when i started drafting this post, i wrote:

at this particular moment, a feminist mother looks like a woman giddy about her stylin’ new ‘do sitting at her desk, pumping and writing.

and now i suppose i’m the same woman, with a slightly less “new” haircut, but still pumping (or rather, pumping again). maybe there is more consistency to what a feminist mother looks like than i thought. but probably not.


Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?

this is a fascinating question. if i’ve identified as a feminist mother, and–like most mothers everywhere, i presume–i feel compromised as a mother, then i suppose i feel compromised as a feminist mother.

i’m sitting here (still pumping) wondering about other ways i’ve felt compromised. what are they?, i keep wondering. and here’s a nice example: my current job. it is not a particularly good job. it’s not very rewarding, it’s not intellectually challenging, it doesn’t bring me much, if any, satisfaction. and that runs counter to my values: i believe in vocations, i believe in enjoying yourself in all you do, i believe in not wasting your time being unhappy (when you can avoid it). so how would i defend keeping this job? in particular, how would i defend keeping this job to an older daughter, for whom i was trying to set a positive example? i’m not sure i could defend it except in the most mundane of ways: there are material exigencies that prompted me to take this job, and in our current economic state there are material exigencies that prompt me to keep it. i can talk myself into feeling better by focusing on the things i am trying to do to create a better professional life for myself, but i suspect i would sound the way children of the ’30s sounded to children of the ’60s: old, tired, having given in. to any extent that i am those things — intellectually, professionally, romantically, psychologically — that feels to me like a compromise.

am i being self-indulgent to cut myself some slack as a dbm with an infant at home? perhaps. perhaps that, too, is a compromise.

i go back and forth with feeling compromised in the home. at my worst, i worry that i set terrible examples for my kids in all kinds of ways: communicating, sharing, loving. at my best, i know that all of these compromises can be talked through, can be worked through. generally, though, i inhabit some middle ground where i know that i am compromising all kinds of things i would prefer not to be compromising, but that i am limited, i am human, there is no choice but to compromise. the only choice is to make the best compromises possible at any given moment.

so…i guess there are many ways i am, or am potentially, compromised as a feminist mother. but i don’t feel that i am ever compromised specifically because i am a feminist mother, unless somehow my feminism is the root cause of all this reflection (in and beyond this post), in which case, i suppose, i am totally compromised.

but not unhappy about it.


i recently sat through an overly long meeting which included our institution’s attorney. at the end of the meeting he observed that every time we meet he hears mention of at least one instance of a student being inappropriate to university staff: yelling, using naughty language, being belligerent, etc.

“do you have a protocol for instances like these?” he asked. “do the students get written up? notified that their behavior has been recorded?”

we stared dumbly.

i am of that generation that “would never have.” i would never have spoken to a grown up like that. or, more simply, to someone who is older than me. perhaps anybody, really. i would never have assumed that my righteous indignation deserved public air. i would never have been so rude, out loud, ever.

but nobody on our staff has ever suggested that we actually reprimand students for treating us badly. instead of holding people responsible for their actions, folks on staff simply — but more problematically — simply avoid. they avoid answering the phone. and then they avoid returning calls to certain students. eyes are rolled over student threats,  and we always at least try to do due diligence to help us understand the validity of students’ claims, but once that is done we withdraw again, settling into those tried-and-true avoidance maneuvers.

i have never worked somewhere like this, where a culture of fear and anxiety is bred so long and so deeply into people’s working bones that depression and low morale are the spirits du jour. where people feel so completely powerless in the face of negativity that they take it — or not — but regardless, they won’t call people on their lack of civility.

and i am more than a little embarrassed that it took an outsider to bring this to our attention, to suggest that we give staff the power and authority to say to someone “you can’t treat me like that,” or maybe even “if you choose to treat me like that i will walk away.” i feel like my good sense as an administrator — as a feminist — hell, as a person — has gone missing. and i don’t like that, not one little bit.

i pondered all this while i poured a cup of coffee to bring back to my desk. and then it occurred to me that it isn’t just “staff” who is suffering: i have my own variation on this malaise. i have a co-worker — now an ex-coworker, thanks to two job shifts that relieved us of each other’s presence — whom i do not like. not personally, not professionally, not intellectually. she is a terrible administrator, a perpetuator of gossip, an outright malingerer, and, well, an idiot intellectual lightweight.

