As a follow-up to our post of reflections on the American Studies Association annual meeting, we’d like to feature AMS assistant professor Dr. Cary Cordova’s reflection on attending conferences, including ASA, as a mother, and the professional challenges this creates. For more great words from Dr. Cordova, check out our interview with her a few weeks back right here on AMS::ATX.
Kids and Conferences Do Not Mix
Starting with the American Studies Association annual meeting in 2009, it got complicated. I organized two panels for that year, one for myself and one for the Minority Scholars Committee, but then learned I was pregnant and that my due date practically coincided with the conference. I hear the panels went well, but I was not in attendance. In fact, the meeting convened within a day or two of my leaving the hospital with my newborn son. I have no regrets about having a child, but I do admit the professional challenges have been profound. I knew life would change, but I did not foresee the specificity of these changes, including how difficult attending conferences would be.
Most conferences do not offer childcare. The organizers anticipate that participants will be adept at setting up childcare in cities where they do not live. If one is lucky, the conference takes place in a city inhabited by a family member, or a friend, whom I can ask to take time off of work to help, or who knows someone that I can trust to babysit. On more than one occasion, I have helped friends in return who are coming into my city and who need help locating a babysitter they can trust. But if you do not have a contact in that city, exactly how do you vet care for your child? Perhaps you turn to the various childcare websites, though these sites and the subsequent virtual interviews of babysitters may not instill a parent with the greatest confidence.
The predominant expectation is that you leave your kid at home, but with whom, and for how long? Thanks to my specialized training, I live far from my family and cannot call on just anyone to watch my son for days at a time. I have felt more than a twinge of jealously when I see colleagues who live near their families drop their kids with the grandparents for days at a time, free of charge. For one conference, I opted to fly in my mother to meet me and help me watch my son. For this, she had to take multiple days off work, and I had to buy three plane tickets to attend a single conference.
Most obviously, the expectation is that I turn to my partner to watch my child. The presumption that I have a partner to turn to is enormous here, much less that my partner might be free from his own professional commitments. But yes, I do have a partner, and our relationship makes conferences both easier and more complex, since I am partnered with an academic who works in similar intellectual terrain. I appreciate that my partner and I like similar conferences and can trade-off childcare when we attend together, but this guarantees that at best, each of us will have a fifty percent chance of participating in the conference. In the last few years, I think my conference participation has been most visible via the frequent image of me chasing after my son through the halls of meeting rooms and around the lobby of the conference hotel. This, of course, is not the professional image that one strives for, but it is a reality of my life in academia.
Since my partner and I like to attend the same conferences and engage together with our academic friends, we struggle over who gets to go to which conference, much less which panel. Often, we try to bring our son to something that is clearly not playing to his interest, which at the moment is everything that does not correspond to Superheroes and Legos. One year, my partner wanted to hear my talk, so he tried to come and sit in the back row with our son. The visit lasted all of five-minutes, as our son kept calling out for “mommy” to step away from the podium and come play with him.