Archive for Women

Storying Your Education through an Artifact

“What object would you use to tell the story of your education?”

This question was posed to me by Jenn Fishman, an Assistant Professor at Marquette University, who is today’s speaker at the Summer Seminar in Rhetoric and Composition that I am attending. Jenn asked us beforehand to bring with us an artifact that would help us tell the story of our education.

I thought about this prompt for at least a few weeks before coming to the conference (Isn’t it such a provocative thing to consider?). I even posed this question to my friends on Facebook, who responded with creative and interesting artifacts, including a flute, library, teachers, a spreadsheet, a human skull, and a laptop. Notice that these items were not limited to schooling; instead, these (smart) people looked at education from many different vantage points, including schooling, of course, but also extracurricular activities, hobbies, places, people, and extraordinary objects.

When I began thinking about how I would answer Jenn’s question, the object that first popped to my mind was a Bible. But this was not the story I wanted to tell about myself. I didn’t want to be one of those people who, at least in academia, are often viewed as narrow-minded, predictable, ignorant, judgmental, and hateful. I didn’t want to be characterized, stereotyped, or judged because of this artifact that I might bring.

So I began to ponder other artifacts.

I looked around my office. I noticed the three diplomas hanging on the wall. I considered bringing one of those. I even took a picture of my Ph.D. diploma–just in case I chose to use it. This diploma holds great meaning to me, and not just in ways you might think (but that’s another story).

I considered telling the story about how I overcame a speech impediment when I was young. I couldn’t pronounce my els, rs, or esses. I couldn’t even say my own name correctly. This story has defined me in ways that I cannot fully articulate, that no one else quite understands even when I try to explain. It is connected to why I try so hard at things, why being a valedictorian and getting a Ph.D. mean so much to me. But I couldn’t think of an object to bring. I thought of My Fair Lady but decided against it. I thought of bringing a picture of my speech teacher whose name I can’t remember but who, in the second grade, showed me how, though six months pregnant, maternity pants worked. I couldn’t find a picture.

I also thought about bringing a basketball. Basketball was not the first sport I ever played or the first sport I was good at, but it was the sport to teach me about discipline, teamwork, dedication, and hard work. It was also the sport I loved the most, the sport I excelled at most, a sport I now play today with my own children. I learned about my strengths, my weaknesses. I noticed that some of my strengths and weaknesses were innate (I had a logical mind and could predict where a player would throw the ball and intercept it; I was short and could not block a shot); others were developed in life (I could nail three pointers from all over the arc; I could throw a ball poorly to a teammate and get it intercepted).

I learned so much about myself through playing basketball.

I learned about life and people and love.
I learned about good teaching through both good and bad coaches.
I learned about passion and practice and performance.
I learned how to have a good attitude, not be selfish, how to lose, how to win, how to be a good teammate, how to be a leader, how to forgive other’s mistakes.
Basketball taught me how to experience and live life.

I also thought about bringing one of my all-time favorite novels, The Grapes of Wrath (To Kill a Mockingbird is another favorite of mine.). I read this book my senior year of college. It was in “The American Novel,” the first upper-level English course I took after switching majors my junior year. This book changed me. It changed how I viewed the world. It changed the way I approached people and story. It expanded my understanding of listening, emphathizing, understanding. I identified with the Joads and Tom and the pain and suffering and loss this family experienced. The stories within this book broke my heart. I quickly bought and read as many John Steinbeck books as I could, including Of Mice and Men, Cannery Row, East of Eden, and Travels with Charley.

John Steinbeck, I might argue, made me more socially aware.

More aware of injustice.
More aware of the terrible ways people treat each other.
More aware that the idea of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps is a myth.
More aware of systemic poverty, racism, classism, and sexism.
More aware of privilege.
More aware of my own subject position.

The Grapes of Wrath gave me reason to be angry. To be raving mad. But it also allowed me to understand the dignity of wrath. It led me to want to fight injustice. It changed me.

Eventually this book led me back to the first book I considered as my artifact: the Bible. And, in the end, the Bible is the artifact I chose. I thought the risk was worth it.

