Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Mommyhood Makes Me a Better Philosopher

I am sitting at my desk grading papers, so it seems a perfect time to write a blog post. It is downright pathetic how much I want to avoid grading papers. Someday I should write a blog post analyzing why faculty are so burdened, plagued, and depressed by the prospect of grading papers.

Today, I want to reflect on something that inspires me, rather than repels me: the way having a child and becoming a parent has opened me up to new people whom before I would've never had anything in common with. Yesterday I was invited to attend a meeting with a variety of people on my campus whom I have never met. Furthermore, very few of them were doing jobs that I knew anything about and so I wasn't sure how to jump start conversation around the table. I can usually find something to talk to strangers about when I need to, but lately, I am so damn tired and drained that it is easier to sit in silence than try.

And then it happened. A really nice woman across from me introduced herself and we immediately launched into talking about my baby. She worked in an office that knows if faculty have new children and so she used that as a way to draw me out and connect. Within minutes we were fast friends, sharing special moments about our children. I found myself truly captivated by her description of how her teenage children have such different attitudes toward driving and the factors in their lives that shaped these attitudes.

Halfway through the conversation I started analyzing how engrossed I was in this conversation--full of questions, eager to hear her answers, and wishing I could see pictures of her grown children. My reaction totally caught me off guard because my pre-mommyhood self would've been struggling to keep interest in this conversation. I realized how fantastically transformed I am now that Maddie is in my life.

Furthermore, I was delighted that I could find a way to connect with new people who had nothing in common with me professionally. It was refreshing. I have always longed to develop an identity outside of my academic world. The questions that haunt me in my work are drawn--I hope--from real lives and real stories. I am not so much interested in purely abstract or technical questions. I have always wanted my work to matter to real people.

The problem is, I always had a difficult time relating to a large segment of the population. I used to blame it on my overly developed analytical abilities and hence my inability to make small talk. But, I am starting to realize that what kept me from connecting with a great deal of people was my child-free status. Having a child certainly transforms your life in ways that you can never anticipate before it happens and it attunes you to other children and parents in ways that you were indifferent to before.

When I see young children in their mothers I am drawn to them. I want to drop everything I am doing and watch them interact, smile and waive at the little people. Who is this person I have become? Well, whoever she is, I like her a lot better and I think she will be a better philosopher for and feminist for it.

Anyone out there with similar experiences?