Why I had to skip the Berks

Thanks for your kind comments and e-mails–our family emergency has been resolved.  I’m sure you’re wondering what on earth could keep me away from the Berkshire Conference 2011, especially considering that there won’t be another one until 2014!  Well, friends–there isn’t a lot that would keep me away from it, but there’s something I haven’t told you about Famille Historiann before that might put this into perspective: 

I am the living mother of a living child I’ll call Madeline (not her name), who, unfortunately, had a bum appendix that announced itself as acute abdominal pain at 5:45 a.m. Thursday morning.  She had an appendectomy about 12 hours later at Maine Medical Center in Portland, no rupture and no complications.  As these things go, this was a health emergency that was speedily dealt with and easily resolved–she was released Friday morning at 9 a.m., and by Friday afternoon was playing energetically outside her grandparents’ house with her cousin.  The timing was unfortunate since I had to miss the big conference, but it could have happened at a worse time and place–like during one of our wilderness backpacking trips, or when we’re not staying with family members.  Fortunately, Fratguy was here too–he was scheduled to fly back on Thursday, but he postponed his return to Colorado until today.

As many of you readers know, I haven’t disclosed my parental status previously by design, although I think some of you have guessed–the Sesame Street YouTube clips, the discussions of children’s literature, and the references to the Kid’s Place Live channel on satellite radio probably weren’t too subtle.  But the truth of the matter is that there are a lot of blogs out there about parenting and not so many blogs about history and sexual politics, 1492 to the present, and it’s my professional interests and political views rather than my personal life that I wanted to blog about.  There are a lot of mothers in the world, whereas there aren’t all that many people with my particular training and expertise.  There are a lot of women who write about motherhood in the mainstream media, but not nearly so many women writing outside of that identity and/or writing on feminist issues.  Motherhood doesn’t make me special or interesting, or especially interesting.

I also didn’t want to identify myself as a mother because I think that a lot of blog conversations about mothering can become essentialist and personal in ways that work against feminist analysis.  (For examples of those kinds of conversations, in which people with a particular experience of motherhood assume I’m not a mother because I express opinions about motherhood they disagree with see here, here, and hereDr. Crazy has written about this too.  Because all mothers everywhere transhistorically are identical, right?)  As I’ve written here before, I don’t think motherhood is authorizing beyond one’s personal experience, because people’s experiences of parenthood are different because children and adults are different.  What worked for your family might not work for mine, and vice-versa, and most children end up okay no matter what.  (And besides–in my case, N=1, and unlike Dr. Laura Schlessinger, I don’t think my particular experience of parenting one child makes me an expert.)

There’s also the question of writing in ways that people might find interesting and stimulating.  I love Madeline–and those of you with children love your children, too, but do we really need to read and write about that here?  I also think children should be permitted to make their own mistakes about creating online identities when the time comes.  Blogging about my child just seemed too invasive of her privacy, so I created an online persona who left her position as a mother or a non-mother ambiguous.  Additionally, when I started my blog Madeline was very small, and I was wary (as a not-really-pseudonymous blogger) about how that kind of information might be used by others who didn’t mean us well.  Now that she’s reached the age of reason I’m less concerned about her safety, but I still don’t relish the ways in which this kind of information can be used to frighten and/or enrage me.

This cowgirl has said her piece.  Let’s pretend this conversation never happened.

63 thoughts on “Why I had to skip the Berks

  1. Well, I am sad you missed the Berks, but I am glad everything turned out okay. Living bodies can be such a pain sometimes (and don’t get me started on embodiedness in general).

    I’ll remove reading this from my memory and say Sesame Street with Ricky Gervais is good for adults too. Keep posting those clips, please, and all your expert knowledge too. I will now be on the lookout for cowgirl boots at other conferences.

    Best wishes on quick healing and recovery for all parties (since the trauma likely caused mental anguish as well). Okay, now, it is truly forgotten 🙂


  2. I’m glad Madeleine’s recovered so quickly and that as medical emergencies go, it wasn’t too bad. And once Madeleine is back in line, she’s left the famille Historiann. Especially because *I* know you don’t have twelve children!