this is not the first time i’ve worked with such a person. but this is the first time i have had to stop myself from calling a colleague like this to the carpet. from saying, to her face, i know you are lying. from saying, to her face, what gives you the authority? from saying, to her face, truly, my dear, you are an idiot.

that isn’t like me. i can snark (mac says i can’t, at least not very well, which i think he means as a compliment, but i’m pretty sure i can) but i am, under it all, quite a civil creature. if i snark, i tend not to do it out loud. rather, i am the queen of the eternal internal monologue.

and i prefer myself that way. i do not like this version of myself, this person who has to stop herself from saying unforgivable, unprofessional things. this person who works amid such intense negativity that she has lost her own sense of civility. (well, almost. i haven’t said any of this out loud. yet.) and it’s no far leap, then, to this person who agrees to perpetuate avoidance, this person who allows other women to take abuse of any sort. i do not like that this institution brings out such things in me, even as it quashes other, certainly better things.

i considered submitting an application for a job at Nearby University, which was due yesterday. i chose not to. and today i wonder how long it will take me to fully regret that decision.

bitsy: mommy, i’m so happy!
scribblette: why are you so happy, honey?
bitsy: because i love you and my shoes are dirty!

boo has a name but you’d never know it. “buh-buhh-buuuhhhh baby” i say to him, leaning over his round little tummy. “buh-buhhh baybee” mimcs bitsy, losing her balance and toppling onto his legs.

we took a long time to name bitsy, and even after she was finally named i worried that we’d chosen wrong. so i called her everything but bitsy. tiny bubbles.  booter-bear.

we took just as long to name boo, and i still have the same worry, that his name is wrong (why didn’t we choose the name for “small poet king”? or for “little red one?”).

mae was the only one named before she arrived. the summer before she was delivered i read a charming novel with a lovely refrain, and when my water broke that fall and we were able to choose expectant management i lay in bed, the rhythm of those words thrumming in my ear. i couldn’t remember the actual words, but there was the rhythm, over and over. and just like that, it came to me: mae’s name. i told mac, and i told him we didn’t have to name her this name if she lived, but for now this was her name. and it was, it was her name, it is still her name, it is perfect.

but boo is baby to me, even though he has a beautiful name that i love.

and then this week, in my bedtime reading, this:

They never called him by his name. He was ‘the baby’ to both of them. The only baby, the light of the world.

and this:

This baby was everything, he was emporer of the world, he was the world.

that’s so, i don’t know, right  somehow. and so baby boo remains.

long ago — the absolute ages and ages i spent in grad school — i started to hate february. after the post-holiday let-down and the beginning of a new term, february felt eternal: dark, dreary, and bitterly cold at a time when i wanted to feel all fresh and new. i could get through january with nary a blink, what with all that syllabus prep and paper writing to wrap up. but february? kicked me in the butt, year after year.

and so it goes. this february started with the premature birth of our friends’ twins, who are doing remarkably well in nicu. they’re doing well, their parents are holding up, their mother is recovering….

and yet i feel like an accident victim. i feel like a trauma patient. i feel like my heart has been yanked from my chest, kicked around a few blocks, and stuffed back in the wrong way up.

boo at my side, i lay awake from 3-5 this morning thinking about this.

mae was due this time last year. this time last year, i should have been nursing a newborn, bitsy should have been meeting her new baby sister. instead, this time last year i was laid low by  twin-induced morning sickness, only to learn that one twin had vanished.

effie was born this time four years ago. mac and i awoke in the hospital on a bright, bitter winter’s day and our tiny daughter was resting in my arms. i had slept all night cradling her shrouded body.

this year i should be celebrating my third daughter’s first birthday. cupcakes! balloons! in february! who’da thunk? barring that, this year i should be nursing twins. mine.


i’m happy our friends and their twins are safe. truly, i am. i’m not sure i could bear it if they weren’t. but the babies’ safeness, and their tininess — their very breath — is a reminder of february’s cruelties. even with my lovely little boo, sleeping soundly next to me, breathing in and out all night long.

July 2018
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Your Word is "Why"
You see life as complicated and intriguing. The only thing you know for sure is that you haven't figured it all out yet. You question everything and believe very little. And whatever you believe is likely to change. You are interested in theories, philosophies, and religions...even if you don't buy into any of them. You are also fascinated by how things work. You'd like to understand as much in the world as possible.

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