Holy Bible Pink Cover

Bad Moms and Being Mom Enough: A Reflection

By now, you have most likely read or heard about the recent article in Time magazine titled, “Are you Mom enough?”. The blogosphere (and the media) has been abuzz over this article.

I'm not a bad girl; You're a bad mommy!

Image courtesy of

Some authors have addressed the title of the article and all that it implies (competition, self-hatred, guilt, mommy wars, sexism, identity issues, etc.). Others have commented on the cover image in which a three-year-old boy is sucking on his mother’s bare breast while looking at the camera (how it is going to scar him forever, how public breastfeeding is fine, how this goes on in all areas of the world, how this mother is a helicopter parent, etc., etc.). Most discussions have addressed the topic of the article, attachment parenting.

I’ve read many commentaries on and responses to this article. (I particularly liked what my college roommate had to say about it, as well as another blogger’s provocative post, “Where Is the Mommy War for the Motherless Child?“.

I have my own opinions on all of these matters. I obviously do not choose to do attachment parenting. I stopped nursing my children when they were between 8-10 months old. I do not carry my baby around on me like a papoose; he weighs too much and I would break my back. I do not, under any circumstance, allow my children to sleep with me and my husband in our bed. I also work outside the home, which Dr. Sears, the founder of the movement, discourages women who want to incorporate attachment parenting philosophies from doing.

I don’t love my children any less. I love them a lot, actually. I believe it’s important help my children feel loved, safe, confident, self-assured, and independent. I let my children play for long periods of time without getting involved or interjecting my own agenda. I let them work out problems. I tell them, “No.” I ask them to be creative. I challenge them.

Most mothers do.

What I have learned from being a mother for almost seven years is that there are many different ways to mother. There are different ways to be a mother. And there are different definitions of mothers and motherhood and mothering.

As moms, we have images in our head about the kind of mother we want to be. If you’re like me, you often feel guilty about ways you do not live up to your own expectations. Our culture and the media (and sometimes religious organizations and people) send the message that we are not good enough, that we are not “Mom enough.” My recent post about Pinterest images attests to the pervasiveness of societal expectations and norms.

But who are we to judge other mothers? Aren’t we all just trying our best to do good our their children?

We are all “Mom enough” to the children in our lives.

They love us. They know we love them.

We must know that who we are is enough.


Motherhood as Materialism: The Myth They’re Selling

I am a mom to three vivacious, spunky, independent kids. I like being a mom. It’s difficult to define and articulate what motherhood means to me and how much of my identity is wrapped up in my role as a mom. So much of it is a feeling, an emotion, and words are often not enough to explain my feelings about motherhood.

That being said, as I mentioned in my last post, I don’t like Mother’s Day. I’m extremely uncomfortable with this holiday. So many women (and men) experience pain on Mother’s Day.

  • Someone is thinking about their own mom (perhaps she has died, she gave him/her up for adoption, she was not the mother they had hoped for, or something else that brings them pain).
  • Someone is thinking about the loss of a child–through a miscarriage, an abortion, an adoption, a death, a kidnapping, the loss of a young child who has grown up.
  • Someone is thinking about not being able to conceive or still being single and not having a child.
  • Someone is thinking about how they do not measure up to the “ideal mother” (see my recent post about guilt for some comments on this issue).
  • Someone who is grieving the choices their children have made.

Mother’s Day is not a happy day for everyone, contrary to the predominant narrative greeting card companies, retail stores, businesses, and corporations are selling us. Many people have great big holes in their hearts.

Mother’s Day became a federal holiday in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson instituted it. I do not know the history of this holiday, but what I do know is that, at some point, Mother’s Day became synonymous with materialism, with giving and receiving gifts (just like Christmas). This holiday equates love to gift-giving.

It promotes motherhood as materialism.

Stores tell us we should buy gifts for our mothers. Our mothers deserve as much. If we love them, we would buy them something.

I saw this image today while I stopped in to drop off some clothes at my favorite consignment store.

Selling Mother's Day

Make Mom's Day! Buy Her an iPad (the new one!)!

This image screams consumerism.


But it belittles mothers.

