Fifth Anniversary Update: Rosemarie Emanuele

December 15th, 2013

I found the request for essays for Mama, PhD when I was searching for information on how to balance the life of a professor with that of a mother. I was hoping to design a workable maternity leave program for my college, one that, unlike the current use of medical leave, would include new fathers as well as adoptive parents. In the back of my mind, I thought that designing such a program would help me achieve the rank of full professor. I never did find the answer, but instead found my essay published in Mama, PhD.

Five years later, I am still in search of a good answer to the maternity leave issue, but even with this need unmet, I am now a full professor with a daughter who is now a pre-teen. What is more, I am now a regular blogger for the Mama, Ph.D. column in Inside Higher Ed. While I have, for some time, been a math professor by day and an economist by night, I now consider myself to be somewhat of a part-time writer, too. Being published in that book opened options for me that I previously did not know existed.

Five years ago, most of us would not have known what a “MOOC” was, nor would many of us have given a second thought to the plight of our adjunct professors among us, or the large amount of debt that some of our students take on to earn their degrees. The academic would has changed greatly in these past five years, but many of the challenges for women remain. The tenure clock still strikes women at the heart of their child-bearing years, and many women still find themselves making compromises with their careers in order to find a balance between being an academic and being a mother. I would like to see academic institutions evolve in the coming years to better support parents of both genders who want to contribute as academics and also do their best as parents. In addition, I hope that some of the issues that seem to bring “disruption” to academia help us all evolve into a part of the economy that can best use the talents and skills of all of those working in this sector.

Fifth Anniversary Updates: Amy Hudock

December 13th, 2013

I’d have to say that much has changed for me in relation to academia and motherhood. Mainly, in moving from working at 4 year colleges to a 2 year college, I’ve noticed that the number of women in leadership positions is much higher. The culture about parenting, thus, is more open. Faculty sometimes bring children to campus, and no one comments on it. Both male and female faculty have no problem explaining that they cannot do that meeting at 3:00 because they have to pick up children. Taking a day off to care for a sick child is not frowned upon. And when we set up our teaching and office hour schedules, we are allowed to do so around our child care duties. The research supports what I see in the 2 year college – the more elite a college, the fewer women in higher level positions. Community and technical colleges, on the other hand, don’t rank high on the scale. They don’t have a research requirement, and their main mission is teaching. They work in the care taking area of academia, which is less prestigious. Thus, more women and men who are primary caretakers work at them.

Fifth Anniversary Update: Laura Levitt

December 11th, 2013

My news is bittersweet. I am so very happy that my mother got to celebrate the publication of this book and read the essay I wrote for her five years ago. She was diagnosed with a form of frontal temporal dementia not long after the book came out. And she died at the end of 2011.

Attached is a piece I wrote and presented for the Yizkor, memorial service at my synagogue as I approached the anniversary of my mother’s death. …it expresses some of what I have felt around my mother’s death.

Reading Alison Bechdel’s amazing graphic and comic drama novel/memoir Are You My Mother? was an estranging experience. Of course I related to and felt distant from both this material and the very notion of searching for my mother. The title of this book is the same title as the book in the Dr. Seuss series about the baby bird who fell out of her nest and goes in search of her mother. I had always felt that that book was the model for my first book. Like the baby bird, I too was on a long journey home and could not find my place. Any and all and none of the places I visited were exactly what I was looking for. Of course, I am now more keenly aware of how “mother” and “home” seemed to have been interchangeable at that moment in my life in ways that feel almost impossible now.

Bechdel’s book is about a woman not unlike my mother and Bechdel is a daughter not unlike me. We are the same age and our mothers were both teachers although our mother’s lives were quite different. And yet there was something about beginning this book on Mother’s day, this spring, the first Mother’s day after my mother’s death and finding tracing of a relationship between a mother and a daughter that were deeply familiar but profoundly distant from me. It was as if I were looking at and reading about a younger self and her mother, me and my mother in those days when I was sure she was completely invulnerable, indestructible, a force of nature that would never be anything but her self. And that is part of what made this reading so difficult. My mother changed. She became a number of different people over the last years of her life. She calmed down, she listened, she was quiet and thoughtful, and then, having lost her thoughts, she was, at her best, serene.