  3. I was at your session yesterday and when I heard about your daughter’s appendectomy, my first thought was for your blogging ethos of not revealing your parental status. Which is why i tweeted that you could not make it, but did not explain why.

    In some ways, I’m surprised to see this post, but on the other hand, I liked it very much. I will also forget it promptly.

    So sorry to miss the opportunity to hear your paper and meet you, but hopefully some day in the future! The blogger meet up was amazing, with some fun revelations of sorts.


  4. Thanks, all. Now that I think about it, maybe it was a mistake to illustrate this post with pictures from Ludwig Bemelmans’s Madeline, who after all had only Miss Clavel and Dr. Cohn looking after her during her appendectomy. Her parents were notably absent, although “Papa” sent a dollhouse for her to enjoy during recovery.


  5. I don’t often mention parenthood in a professional context, either, but it’s given me a professional project I never thought I’d get into.

    And long before we had children, my year of archival work in Japan with my wife was often leavened by watching the occasional episode of Sesame Street on NHK. We still talk about the “Adventures of Prairie Dawn” when she’s walking around with a copy of “The Handmaiden’s Tale”….


  6. You know, I am so relieved — First to hear that Madeline is OK and second to know that the Big Secret of this here blog is NOT that you are actually a dead dog. I couldn’t stand the competition!

    Seriously, cowgirl, sorry you had to miss the big shindig but very glad to know that the little one is safe and sound. Can’t we call her Historiette, though? I like the sound of that.

    Fear not — Your secret is safe with me. Dead dogs tell no tales, though they may blog occasionally.

    Love & good wishes from all your pals in Roxie’s World


  7. Playing outside!?! Tonsillitis had me down for a whole week at an equivalent age if I’m remembering correctly. Way to go Maddy!! Have a great rest of your holiday!

    Glad also that the meetup went on as scheduled.


  8. If Historiann had a child, and if that child had had an emergency appendectomy, I would be expressing my sympathies and my relief that it all resolved itself happily.

    Since I am certain neither that Historiann has a child nor that that child had a medical emergency, my sentiments remain purely provisional.


  9. I missed you here and I’m glad to know that matters are turning out so well despite the tough turn for a while.

    As far as I’m concerned, though, Historiann remains a rootin’, tootin’ scholar who’s going to be back riding the academic and actual range as soon as possible. This never happened!

    You know that I have a different taking on blogging as a historian with children, although not that dramatically so. I try to preserve their privacy and dignity in as much as possible while also sharing some of how these issues of family life inform my scholarly self. But just as there’s no one right way to parent a child, there’s no one right way to blog!

    One of the great outcomes of being at the Berks has been a chance to talk to so many other scholars who’ve experienced parenting challenges akin to my own. It’s making me hope that despite my own family disasters of this past week that I can plan another archival trip in the next year so that I complete the new book project! Without having a chance to talk with others who’re juggling similar situations, I’d be much less hopeful.


  10. Oh, and H’Ann – I had totally forgotten about that post of mine, and it was so weird to read all of that. (I headed on over to the link because I seriously had no idea what you were linking to.) So. Freaking. Weird.


  11. Glad she’s doing better! My sister’s appendix burst when she was in college. It is crazy how well they can do appendectomies these days. I’m pretty sure she was back dancing for basketball games (or whatever it was physical she was doing on top of getting a high-powered degree in a male-dominated field) in very little time. Minimally invasive surgery is crazy amazing.

    On another note, man you’re like the second blogger we follow who has come out as a mom in the past month or so… Not something I’d really thought about though. I think many folks often stop talking about their kids quite so much once the kids hit age 5 or so. Mommy forums certainly become a lot less interesting once one is no longer fascinated with poop. (Was at a kid’s birthday party recently in which I discovered that I no longer wanted to hear about poop, much less talk about it… I must have crossed some child-age threshold.)