This image, and most other marketing that surrounds Mother’s Day, equates loving your mom to giving her expensive gifts, or, at worse, not giving her expensive gifts and thus not loving her.

The consumerism of Mother’s Day defines how we are supposed to experience Mother’s Day–as one who gives or receives gifts. It’s not about love; it’s about buying and giving and getting more stuff. Even if showing love through gifts isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, the marketing of this holiday takes the focus off honoring your own mother or (being honored yourself as a mother) to focusing on the buying and selling of products. It equates love with giving expensive gifts.

Corporations have decided that they can manipulate dads and children and spouses and mothers into making this event–motherhood–all about materialism. They send the message that the only thing mothers really want is “stuff.”

They diminish motherhood when they equate it to materialism.

If they knew mothers at all–sitting from where they are making a profit off of us, off of OUR role, as mothers (or sons or daughters or fathers or husbands)–then they would understand that we do not want this. No, motherhood is more than materialism. Much more. And if these corporate powers tried to understand mothers at all, they would realize this truth. Instead, they belittle and degrade us and treat us like children in a candy store.

No, moms do not want more “stuff.” We are more complex than that. We are deeper than that. We have other values besides gifts. Our hearts are with our children, not with what they do or not give us.

If corporations really wanted to show us honor, they wouldn’t market to our children on this day. There would be no signs and images and ads and commercials about “the perfect gift for mother’s day”.

There would be no profit, no capitalizing on mothers.

Honor us by refusing to coerce and manipulate our husbands and sons and daughters and mothers and grandchildren. Honor us by leaving our families alone, by leaving us alone.

Motherhood is much more than their minimalization of it.

Dear readers: I hope these posts about motherhood and Mother’s Day have not offended you, but I do hope you see my perspective as honest and real, and a little mad, too.

Why I’m Uncomfortable with Mother’s Day

When I was in high school, I became really close to one of my boyfriend’s aunts. She was close to her twin nephews because she was very devoted to her sister, their mom. But this woman was also close to her sister’s kids because she didn’t have any children of her own. She couldn’t have children. She and her husband had tried for years to conceive, but they never did. I don’t know any of the details except that she wanted kids and couldn’t have them.

I was sad for her. She had a deep desire for children but couldn’t have any.

She was sweet, loving, kind, gracious, and honest. She was a doting aunt, a confidante, a friend. She would have been a great mom.

As the years went on, we kept in touch (even though her nephew and I had long broken up). I continued to think of her. I empathized with her because she couldn’t have children.

One year in college, Mother’s Day rolled around and I had an idea to send her a Mother’s Day card.

Happy Mother's Day Card

Image courtesy of

This card came from me, but I wrote about all the people—all the kids, like me—that she had touched. Even though she didn’t have a child of her own, she influenced so many children. I expressed to her my appreciation for the influence she had on my life, probably one that she never even knew about.

She was touched by my gesture. She told me that she cried reading the card. She had never received a Mother’s Day card before, and this card was so unexpected. I think what affected her the most was that she felt nobody cared about her on this day.

She was left out of the celebration because she wasn’t a mother. Yes, she had a mother (a great one), but she also desired to be a mother and she wasn’t one.

While most people celebrated motherhood, she mourned it.

While (male) church pastors and leaders spoke about how God instituted motherhood and how wonderful it is and on and on and on, she grieved.

When Hallmark commercials came on, (I imagine) she changed the channel, or watched it with sadness, loneliness, and pain.

I love my own mother, my mother-in-law, and my grandmothers. They are special women. But I’m extremely uncomfortable with Mother’s Day.

I’m always thinking about the people left out of the “motherhood celebration”.

Women who have suffered a miscarriage.
Teenage girls or young adults who have given their children up for adoption.
Women who have had abortions.
Women who cannot bear children.
Children—young and old—who have lost their mothers to death.  
Children who do not have the “type” of mother promoted through greeting cards, retail stores, and even the church.
Mothers who do not feel they meet up to societal or Christian standards about what makes a “good mother.”

I’m uncomfortable with Mother’s Day.

My husband does not preach a Mother’s Day sermon for many of these same reasons (However, he is giving a 4-part tribute to the mothers he loves in his life, including my mom).

