quickly turned back into silence when I tried to use it too much. I’ve had to cancel seven meetings, one class, and a planned trip to speak at another college. Every evening I’ve hoped I’d wake up able to speak, and every morning it’s been clear I can’t.

Some days I don’t talk all that much at all—I work in my office, occasionally saying “hi” as a colleague walks by, maybe answering a phone call. Most days, though, I am on call all day long. I meet with students about their papers, I teach class, I organize meetings. For three days I’ve been putting off an important phone conversation—today I finally broke down and made an in-person appointment instead, hoping that by the time it rolls around I’ll be able to make myself heard. I’m unable to use the phone, call out to someone a few steps away from me, even exchange a casual greeting in the hallway.

While rescheduling all the meetings, and coming up with alternative activities for the class, has been difficult, there’s something to be said for a little silence. At home, my son calls to me from another room, wanting me to answer a question right then. I sit silently, knowing that he’ll have to come find me in order to talk. It’s more civilized, this quieter tone, and I don’t mind it at all. When I have to ration my words, I think more about what I’m saying. I take a little longer to answer a question—and sometimes, as with my son calling from the other room, the asker finds the answer on his own. I’m moving at a slower pace.

Obviously, it’s good to have a voice. Hearing the Occupy protestors at UC-Davis chant “shame on you,” “you can go,” and even “join our strike” to the police in riot gear who have just pepper-sprayed and dragged away some of their number is a gripping reminder of the power of a voice. But silence, too, can speak, as when another group of students (or the same ones?) lined a sidewalk on the same campus to allow their chancellor, Linda Katehi, to leave the administrative building which they had surrounded. (Both videos can be seen in this useful round-up of the events at UC-Davis.)

As we move into Thanksgiving week, I am thankful that I usually have a voice, and thankful as well for a few days to rest it. I am thankful for peaceful protest, and for both the sounds and silence of the students and others who are making their presence felt, their voices heard.

 

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