  12. The day my teenage son came home from high school with a stomach ache changed a weekend pretty rapidly. He’s 20 now, and thanks to advances in surgery has three very tiny scars from the removal of his appendix. Sorry that you missed the Berks.


  13. Good way to announce good news. Glad it ended so well–appendix emergencies can be scary because they’re so baffling. Sometimes the panic has the decency to move along fast. Best wishes, Historiann.


  14. Y’know, I am not going to pretend amnesia. I think we can be whole people and still be intellectuals. (Then again, you’ve got tenure and I’m a perpetual – though valued – “trailing spouse”!)

    I’m very glad your child is OK. I’m glad you’re OK. We can’t always sustain a firewall between our personal and professional selves, and I’m not at all convinced that such firewalls are a good thing, in the first place. They’re a defensive maneuver. We should not have to “come out” as mothers. Several years ago, Bitch Ph.D. wrote eloquently about why. But then she bowed out of academia.

    On the other hand, I agree completely that we have a deep obligation to protect our children’s privacy online. Soon enough, they’ll have the chance to embarrass themselves on Facebook. Until then, we ought not to expose their lives to strangers’ attention. (I’ve written about my struggles with motherhood, but the most revealing thing I’ve said is that my sons are neck-deep in sibling rivalry – not exactly a novel revelation.)

    Historiann, I”m missing the Berks for different reasons, but my thoughts will be with your family as you bounce back from this moment of parental drama. Take care, all of you.


  15. Glad to learn that all’s well, and looking forward to your being able to return, with an easy mind, to normal Historiann blogging.


  16. No one has to fake amnesia here–I just don’t want to talk about this part of my private life. Re-reading that post (and the strange comments thread) by Dr. Crazy linked above pretty much explains why, plus the internet privacy issue.

    Fratguy comments on the blog, as do some other adult members of my family, so I feel like it’s OK to talk about them occasionally. But, my feelings about privacy extend to some of the adults in my life–specifically, those I work with at Baa Ram U., both students and colleagues. I don’t dish on departmental business or write about my students here, because I’m not pseudonymous and my colleagues and students are not props or characters to be exploited for entertainment purposes on my blog. It’s the same with Madeline. (When I do talk about work, I write about previous jobs or I write specifically about *my* engagement with an issue or problem.)


  17. Glad to hear everyone is safe & well! Kid-related emergencies are scary. (Perhaps I only find this so because my kiddos are too little to verbalize pain accurately.) Did I ever tell ya’ll about the time I had a student write me an email saying he had a “stomach ache” right before the first paper was due? I have strict late policies, so I wrote him back a very firm and unsympathetic response. The next morning in class, a strange middle aged man approached me and introduced himself as Z’s father. He said Z was in the ER having an emergency appendectomy! And that Z was super worried about the late penalty and would I please excuse him, as this was a real medical emergency. A bit overkill. But boy, did I feel like a tool.


  18. Best wishes and a speedy recovery for Madeline! In the event you are flying out of MHT, feel free to stop by for a kid-friendly snack.


  19. Late to the party, since I was at the Berks hoping to meet you. My appendix went hot junior year in high school during film strip on Renaissance Architecture. It has informed my feeling on the Renaissance ever since. I fell out of my desk and onto the floor. As it was the 70 I was in the hospital for a week with Demerol on demand. Glad Madeline’s experience was not as long or apparently as traumatic.


  20. Also missed you — especially since I also missed you at Baa Ram U, and won’t be back next year. But am very glad all is well.


  21. Am I the only person who feels that this impulse to hide one’s children is problematic?

    Granted, everyone’s blogging ethic is completely different, as is everyone’s parenting choices. No one has to talk about their kids in a professional context. Clearly. But to admit to consciously hiding the kid? That seems to say to all prospective academic women: 1. If you are a mother, you are going to look weak and uncommitted to the profession, 2. If you have a personal life, you are not professional.

