I am writing this week from Faculty College – a week-long teaching retreat where faculty from each of the University of Wisconsin colleges and universities gather to discuss teaching challenges, innovative techniques, and the latest research on how students learn. It is hosted by a small college in the heart of central Wisconsin, a place of quiet beauty. I first attended as a brand-new assistant professor eleven years ago and found it an incredibly valuable, affirming, even transformative experience. However, I missed a few years after my daughter was born.
Like many new mothers, I didn’t attend longer conferences or summer institutes while my daughter was an infant and a young toddler. While I did not follow all of the principles of attachment parenting,  I was worried by their pronouncement that, “research shows separations of longer than two nights can be very difficult for children under the age of three.” While I am content with the choices I made, there is not doubt that being place-bound affects your professional career.
When I finally left my two and a half year old for ten days I feared I would experience what my sister had encountered after being away from her toddler for two weeks: he wouldn’t let her pick him up and cried at her approach. Of course, he recovered quickly and their relationship did not suffer any lasting effects. Yet it was very difficult to contemplate my loving, attached baby turning from me in anger (Now that she’s eight I have tougher skin!).
Upon my return from the conference, I sat on the steps and waited for her to approach me. She walked over, stroked my cheek and said, “Mama” in a voice of calm delight.
I was surprised to note that several of the faculty here are new mothers, some still breastfeeding. Perhaps we’ve learned to put less pressure on ourselves as mothers, and to rely on fathers as co/primary parents more. Or maybe the pressures of academia are even stronger now, with the declining number of tenure-track jobs. But I am glad that they’re here: their voices contribute greatly to our dialogues.
As someone who is interested in online learning, I have wondered if we could conduct these types of conferences and workshops virtually. However, part of the richness of this experience is walking across the green lawn of the campus in the morning, sharing coffee and casual conversations over meals, borrowing sweaters from each other when the weather turns colder, and being fed by the excellent staff. If we were home or at our offices, we’d be interrupted by myriad professional and personal duties.
Sometimes it is important to get away.