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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.
May 9, 2008 - 11:31am

As a theatre professor and director, I often tell my student actors to never ever read reviews while they are performing in a show. It is a point of contention with the head of my department, who believes that students should learn what it means to have their art critiqued publicly. Yet in my experience, the fragility of undergrad emotions keeps them from handling any commentary from a professional with a sense of maturity or grace.

Moreover, I also believe you can always tell those wily student actors who have disobeyed me and read a particularly good review as well. You see them puffing out their performance and becoming conscious of themselves, maybe even spending a bit too long in what they determined to be the “bling” moments and all the sudden the wonderful performance that merited the review fell flat and artificial. During one of my first directing projects, a young actress I cast in Crimes of the Heart was torn apart by a critic who seemed annoyed that an Asian girl was cast in the role of Meg. It would have been pointless at this time to have academic conversations with her about color-blind casting and its pitfalls or how the point of a review was to bring in an audience and that this review would be successful in that way. All these discussions were useless now. They were useless because she had to go on stage in twenty minutes and she was crying out back in the alley about how she wasn’t a strong enough to invoke the critic’s suspension of disbelief. My goodness, how can one compete with that kind of insecurity? “A performance is a delicate and live thing,” I always argue, “let the process come to its natural conclusion before making any judgments.” Indeed. And then one day late last semester I clicked onto “RateMyProfessor.Com”.

To be fair, I had been secretly checking it every once in a while, as a little ego boost to myself. Sometimes there was a tell tale chili pepper (which meant the professor was hot). Sometimes there was a comment about how I was a great professor and so much fun – etc etc. Once there had been a remark that I “chose favorites” and I examined the way I spoke to students who were majors and tried to engage those that weren’t equally. But last semester was the first time I saw a scathing two rating. Followed by this exact quote (including typos):

“She freakin sucked X's3! She doe snot teach. Her TA does all her grading. She has guests every Friday. Then she makes you write reflections (ass kissing papers )about the guest. She needs to brush her hair! If you can get this class with any one else, DO IT!!!”

Ouch. Well, the TA did do some of the day to day grading but she clearly did not grade any of the larger projects and papers. The guest lecturers were actually faculty and local artists who spoke in an effort to get the students introduced to as well as involved in the department. There was no requirement that the one page papers on the guests had to be positive. The amount of papers was meant to give them a chance to raise their grades. And since I was the only one teaching the course, due to course assignments and such, the only really distressing part of the critique was the part about my hair.

Brush my hair!?!?!?! I am a single mom of a two and a half year old! You are lucky I take a shower in the morning! Suddenly I became hyper aware of everyone’s hair around me, how perhaps long was not my best look. I found myself checking the mirror way too often and then wandering into class with a bun. Brush my hair. It was true. I’d often run my fingers through my hair, find a knot and just leave it there. This never happened in my pre-baby days. I’d come to class after spending a leisurely morning looking over my notes and then spending time on my hair and makeup. I’d shop for clothes every season to update my look. Now, the right shade of lipstick is always the one on top and the broken compact mirror is a staple in my morning prep. Shopping for clothes sounds so tedious. I have a bad relationship with my imperfect post baby body and all the low tops and low bottoms on the market don’t help. Gone are the days when a low cut blouse was inappropriate for work, welcome to the days where the same blouse is in seriously bad taste.

The more I looked in the mirror the more I came to the conclusion that something must change. My hair had to go! I made an appointment to cut my hair into something stylish and modern yet classy (I had a smiling Katie Holmes firmly pictured in mind) but on the day of the appointment, a student wandered in to my office, bemoaning his financial aid that had fallen through and how he wouldn’t be able to take my class. Being that he was of age, my colleague and I took him out for a drink and spoke to him about taking my class for no credit. Upset, he asked how it would be worth it if no one knew he took the class. I responded, “you would know.”

The student just finished the class. He was brilliant. His growth was palpable and exciting. I didn’t cut my hair. Somehow it seemed trivial again. It was just hair, and it was fine. Truthfully, I did end up getting highlights a week later, just for a change. My son said “Mommy painted her hair!” I smiled. I hugged him. I ran my fingers through my painted hair, hit a knot and left it there. That’s me, the perfect picture of grace and maturity with a big snarl sticking out one side of my head. At least there isn’t a Thank goodness for small favors.


May 9, 2008


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