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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Motherhood After Tenure: Location, Location, Location
July 23, 2008 - 10:20pm

Summers in Green Bay, Wisconsin are a magical time, especially if you have small children. My four year old daughter and I walk down our quiet, tree-lined street to a well-maintained playground and turquoise wading pool where my daughter splashes happily for hours. Around noon a large white truck distributes free lunches –- a sandwich, milk, carrot sticks and a cookie, typically –- to all children under 18. A five minute drive away is a local amusement park that charges no entrance fee, and where a ride on the carousel or Ferris wheel only costs 50 cents. All of our neighbors greet my boisterous daughter by name.

People who grow up in Green Bay tend to stay here: which makes it a stable
community, but also somewhat provincial. Despite the bucolic charm during summers, it is miles away from the diverse, culturally alive metropolis I fantasized living in.

According to Richard Florida's new book, Who's Your City, the move after graduation is the single most important decision you make -- more life-changing then choosing a spouse or an occupation -- and it affects your career, investments, love life etc. Florida's book is filled with fascinating charts; for example, guess which region has the highest concentration of neurotics? He suggests that we think long and hard about where we live. But what about academics, I found myself thinking?

Academics have very little choice where they end up living. The year I moved to Wisconsin, I applied to one hundred jobs including positions in Arkansas, Virginia, New Hampshire, California, New York, and Colorado. It's like throwing a dart at a map of the country, I told my friends. Sure, we all know someone who targeted and found a tenure-track job in Portland, but most of us lucky enough to get full-time work will end up living far from home, amidst cultures different from our own (to say nothing of the struggles of commuting, dual-career couples!). I haven't lived within a day's drive from any family member since 1988. According to Florida's book, living near family and friends is equivalent to $133,000 in happiness. Aside from the absurdity of assigning a number (why not one hundred and thirty-four thousand?), I can safely say that few academics are compensated by an equivalent increase in salary for being far from loved ones.

More than this, places have emotional resonance and particular sensibilities. Many New Yorkers would be traumatized if they had to relocate to "the south" (I call this "southern-phobia" and my friend "city bumpkinism"). And vice versa. And honestly, the Midwest would not be my first choice; I still annoy my husband by referring to Midwesterners as "your people." When he asks me what I mean, I usually mutter something about how "wholesome" everyone is, and how close to home they tend to stay. I sometimes miss conversations where people curse and interrupt each other. If I were a member of a minority group (or even single!), I'm sure I would feel very marginalized in this white, family-oriented community.

Yet here I am, in a beautiful, affordable house, with wonderful colleagues and the job of my dreams. More important, this is my daughter's home. She will learn how to ride her bike on the uneven sidewalk outside our house, walk to school through the falling leaves, and maybe experience her first crush on a boy wearing a gold and green Packers jacket. (Ok, that was hard to write.)

So now, instead of pining for a job in San Francisco, or even Madison, I've
decided to turn Green Bay into the type of community I want. And hey,
according to Florida's book, Green Bay is one of the top low-priced cities for gay and lesbian retirees. That's a start.


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