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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Motherhood After Tenure: masks
October 29, 2009 - 9:14am

Halloween has never been my favorite holiday, despite my love of chocolate. As a reserved introvert I’ve always dreaded costume parties. It’s taken me years to grow comfortable with my everyday costume, my carefully constructed persona. But now that I’m the mother of an exuberant extrovert, I’m learning to put my dignity aside and get into the spirit.

My daughter doesn’t have school tomorrow and so I’m taking her to campus with me. I’ve never done this before; previously she was too young and unruly. Now, at 5, she’s capable of sitting still and drawing or reading for an hour at a time. Plus she likes being “a big girl” and so will happily adopt a poised manner if strangers are watching.

Still, I’m nervous because I usually keep my two roles separate. Frankly I’m a more polished professor than I am a mother. At work, I can control my environment and undergraduates – while sometime energetic and sometimes sluggish — are always easier to manage than my willful, buoyant, moody daughter.

As one of the only UW campuses without an on-site daycare, children are a rare sight. While most people seem delighted to see my daughter, I feel less professional when I’m with her, like wearing pajamas to work. There have been spirited debates about bringing children to campus. I’ve always encouraged student parents to bring their children, when appropriate. Yet I function better when I focus on one or the other. Walking down the hallway seems to announce that I’m not really working. And of course, I’m no longer a professor: I’m a mom.

I have two classes tomorrow: an upper-level course on the English novel in which we’ll be discussing Frankenstein and a freshman seminar on the culture of food. In between classes we will eat lunch like “big girls” at the student cafeteria — a treat my daughter has been looking forward to for weeks. I have too, if truth be told. I rarely eat lunch at the cafeteria; I’m usually eating at my computer or preparing for class. Bringing my daughter in, while not keeping me from teaching (I hope!), will keep me from doing all of the myriad tasks I usually perform while at work: grading midterms, answering emails, dashing about campus to pick up books. With a five year old in tow, everything will move much slower and I can’t count on being able to sit and concentrate uninterrupted for very long.

This week, as a test-run, I brought my daughter with me when giving a speech to a local high school honors society. I talked about the importance of making mistakes, the necessity to develop one’s own voice, and the power of authenticity. As I spoke, my daughter beamed at me, distracting me but also reminded me of how frightening it can be to reveal oneself, to expose the different aspects of our lives. And how delightful.

Now I just need to muster the courage to walk around my neighborhood dressed as catwoman. Wish me luck.


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