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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

A Spirit of Adventure
May 7, 2008 - 9:15pm

Last Monday night, my eight-year-old son and I took a night off from chapter books and indulged in a big stack of picture books. There, with the right side of my body pressed against the left side of his, with baseball sheets stretched over our legs and Jean Van Leeuwen's Papa and the Pioneer Quilt opened in front of us, I "found" the title of a chapter for a biography of a mathematician I am writing. The mathematician whose life I am chronicling did not quilt or play baseball, but, somehow, the ideas and events of the evening coalesced into a perfect contribution to my scholarly work. That single moment encapsulates so much of the last fifteen years of my life.

Motherhood and mathematics. Who would have thought that combination would bring so many possibilities? When I submitted my thesis to the dissertation secretary on a sticky day in July of 1994, it was my eighteen-month old daughter, and not my husband or my parents, that I took with me to Cabell Hall at the University of Virginia. Although she had only joined this particular process in the final stages, she --- and, later, her two brothers --- would help define the shape of the professional career that hinged on the years of labor articulated in those 238 double-spaced pages.

I --- or is it We? --- somehow managed to secure a full-time position, earn tenure, and orchestrate a European sabbatical. In these weekly postings, I hope to unravel what I've learned from that wild ride, that inescapable combination of unparalleled satisfaction and exhaustion. I plan to draw from my treasure trove of memories as well as current day-to-day moments to encourage women in academics.

But let me end where I began. On the last page of Papa and the Pioneer Quilt the children lay nestled in bed under a quilt made by the big sister in the story. She had collected scraps for the quilt as she and her family made the long journey from Missouri to Oregon. Like so many mid-nineteenth century quilters, she stitched them together in the "Wandering Foot" pattern to celebrate the adventurous spirit of their family. Are we not all in this story? We collect the scraps of our journeys, big and small, and stitch them together in a pattern that celebrates our individual families and experiences. For all of us, no matter what our field of study or place in the academy, no matter how many children greet us at the end (beginning and middle) of the day, a spirit of adventure holds the pattern together.

 

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