On writing, mama-ing, and not being bored.

IMG_4576This is a sketch I doodled of myself during a recent academic event. I drew a lot when I was a kid. I never do it anymore (you might see why after looking at this). But this represents how I felt while listening to someone smart talk while at the same time I was thinking about whether or not my kid was asleep. Yes, I have entered into that strange zone that so many professional mamas before me have experienced and expressed, of trying to divide yourself in half and on being amazing at two very hard things. One friend described clipping her newborn’s fingernails as being harder than writing a dissertation and a first book combined. Another claimed that she was constantly searching for words postpartum that just would not come to mind, to the point that she referred to a paddle as a canoe-stick. I really (REALLY) hate the term “mommy-brain,” so I will forever describe what I’m experiencing instead as canoe-stick brain. It seems to make more sense anyway.

I never thought I would be writing about my experience as a mama and as a tenure-track academic, let alone both those things at the same time. The first thing (mama-hood) is something that for a long time I didn’t think I would actually do. The idea of never having kids was primarily (I realize in retrospect) driven by the pressures of academic life that I confronted first as a graduate student. When I entered my MA program, I was quite naive about this lifestyle, and I didn’t necessarily see myself going on to a PhD. This changed pretty quickly as I continued on in a doctoral program. I liked what I was doing, and I wanted to see it through to what I understood as the only end goal at the time: a tenure-track job. I feel extremely grateful that this was the way it turned out for me, but anyone working in academia will be quick to remind me of my privilege on this front because the stats for post-PhD academic jobs are terrifying (a stat I read today stated that 1 in 10 newly minted PhDs will get a full-time job in the academy in the field they trained in).

I am writing this post as a way to think about these things, and to grapple with the fact that a number of well-meaning colleagues told me that I might get bored on maternity leave (my new mama friends are probably spitting out their coffee now at this assertion). But the honest truth is that sometimes I am bored while at the same time I often don’t have a minute to respond to an email. This blog might be a complete waste of time in that respect (what if I just answered those emails right now instead of writing this?). Because of the canoe-stick brain factor, I often find that very hard to do. Oh, and also, my mom is here helping me take care of my baby because I threw my back out three days ago and I’m pretty much completely horizontal today. So why not blog?

  1. Naomi said:

    I didn’t realize that I too hate the term “mommy-brain” until just this moment. I will also now start using “canoe-stick brain.” From one academic-y mom to another, thank you.

  2. Yes, why does the term “mommy-brain” indicate that you can’t think good? I don’t like it!

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