Whereas I am grateful to have a few dozen books and a thousand or so individual bits and pieces published, the most splendid parts of my life have nothing to do with my vocation. Rather, the greatest goodness I’ve experience, b’ayin tova, comes from: being married, being a mom, being a grandmom, being religious, and dwelling in Jerusalem.
The mom part of my life, among my treasures, has been front and center for decades. I have two sons and two daughters (to whom I refer, in my writing, respectively, as; “Missy Older,” “Older Dude,” “Missy Younger,” and “Younger Dude”).
I value being a mama so much that to embrace that role, I gave up my scholarship. I chose to leave behind my career despite the fact that my academic standing was not easily earned. I had been a professor during a time when misogyny was as acceptable as were station wagons, and when gals, like me, who believed in job equality, in social ethics, and in the abominable snowman, constituted an endangered species.
Regardless of the many kinds of nonsense concomitant to universities, professional accolades came my way, anyway, BH. I had a scholarly book in print. I spent a summer at Princeton University under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Humanities. I built a modest reputation (as evidenced by the invitations I received to present and to critique both conference papers and journal articles) for my work in communication ethics. Nonetheless, I left those experiences behind to parent my children - there were plenty of professors to go around, but my kids had only one mama.
I was (and still am) an “intentional mama.” I saw small utility in trying to conform to “status quo” strictures just because “everyone” did so. On balance, I saw small utility in being antiestablishment just to create an identity. Rather, I worked to be purposeful about my choices whether they were typical or not.
More specifically, three of my children were born at home, deliberately. All four of them were nursed from infancy through toddlerhood. When not chasing those rascals around parks and playgrounds, I studied herbal medicine and used it to provide care for my family and for a very limited number of friends. Yet, we had regular well-baby and healthy-child appointments with doctors, and the kids got schlepped to emergency rooms when necessary.
As well, the child born in the hospital came into the world there because that location was the best option for that birth.
I taught my kids to think critically, too, particularly about vital issues. Although which flavor of candy they ate was immaterial to me, whether or not they elected to eat sweets, at any particular event, was worth teaching them to cogitate over. Similarly, it was valuable for them to become accustomed to thinking about how we sourced food and why we made use (or not) of various sorts of entertainment. To wit, when my boys and girls were small, we joined a local, cooperative farm, where we gloried in the basil fields. Likewise, we swam in a repurposed quarry. As well, we dug up our suburban lawn and planted wild flowers where fertilizer-hogging grass once grew. Because behaviors have undergirding justifications, I taught my kids to consider the foundations of their deeds.
Being an intentional mama helped to transform me into an “intentional academic.” My learned peers were dismayed by my “new” research findings, such as the ones proving that the “sanctity” of pregnancy loss is shaded by misnomers perpetuated by individuals and institutions financially invested in the processes of gestation and labor, that is, that profit-making institutions and individuals invalidate women’s experiences of pregnancy loss in order to assure those institutions and individuals’ future profits. Additionally, my human communication colleagues were scandalized by the fact that I had begun to run student-centric courses (rather than ego-based, instructor-centric ones), and that I meant to empower, not to stymie, all of the undergraduates and graduate students that came my way. Furthermore, as an alternative to continuing to write about the history of communication ethics, or continuing to suss out heuristics for determining the morality of interpersonal diction, I turned my research efforts, which were not being applied to revealing the problems perpetuated by hospitals and doctors in the communication of pregnancy loss, to the examination of problems inherent in poorly defined boundaries in teacher/student discourse.
Since I had become an “intentional academic,” I no longer fit in the academy. Accordingly, I weaned myself from tenure ambitions, choosing, instead, to work part-time and, eventually, to teach private, continuing education-styled writing workshops. In spite of those self-imposed limitations on my hours and on my content, my students, nevertheless, went on to become lawyers, published writers, public relations experts, and, most importantly, human beings who embraced accountability.
Beyond becoming an intentional academic, I became an “intentional creative writer.” More exactly, where I formerly fashioned flowery vignettes about woodlands or about “days of old,” I started to piece together narratives about downtrodden persons and about self-discovery. Over time, my brief fictions featured fewer and fewer idealistic dating and mating scenarios and more and more instances of child abuse, of rape, and other unfortunate collective “artifacts.” I worked from the principle that we can’t make corrections if we’re oblivious to faults. I wanted my writing to trumpet society’s faults.
Meanwhile, I told my kids to slow down. They ignored me. In no time at all, they ran past their teens into their twenties. They dared to shed their childhoods, to make sure that there would be no more diapers in my house, exclusive of those generated by their children or by others of my very young visitors.
For a time, there were increasing numbers of diplomas passing through my halls, but those certificates, too, became historical objects as my children not only grew up, but also grew in their professions. At this point, one’s a high school teacher, another’s an intern in a law office, a third is studying government and sustainability (oxymoronic, no?), and a fourth is counting down to emancipation.
At least the legacy of my children’s youth still aids me in being an intentional creative writer. I still shake off automatic tendencies to invest in existent cultural perspectives as I still take responsibility for my words. I continue to poke at seeping themes, to use a strong voice to address ugly issues, and to employ nuance and humor to bring readers to conversations that are distasteful, but necessary. Thanks to my kids, conscientiousness continues to be a large part of my writing.
The best parts of my life do derive from my personal goings-on. The next best parts, including my creative work, too, derive from those moments.