This Mother’s Day, think of women:

Who are not in the mood to celebrate this holiday, a national one, mind you, not a Christian one.

Who do not have the emotional energy to come to church on that day because of the pain they will feel.

Who grieve every day but on this day, in particular, the grief hurts even more.

Who feel alone and lonely.

Who want to be a mother but can’t.

Who were mothers at one time but decided not to be.

Think of these women when you go to church, when you call your mom, when you talk to friends, when you buy gifts.

Pray for them.

Do something special for them.

Listen to their stories, and let them know you care.

Letting Go of Superwoman: Beginning the Process

Superwoman graphicI was at one of my routine doctor appointments last year, pregnant with Levi. After hearing the baby’s heartbeat and finishing the exam, my doctor, who was now seeing me through my third (and final) pregnancy, asked me how I was doing, how I was feeling about life and motherhood and work and all the other commitments I have.

She has known me for several years, since the time before I took a tenure-track job, when I was just writing my dissertation. She is in her late 50s/early 60s and is the best doctor I’ve ever had (Shane even told her that he wishes she could be his doctor!).

I guess I looked stressed out or overwhelmed—I don’t know. But before I knew it, words and tears and emotions came gushing out, like water from an unmanned fire hydrant.

I feel guilty, this is what I told her.

Guilt in regards to my children: about being a working mom; about not being there at some of their school events; about not taking them to or picking them up from school because I have an hour commute each day; about being so tired when I’m home; about being on my computer too much; about working too much from home; about not being present when I’m with them; about yelling or screaming or being unforgiving.


Guilt in regards to my job: about having a family; about having children that prevent me from being as productive as some other of my colleagues; about living so far away.


Guilt in regards to my husband: about him having to fill so many of the typical “motherhood” roles, such as doing the laundry, doing the dishes, putting the kids to bed, or carting the kids to and from school each day, particularly when he did not ask for that or expect it (he is wonderful!); about every conversation we have being about tenure; about being so exhausted in the evening that I fall asleep during a movie we’re watching together; about him being the go-to parent so much of the time; about not having time to go out on dates (which we love to do); about being stressed, mean, rude, and selfish.


Guilt in regards to my sisters, family, and friends: about not keeping in touch better; about not being there more when I want to be; about taking forever to send thank-you cards, or not even sending them at all; about not seeing them as often as I like; about not noticing when they are struggling or going through a hard time; about not calling to say hi.


Guilt in regards to my house: about its messy state; about the clutter.


Guilt in regards to my role as a preacher’s wife: about not being able to teach Bible class because I have no time to prep; about not cooking a homemade meal each week for potluck; about not signing up for nursery duty because my husband needs me to be in there listening and supporting him as he preaches; about not fitting the typical preacher’s wife role (whatever that is); about being shy.


Guilt in regards to my body: about being overweight; about using food to stifle my emotions; about not having time to exercise; about my body changing through 3 pregnancies and 2 c-sections.


Guilt in regards to my relationship with God: about not praying or reading the Bible as often as I desire; about going for weeks without even talking to God; about wondering who God is; about doubt, doubting certain things I grew up believing but that I now question.


About everything.

Thinking and talking through many of the ways I was feeling guilty didn’t take too long (she is a busy doctor after all). When I was done, she said she understood. But she also told me to stop. Stop feeling so guilty about things. Just stop, she said. Stop feeling guilty about not living up to my own or society’s  expectations of what makes a good mom, wife, employee, or friend. She pointed out that I wasn’t Superwoman; no woman is. And, yet, we all think we need to be her in order to be loved, admired, respected, or valued.

Her words resonated with me. I went home from the doctor feeling better. I resolved not to feel guilty. My children love me, my husband loves me, my parents love me, my friends and family love me.

I can give up my perfectionist tendencies. I cannot do it all; I am not Superwoman. I can just be myself—that’s all I can be. But I don’t have to feel guilty anymore.