A moment returns. I am in the kitchen sitting with my mother at the table. I have brought her a copy of a review of my book about my family, especially my parents. I want to share it with her and with my father. I show her the review. She tells me that she wants to read it to me. I sit and listen as my mother who can now hardly comprehend what she reads, slowly, deliberately read to me this review out loud. I think it may be the last thing she ever really read to me. It is not a short review, four pages in the small print of an academic journal. She reads and I hear her voice sharing these words. I no longer remember what they sound like only the feeling of her love, the pride and joy that animate her effort. She is proud of herself in being able to read these words and she is proud of me for having written the book that elicited this review. She is genuinely delighted and determined even if she can no longer fully take in the words on these pages. She is reading them to and for me. I wish I had a recording of that reading that I could play again and again just to hear her voice. I have a semblance of its cadence but mostly I have simply the glow and warmth of this gesture, a gift.

I am not exactly sure how to characterize what it is but reading about Bechdel and her feisty and difficult and complicated mother, I have a sense of the distance between who my mother was and who she became when she read me that review and then later who and what became of her in those final months. I cannot imagine Alison Bechdel’s mother disintegrating but that is what this book has shown me. It marks a distance I have not been able to fully appreciate until now. And coming to this realization, I think I better understand why it was so hard for me to read this book on Mother’s day.

As I was writing about this book, the phone rang. It was my father. I tried to tell him about this and my voice was breaking but he did not quite know how to acknowledge this although I think he heard it. I tried to tell him about reading Bechdel and as much as I wanted to share with him the specificity of my reading, the connections I was making to this book, he wanted to make it about something more abstract, more distant and general. He could not, I suspect, allow himself to more fully engage with what I was telling him. It remains just too heart breaking. Phyllis is gone. The person she was, the person who resembles the woman in this book is no longer here but the text helped me touch that part of my loss. For this I am extremely grateful to Bechdel. And I want to tell her and all of you to hold tight, to take in as much as you can because as strong and solid as your mothers and loved ones are, none of us live forever and sometimes even the most formidable women and men can disappear. I don’t know that I could have ever heard this about my mother when she was just herself as she had been, but now knowing what I know, I am keenly aware of how even walls move. She is gone.


Writing this made me cry. That seemed right. I look up from my screen onto my desk where I see next to each other, an image of my mother and me last year all dressed up for an event at the synagogue where I grew up, a tribute to my parents, and many pictures of my darling Philine, my Swiss girl, the daughter of my beloved advisee Tania, my perhaps fairy goddaughter, and I am struck by the way the images seem to belong together in the constructed world of intimacies that are my life and my family, a family without children. They are part of this alternate legacy, and poking out behind the picture of Philine barely visible before the clearly visible faces of my mother Phyllis and me, is a photograph of my friend Susan Shapiro. I see her arm and a sliver of her pale chest. She is wearing a dark blue cloak. I know the photograph and I am happy to see her here with Philine and Phyllis and me.

Celebrate World Read Aloud Day!

February 25th, 2010

People write to me at Literary Mama fairly regularly, asking me to help them promote this or that event, and most of the time the events don’t have much to do with the mission of Literary Mama. But when I heard from the folks at LitWorld about World Read Aloud Day, it was easy to offer our help, especially since it means I get to a) read aloud to kids (including my own!) and b) promote the celebration on television.

So join me on World Read Aloud Day, March 3rd, at Books, Inc. in San Francisco’s Laurel Village, from 6 – 7 PM for a bedtime story reading. I’ll be joined by my friends and fellow writer-mamas Lisa Harper and Nicki Richesin. Bring the kids in their pj’s for a fun evening outing!

Writing about Reading, from Rebecca Steinitz

February 17th, 2010

I was so happy when, a couple months ago, Mama, PhD contributor Rebecca Steinitz pitched a column to Literary Mama; every installment of How Does My Bookshelf Grow? has given me new book ideas and new ways to think about the books I’ve already read. This month might be my favorite installment yet, with its smart and thoughtful consideration of public and private reading. Here’s an excerpt:

“I read New York Times book reporter Motoko Rich’s recent Week in Review article, “The Book Club With Just One Member,” with mixed feelings. I’ve never joined a book club; as a graduate student in English, then an English professor, now a reviewer, they always seemed a little too coals-to-Newcastleish for me. Nevertheless, Rich’s apparent disdain for the current status of reading as “a relentlessly social pursuit” rubbed me the wrong way.”

