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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Mothering at Mid-Career: Full Nest
March 21, 2011 - 9:19pm

While Sue O’Doherty prepares for the empty nest, I’m happy to have our nest refilled this week as our daughter is home for spring break. She drove home Saturday and has been catching up on both sleep and reading so far.

It’s delightful to have her home, though I can’t spend as much time with her as I’d like. Our break was two weeks ago, and things are now, as I said last week, heating up for the end of the semester. So there are meetings and class prep as usual, not to mention the conference paper I’m finishing up, taxes and financial aid forms, and the summer plans we’re working on. Still the house feels right, somehow, with both our children under the roof.

It’s also convenient to have her here, since her younger brother has some high school visits to make this week. Having an extra driver around will make a difference as we negotiate the various different pickups and dropoffs.

Mariah is studying anthropology and one of our ongoing conversations since she’s been home has been about various kinds of privilege — who has it, who recognizes it, and what difference it makes. So often we are blind to our own privilege; I know I often focus on the difficulties of balancing work and family, for example, while ignoring the privilege that allows me to enjoy both, and to have them both be so rewarding. Mariah and I talk a lot about choices, too, and she’s starting to see more clearly how the choices her father and I have made are affecting her. She has the privilege of attending a private university, for example, but because of the work we do, that requires substantial financial aid (thus the forms I’ve been filling out this week) as well as work-study on her part. She has friends who are traveling abroad for spring break, while she is just grateful for the hand-me-down car from my mother that enabled her to come home on her own schedule. (A huge gift, one for which we are all grateful!) I love the way I see her applying what she learns in class to her own life, and as we talk about her studies I hope my students can have this kind of conversation — with parents, friends, or faculty members — as well. That’s another privilege Mariah has, of course: with two professors for parents, making connections between your studies and your life is not optional. (I’m not sure she’s always felt this to be a privilege, in fact, though this week it seems to be.) I’m learning from her, as well — today I did some research for my conference paper while she read essays in medical anthropology, and we shared particularly interesting passages with one another — so I heard about cultural differences in attitudes towards blood donation while she heard bits and pieces from 1848 reviews of Jane Eyre. In both cases we confront our assumptions about what it means to be an individual: is blood an integral part of a person, or a common good to be shared? Is Jane’s anger an example of her author’s failure of taste, or a legitimate expression of privilege denied? How do these ways of thinking about selfhood relate to our own assumptions?

At its best, this life of the mind is a distinct pleasure and privilege, one I’m happy to share with my family. Remind me of this during finals week!


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