    The only way these two (very real) attitudes can change in academia is if we normalize motherhood and not feed the trolls by hiding the fact that we are whole people, who are capable of being intelligent scholar/teachers and in fact are ENRICHED by the experience of parenthood. Parenthood is a huge part of the human experience — a huge part of history. I think you’re a more legitimate historian when you engage in MORE aspects of the human experience, whatever they may be for you. It doesn’t have to be parenthood, but it most certainly can be.

    To sum up, there’s NOTHING wrong with being a professional mother. The patriarchy might think so, but we feed the trolls by giving in to that perspective. Please feed no more trolls.


  22. Huh. Well, since everyone on this thread who knows me personally or whom I’ve had e-mail correspondance with (Squadrato, Susan, CPP I think, Notorious, Paul, Roxie, Dr. Crazy, Indyanna, Janice, Sungold (I think), Tony, Hotshot Harry, Perpetua, and ADM) knew about Madeline, that might explain why these commenters weren’t bothered about the omission on the blog.

    How much personal information is my reading audience entitled to? I would have to say none!

    One more point: I am not a “professional mother.” I’m a professional historian. The insistence on always foregrounding motherhood is what I’m working against. Maybe this is because I spent 34+ years as a non-mother, and because I hope to live decades after my daughter leaves home.

    IOW, I find the need to divide women up into mommies/notmommies reductive. I don’t think that information is relevant to my blogging identity or interests.


  23. H’Ann – Correct me if I’m wrong on this, but my sense of your not talking about M on blog was that at first it just didn’t occur to you to talk about her because of the sort of blog you started, and then, not talking about her was partly about the privacy issues you describe but also because people had just assumed that you didn’t have a kid and went on the attack because “how dare you talk about issues related to motherhood when you’re not a mother” and if you’d said, “Oh, but I am a mother,” then that would have made such attacks legitimate? In other words, it never seemed to me that you’d made some sort of deliberate decision at the outset to “hide” M. but rather that it just sort of happened that you didn’t bring that part of your life to the blog.

    For what it’s worth, even for me, who is more “personal” on blog than you tend to be, there are whole swaths of my life that I don’t write about. Is this because I’m hiding something? No. It’s just because not everything in my life is for public consumption. I’ve often wondered what I’d do if I had a kid – whether I’d write about that or not – and I feel like I wouldn’t want to. Partly because I’d want the kid to have privacy, but more because I would hate it if my blog became about being a mother to the exclusion of other things. Having watched that happen to a number of blogs I’ve read, and then stopped reading, well, I wouldn’t want that to happen to my blog.

    So why am I commenting? I suppose to say that readers need to be clear that just because they feel like they “know” a blogger through their blog, they only know a persona (however “real” that persona may be). And that doesn’t mean that the writer is “dishonest” or sending some sort of negative message through what they leave out.


  24. Thanks, Dr. Crazy. You’re right that I didn’t make a decision with a completely thought-out strategy designed to hide my parenthood. It just so happened that I didn’t write about her and I didn’t think it was important to the blog, but then when people started challenging my right to express opinions about motherhood/breastfeeding issues, I declined to identify for the exact reasons you say. Since I don’t think motherhood authorizes me as a historian in ways that historians who are not mothers aren’t authorized, it doesn’t really matter.

    (Plus, I thought it was kind of funny to be assumed not to be a mother because my opinions differed from women who very much identify themselves as mothers, especially because many of you out there knew the truth!)

    I think the fact that my blog is linked to my RL professional identity is key here, and the fact that my daughter was a preschooler when I started blogging. (At this point, I’m pretty sure that if someone tries to lure her into a car or scoop her up on the street, she’ll holler pretty loudly.) You will have to make your own decisions, Dr. Crazy, if you have a child, but you’re truly pseudonymous (although some readers know your RL professional identity), so you might feel like you can be more flexible.

    It’s interesting that you’ve stopped reading blogs when they’ve become blogs about babies/children. I don’t think I’ve had that experience–but then I think it’s telling that the blogs I read most regularly aren’t about children or family life at all (although the bloggers may be parents.)