Please click on over to Literary Mama to read the rest!

New Writing from Sheila Squilante

February 15th, 2010

Sheila Squillante’s essay for Mama, PhD, Student/Body, describes her experience teaching a Business Writing class during her first pregnancy; this month on Literary Mama, she writes about her son’s infancy
and her hopes for an easier time with her second:

When I found myself pregnant a second time I promised myself it would be different. I was so ready to be laid back and flexible. To let her cry for more than five seconds before leaping up to tend her needs. To avoid curtailing our social life because of her schedule. She can nap in the car on the way to my friend’s house, I told myself. I was going to roll with it this time around. I had had a hard pregnancy — much harder than my first–with so much pain, nausea and discomfort on every possible bodily level. I fooled myself into believing my delivery and early days would be easier, should be easier. I had earned it, hadn’t I? And everyone but everyone had told me: second kids are easier.

Click on over to Literary Mama to read the rest.

New writing from Irena Smith

January 11th, 2010

Readers who loved Irena Smith’s essay, Failure to Progress, in Mama, PhD won’t want to miss her new piece this month in Literary Mama. Here’s an excerpt:

So there we were, my husband David and I, on a road trip with our thirteen-year-old late last July, and I hadn’t a thing to wear. And when I say road trip, you have to understand that I’m being somewhat disingenuous here — kind of like Ishmael saying he had signed up to go on a little fishing trip with a slightly wild-eyed one-legged captain named Ahab. If you think it’s easy to pick the right outfit to see an experiential program in the Northern California wilderness, one you hope will take your high-functioning autistic thirteen year-old with a temper like an IED, trust me, it’s not. I didn’t want to look like a dolled-up tart, someone who would ditch their child in the wilderness and bolt for the nearest mall, but I didn’t want to look serious and severe, like a buttoned-up stiff and tweedy schoolmarm incapable of raising a child with special needs, either.

Click on over to Literary Mama to read the rest!

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An update from Miriam Peskowitz

December 2nd, 2009

Miriam Peskowitz was a writer recommended to us for the project by Amy Hudock. Elrena and I were both admirers of Miriam’s book, The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars: Who Decides What Makes A Good Mother? (Seal Press, 2005) and knew she would be able to contribute a foreword to the book that was both personal and political. She did not disappoint:

“At its worst, the professoriate is a callow institution, shortsighted and heartless. At its best, though, it has a venerable history as the gateway to the production of vibrant new ideas, of empathic and rigorous education that indirectly and at times very directly shapes our nation’s cultural and intellectual life. It is also an institution that comes with an incredible commitment to each professor’s lifelong contributions, which makes it all the more puzzling that efforts to suggest that universities take special care of their faculty during the years of a child’s new life have so slowly gained traction.

“For my part, I ended up leaving my academic job. After my first child was born, I took a year or two of unpaid leave. I agreed to some adjunct work at local universities, then, a few years in, I resigned my tenure. I continued to each, but in those years I began to find my path to a new career as an author. ”

Today, Miriam is a bestselling author, with Andrea Buchanan, of the terrific Daring Girls series of books; she writes: “Here’s what I’m up to in the land of Daring. Big news is that this summer, I experienced my own kind of daring when I boarded a plane headed to Detroit for a week of taping a special show with PBS, called Daring Kids, with Miriam Peskowitz. We taped nonstop, and it was the hardest work I’ve ever done, and the most exhilarating. That show is being used by PBS during their membership drives, and it’s premiering in December 2009 (anyone who wants to watch needs to check their local PBS station, or call in and ask for it!). The show is 14-odd activities, from kayaking to fishing to making a lava lamp, a volcano, a snowglobe or a pinata. We taped 12 extra segments for the DVD, which will be available in February 2010. For more info, just look at the website.

“I continue to imagine more Daring books, but no news to report.

“One highlight this Fall was visiting Duke University, and speaking at the What Does it Mean To Be an Educated Woman panel, honoring my mentor and friend, Jean O’Barr, on the occasion of her retirement. Very inspiring.”