Why It’s Important to Mentor Female Graduate Students and Young Professors

Academic Mentor Cartoon

In academia, talk abounds about graduate education, tenure, getting a job, low wages and poor working conditions, and balancing personal and professional lives. One recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Berkeley Professor Mary Ann Mason is particularly sobering. Mason’s article, “The Future of the Ph.D,” addresses several interesting points about the overabundance of PhDs and the lack of tenure-track jobs. She also points out how difficult it is to have a family and a tenure-track job. Here are a few quotes I found provocative (if you are interested, you should also read through the comments section of her article; so many heartfelt, revealing and personal responses that provide their own form of mentoring):

“In a survey we conducted of all doctoral students at the University of California, more than 70 percent of women and over half of all men said they considered a career at a research university to be too hard-driving and unfriendly to family life.

“A male Ph.D. student in the survey characterized the common sentiment when he wrote that he was ‘fed up with the narrow-mindedness of supposedly intelligent people who are largely workaholic and expect others to be so as well‘.”

“A female student wrote, ‘Since beginning my doctoral work, I have become convinced that very few, if any, female professors are able to have stable, fulfilling family lives of the sort that I wish for (a stable marriage and children)’.”

Female graduate students who do become mothers during their doctoral-study years are very likely to give up on their dreams.”

“Too few universities are paying attention to the needs of graduate-student parents, or providing mentoring on how to balance family and career in a stressful profession in which, arguably, the most serious stress—obtaining tenure—also occurs during the years when women will have children.”

These findings do not come as a shock to me as a professor. I have now experienced what it’s like to be on the tenure track, which is difficult in and of itself. But I also know what it’s like to be a woman, a mother, and a wife in this highly stressful job.

But as a graduate student working on my master’s and then Ph.D., I never would have guessed it was this way–so difficult to “have it all” and find balance between work and home.  I even had wonderful mentors throughout graduate school, but we never really talked about marriage and children or what it would be like to have a family and work in academia.

With results and outcomes like these–where women are leaving the profession because they have babies, or where they leave because they are denied tenure at such high rates (mothers even higher)–we are not left with many options. Even though more than half of graduate students are women, if we do not deal with the intersection of a woman’s personal life with her career, then we are not going to have a range of women in academia. We might still have unmarried women or women without children, but we may lose a large percentage of women who can teach and mentor others about what it means to have a family and a career in academia.

In short, we need mentors. We need mothers who are willing to share their experiences–the good and the bad; the sacrifices they have/had to make; the joys that have come along the way; and why being a mother in academia might still be worth it. We need mothers who talk frankly about having children in graduate school, about having children on the tenure-track, about not having children at all. We need mothers to share their stories, for it is their stories–our stories–that will educate others and better inform female graduate students about the realities of being a mother in academia.

I hope you will share your story; it may make all the difference.

My Popular Posts: Two Weeks in Review

My website has been active for two weeks now, so I decided to take a moment to list and examine my top three posts. Here, they are, my most popular posts.

1. “Running Around Like a Crazy Woman: Why Less Is More.”

This post is my most popular, most likely because a few people tweeted or posted the link to Facebook or their blog, which led to many more people clicking on it and viewing it. I am amazed at the interconnected nature of the web, and I have enjoyed connecting with people I would not otherwise know (thanks for reading, you people!).

This post is also my first book review on the blog. I actually plan to do many reviews in the future. Perhaps my readers like book reviews. We shall see. I was actually surprised how many people clicked on the book’s link from my site to read about the book for themselves (over 35 of you!). I wonder how many of you will read it. I’d love to hear what you think about it and how you have tried to implement the mantra, “Less is more,” into your life.

2. “Up in the Clouds or Down on the Ground: When Marriage Is Difficult.”

I only posted this piece yesterday, but it’s already close to becoming my most popular post. I guess when you speak about marriage, people are interested.

I have been so humbled and encouraged by the many messages, texts, and emails I have received from you about this post. Many of you wrote to me about difficulties you are (or were) having in your marriage, and how this post came “at just the right time.” I’m humbled that my words were able to touch and encourage you in this way. Thanks so much for letting me know!

3. “I Am a Mother; I Am an Academic.”

This post was one of my firsts, and it still remains a popular one. Almost every day a few people still read it.