  25. I don’t want to give the impression that I won’t read a blog if people mention kids on it or something! It’s more been that I’ve read a blog that was about a bunch of stuff and then when the person had kids all of the other things that they used to write about that interested me no longer existed, so I got bored and realized months later that I’d stopped reading.


  26. Glad everything’s ok. We had a similar experience a year and a half ago — scary and not much fun for anyone, even when it’s routine from a medical standpoint.


  27. What I object to is that you needed this lengthy explanation at all. If you really wanted to keep your private life private — which is your right, absolutely!! — then you really didn’t need to discuss this. You could have said, “I had to miss the conference because of my sick kid,” and left it at that.

    I’m sure that your post was not meant to make mothers who are professionals (in my case, I am a mother who is an academic) feel as though they are “less than” women professionals who do not have children. However, that was the effect of the post on me.

    I completely respect your right to write about whatever you want. But if so many people who read and comment on your blog knew you had a child, then there really was no reason to go into your personal philosophy about blogging about children (or not). I suppose it’s not clear to me what the point was. The result, for me, however, was to feel offended — as a woman, as a professional, and as a mother.


  28. I wasn’t offended. Glad that we aren’t living in medieval times or else M. woulda been far worse.

    Also, it was once thought that my brother had appendicitis. As he was being wheeled into surgery, another doctor said, “wait! I think this is salmonella poisoning!” And it was.


  29. Fie:

    We are having this argument elsewhere, but: in an email to my private account, so we don’t hijack Historiann’s blog, explain this statement:

    “I’m sure that your post was not meant to make mothers who are professionals (in my case, I am a mother who is an academic) feel as though they are “less than” women professionals who do not have children. However, that was the effect of the post on me.”

    Because it makes no fucking sense to me why Historiann “makes” any of you feel one way or another about motherhood or professional lives that you don’t already feel all by yourselves in the context of your own lives. What power does she have to interfere dramatically in your feelings about a life you clearly value? And why are all mothers supposed to be in ideological lockstep over motherhood?

    It also makes no fucking sense to me why, given her desire to shield her private life the vast majority of the time, she isn’t allowed to mention her kid once without this huge “AHA!” thing taking off. I mean, seriously, wuzzup? Is it because I am barren that I do not fucking get this?


  30. I was shopping for Father’s Day cards today, for Fratguy and my father and father-in-law. I was envious that at least half of the cards I saw commemorated the essence of fatherhood as lying around in a barcalounger–alone–with the TV remote.

    If only motherhood as it’s culturally constructed were so uncomplicated.


  31. TR- totally not getting this either, despite the used state of my womb.

    And the notion that H’ann is responsible for encouraging women/mothers to hide their personal lives is a riot for anyone who knows her RL alter ego. I think, when your session at THE BERKS (not just your average conference) is about blogging, and you have a particular blogging ID, it makes perfect sense to explain, on your blog, how this represented an unplanned shift in the status quo.

    More importantly, a barcalounger and remote sounds great.


  32. What I got from this post is that although Historiann would rather not blog about her status as a mother, she respects the folks that read her blog and were planning to meet her enough that, it was worth revealing the event that was important enough to keep her from the Berks. In re-reading the posts you linked to it is clear that motherhood is complicated (in practice and culturally). I respect that you’d like to keep the focus of this blog on your professional life.
    I’m glad your daughter is doing well.


  33. No, nicolec–my intention wasn’t to explain my surprising absence from a conference I’ve been blogging about for the previous 3 years. Clearly I was trying to make other people *feel bad* about their blogging choices!


  34. The result, for me, however, was to feel offended — as a woman, as a professional, and as a mother.

    Oh, nonsense. Historiann hasn’t said a single critical word about women, professionals, OR mothers!

    It sounds MUCH less dramatic, but: you’re feeling offended as a blogger.



  35. One would hope that the Littlest Fambly Scholar would be on the mend, if such a child evah existed.

    Oh, and did you hear tell — Ben is *Glory*. I KNOW.


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