Miriam’s own career is an inspiring model for us all, and we’ll continue to follow it closely!

The Long and Winding Road

September 7th, 2009

Jean Kazez‘s essay opens the third section of the book, Recovering Academic, and tells the story of her gradual departure from tenure-track teaching after her twins were born. “This was no easy decision,” she writes, “After telling my department head I was interested in adjunct teaching, I felt like a boat cut from its moorings, drifting into the open sea.” But it was necessary for her family, and she found that as an adjunct she could develop and teach new courses that became a stepping stone to a new phase in her career, writing “enjoyable, accessible philosophy” and publishing a book, The Weight of Things.

But despite her real success, Jean’s essay expresses some healthy ambivalence:
“In an ideal world I’d have a full-time job and my writing would earn me a predictable salary and benefits as well as pie-in-the-sky royalties. I wouldn’t have to suffer the indignity of depending so heavily on my husband’s income; it wasn’t a problem when I was taking care of our children full time, but now, as the mother of two ten-year-olds who are in school all day, it does feel like an indignity. Have I landed in this spot because the academic workplace is ill adapted to mothers? I don’t think that’s exactly true: I think the academic workplace is ill adapted to everyone.”

Today, Jean reports, “Since I wrote “The Long and Winding Road,” I’ve stopped being the mother of two semi-cuddly 9 year olds and started being the mother of two interesting
12 year olds. Same kids–but what a difference three years makes! I’ve also written a new book, Animalkind: What We Owe to Animals, coming out in February 2010. I’m still teaching part-time at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and still mulling over the whole package–parenting, writing, part-time teaching. Some of that mulling may make it into my next writing project, which is about the philosophical questions we inevitably bump into as parents.”

We’re looking forward to reading more of Jean’s work; in the meantime, you can find out more about Jean and her projects at her blog, In Living Color.

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Recovering Academic

September 4th, 2009

When Elrena and I first began talking about Mama, PhD, we quickly developed a wish list of contributors, and Jennifer Margulis’ name was on both our lists. We knew she had a PhD; we knew she had a thriving freelance writing and editing career. We didn’t know how she got from one to the other. Her essay, which describes how she falls off the wagon of a life in academia, gives our third section its title: Recovering Academic.

She writes in her essay of weighing her job options:

I thought of a brilliant colleague who moved to Nevada for a tenure track position, and was miserable. And another who worked at a big research university in the middle of Ohio who was also struggling to find her way. I thought of a professor at Emory who never wanted to be in Atlanta, who hadn’t bought a house or an apartment because she felt like her time there was just temporary. Ten years later, tenured, she was still in Atlanta. Instead of living her life, she was waiting to leave. She hadn’t married or had children. My husband, James, and I talked about our options for hours: we decided that we weren’t willing to move somewhere we didn’t want to live just for a job. We made the decision that we would make over and over again: our family, our children, and our quality of life all came ahead of academic success. It was a decision that would soon catapult me out of academia and into a more flexible, child-friendly, and risky career.

Today, Jennifer and her family are thriving. She reports:
“Since spending a year teaching on a Fulbright fellowship–as described in Mama, Ph.D.–I have been completely on the wagon and making a living by writing and editing full-time. I’ve co-authored a book with my husband, The Baby Bonding Book for Dads (visit the book’s blog), which we were working on during our time in West Africa, and I have published articles in a wide variety of major magazines and newspapers since my return. Recent articles include a profile of a Salt Lake City entrepreneur who stared a no-menu no-prices restaurant for More magazine, a 6,000-word piece on the debate about vaccines for Mothering magazine, and a cover story for the November issue of Smithsonian magazine about Niger’s last herd of West African giraffes. I was also profiled in that issue by Smithsonian’s editor-in-chief, Carey Winfrey, and the article, “Looking Up,” was selected for inclusion in BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE WRITING 2009. I’ve also been doing a lot of traveling and travel writing, for both the Oregonian and for Disney’s, and I have recently been on assignment at Crater Lake and in Paris, London, the Big Island, and Kauai. Get links to recent articles, media appearances, and events at my website. Finally, I am expecting my fourth child this November.”

Jennifer’s essay offers an excellent example of a viable out of academia, and she continues to advise writers on developing a freelance career, so visit her website for more information.

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