I like this post because it hints at the daily struggle I have to be both mother and academic. And to do each well. It’s not as easy as it seems. I will continue to examine and write about motherhood and academia and explore the tension I constantly feel negotiating the demands of both.

Thanks so much for reading my blog. Remember, you can subscribe to my blog by clicking on the RSS feed button at the top (the orange button at the top).

Which blog post has been your favorite?

Crazy Woman, Part II

In my last post about running around like a crazy woman, I discussed how parents tend to over-schedule and over-extend their kids. Between sports, music, dance, and all sorts of other lessons, our children are not allowed enough time for unstructured play, or free play time. According to the author of Simplicity Parenting such lack of free time is harmful to our kids.

Why? Many reasons, but one that resonated with me had to do with sports. I played team sports as a young child. In sports, rules are already created. Children playing structured sports (whether team or individual) must adapt to the rules. In unstructured play, however, children make up their own rules. They use their imagination. They are creative. They work with others to problem-solve how they can play a pick up game of basketball. What will the rules be? What is acceptable behavior and play?

Today, I give a brief anecdote. Saturday, my oldest two children had t-ball games. They had team pictures hours before their games. My husband is coaching both teams so he had to be there early for both pictures. They came home after the pictures to pick me and the baby up.

I woke up around 6:30 that morning. I packed a bag for my baby Levi (food for lunch, 2 bottles, diapers, wipes, and all the other stuff babies need–except sunscreen, I forgot that). I packed a lunch for both kids to eat before or after their game, depending on which kid it was. I packed drinks and snacks for them and me during the games. I found my chair and a kid’s chair and set it out to be loaded in the car, along with the stroller for Levi. It was my turn to bring snacks for the girls’ game, so I also packed snacks and drinks for the team. I got the camera and the video camera and the baseball and softball bags and on and on and on.

I was busy loading and packing and getting myself ready for over 2 hours (yes, it didn’t take this long). What I haven’t yet mentioned–and the main point of this story–is that while the kids were taking team pictures at the fields with their daddy and I was packing and preparing for the games, 8-month-old Levi–poor Levi– sat on the floor crying uncontrollably. Not just crying, but screaming. With his head bent over on the floor. From 6:30-9:15 am, except when he was drinking his bottle, the little guy was crying.

You see, what my words up there did not express in the telling of the details of my morning were the emotions going on–the feeling of my home at that moment. I was tense. I was stressed. I was trying hard not to forget anything.

I was running around the house like a crazy woman. I was not setting a good tone or rhythm or pace to my life.

And little Levi was the one telling me how much my schedule–our schedule–was impacting his little life.You see, even though I was having to do a lot of preparation for the games, Levi was the one most impacted by his siblings’ schedules. He was the one missing out on mommy-and-me time. Right when he wanted it the most. Levi wanted me to stop what I was doing–to pause for a moment. He was begging me to STOP. To sit on the floor with him. To make faces. To play peek-a-book. To tickle him. To do all those things I love to do but didn’t have the time for that day because of our plan.

Levi wanted his mom, and I was not there.

He also wanted a peaceful home. A home free of anxiety and tension. A home full of spontaneous moments.

When Elizabeth was 8-months-old, we didn’t have t-ball games. There were no older siblings. The same is true for Peyton. But Levi, he just wanted some time to play on his own or with me and experience a carefree day, but instead his whole day–even long before the game started–was spent crying because no one was paying attention to him. Because the house he lived in was full of one busy queen bee running around and stinging all those who stood in her path.

My mommy heart ached seeing this child so upset. I wanted more than anything to hold him and soothe him (I tried, of course, but he could read my motives, which said, “Please stop crying so that I can finish what I need to get done.”). But I needed to finish my tasks (due to a complicated schedule we created). So, Levi’s needs were not met. The schedules of his older siblings determined his day and set the tone for him. And he did not like it.

As they age, younger children must get more used to being carted around to practices and performances and games because they do not throw the same type of fit that Levi threw on Saturday. But Levi’s 8-month-old self was speaking to the very depths of my soul when he told me, “Slow down. Hold me. Pay attention to me. The other stuff is not as important.”

I am learning lessons from my babes. What lesson have you learned lately?