The Road, Taken

September 8, 2011

Before I became a mom, I was an academic. During my pregnancy with Emilia, I was scrambling to finish my PhD – and teaching, and preparing papers for conferences, and applying for jobs – but even though I was acting as though I was preparing for my future as a Tenured Professor and Professional Smartypants, I was really pretty certain that once the baby came, I was going to slow my pace on that path. I was maybe going to circle right off of that path. I wasn’t sure. All I knew was, I didn’t see myself in the future that had been laid out for me at that point. I loved my research, but I didn’t see myself on departmental committees, I didn’t see myself teaching massive undergraduate seminars, I didn’t see myself dragging my husband and children around to the remote liberal arts colleges that would be the only places hiring professors of political philosophy, and probably not even tenure-track professors at that. I was headed elsewhere. I knew that much.

What I didn’t know at the time was that I was headed for social media. I was also headed for New York.

I wasn’t headed there directly, obviously. I had a ways to travel, down the road of mommy blogging, which was a road that I didn’t even know existed until some weeks after Emilia was born. But when I discovered it, I knew immediately that it was my road. Part of that had to do with the fact that it was – crazy, this – in line with my academic work. I’d been writing about mothers and the family in the history of political thought. I’d been writing about how motherhood and family life had been defined as fundamentally private, and effectually closed off from public discourse, except insofar as that discourse – directed by men – occasionally considered the private life of the family relevant to the public life of the state. Mom blogs took that private world and made it public. My mind – my academic mind – was kind of blown.

But the other part of the picture – the other reason why that road – this road – seemed almost inevitable – is this: I was always fascinated by how and why communities formed, and what made strong communities – strong networks, strong relationships – strong, and mom blogging and social media and motherhood itself brought this fascination to a head. And it brought it to a head in a way that brought me – previously the detached, academic observer – right into the action. I could live in this world that so fascinated me. I could even drive it forward.

My motherhood, in other words, became the key determinant in the re-routing of my career path. My motherhood – my experience of becoming a mother, and the radical reorientation of relationships and attachments and priorities that went along with that experience – was what made all the difference. And not just in what I wanted to do – but in what I was able to do. Motherhood – and its imperatives to connect, not just with one’s own children, but with one’s family and support networks and the community at large – drew me out of my garret and compelled me to expand the networking skills that had previously been limited in their exercise to the academic world. And it brought me, flush from exercising those underworked muscles, to other parents, and to social media.

And now to New York. I’m moving my family to New York City – a far cry from the tiny college towns that I hitherto contemplated – to lead some new and exciting projects at Babble (which is, in the opinion of my iVillage editor, ‘the mothership.’ Which means that I’m maybe not so much moving down as… beaming up?) Which is to say, I’m taking all of my academic experience (which, wouldn’t you know it, includes, in addition to philosophic work on motherhood and the family, extensive work in communications theory and at least one thesis-length inquiry into the Internet as a medium for building discursive communities. It’s like I was planning this all along) and my social media experience and my motherhood experience and bringing them all together and using them to, you know, really do something. Something very cool. (Of course, everything that I’ve been doing has been really cool, but this another order of cool. An order of cool wherein I no longer wear my pajamas to work. That’s huge, you guys.)

It’s a road that, as I said, seems to have been, in some ways, inevitable. But it’s also a road that has depended upon the synergy of a million separate decisions and indecisions, not the least of which was my decision to become a mother, and to embrace my motherhood wholeheartedly, and to reach out through that motherhood to see where in the world it would carry me.

It’s a road gladly taken. I encourage you to keep your eyes open for your own such roads. They’re hard to spot at first, but they’re there, and they’re awesome.

This is cross-posted, with a few minor revisions, at iVillage Canada, where I was a columnist, for a time, but for no longer, because I am – as I’ve explained amply above – leaving Canada. You can read my archives at that column here. As for what happens from here on out, well, I’ll still be HERE-here. The Internet knows no borders, y’all. YOU CAN’T GET RID OF ME THAT EASILY.


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    Team Suzanne September 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    Fascinating. You are truly lucky to have your personal and professional selves converge in such a manner, so that they are mutually supporitive and, well, inextricable. As I’m sure you don’t need to be reminded, so many millions of women struggle to reconcile two or more selves that are at odds with each other–demands of work and home that feel not inextricable, but mutually exclusive and at odds with one another. Played on a field where time is a zero sum nightmare.

    Best of luck in your move and blabber. I’m new to your blog, but so far I enjoy your content and your liberal use of dashes–a personal favorite of mine. I look forward to following your NYC adventures.

    Her Bad Mother September 8, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    Oh, believe me, I do know how fortunate I am. My movement away from academia was driven, in part, by my understanding that it would likely cause my selves to diverge (my advisor said to me, when I was pregnant, that I was about to discover the tension between putting my best intellectual energies into teaching other peoples’ children and wanting to put those energies into alignment with my heart, and the inevitable desire to be with – and teach – my own children.)

    I was fortunate that I had the resources to explore a different path – or, more accurately, to make my own. Not everyone is able to do that, I know.

    Team Suzanne September 9, 2011 at 9:21 am

    You making your own path is a reminder, though–that we can make our own path. Certainly not always, but probably more often than we think.

    andrea from the fishbowl September 8, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    Congratulations! I think it’s amazing. I love reading about women who are able to find (and follow!) those paths and pursue their passions. Just fab.

    Angella September 8, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    I am so, so excited for you, my friend. I can’t wait to see where the road takes you next.

    Roberta September 8, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Wow! Earth-shaking, amazing, fabulous news. Congratulations. You and your family are going to *excel* at New York. Especially that precocious Emilia, star of wonder that she is. I was riveted by your writing and the thinks you were thinking the first time I clicked over here. Thank you.

    Rachael September 8, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    Hey, welcome to NYC! And the UWS is a *great* place to raise kids.

    zchamu September 8, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    You continually blow me away, like, every day. xo.

    Adventures In Babywearing September 8, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    I have to say I am not surprised at your success, I love that you are heading this way, and am really in awe, total excitement for you. And also did you just say y’all?!



    Mother Ruckus September 8, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    How exciting! Kudos to you! New York, New York, a whole new world of possibilities!

    amy turn sharp September 8, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    yahooooo for you all. How exciting. I will hope to see you more love. I get to the city a couple times a year. I think you are the bees knees. xx

    Her Bad Mother September 9, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    aw, shucks!

    xo :)

    Brenna @ Almost All The Truth September 8, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    Congratulations in finding the path that brings your two selves together so seamlessly. I can only hope for myself, and all other mothers, that we can all find our own paths when we are ready. I find it fascinating to look at the road I was on pre-kids and the road I am on now and try to reconcile how they will eventually merge. Best of luck on the move!

    Jill @BabyRabies September 8, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    How exciting! I’m giddy for you. And I’m inspired. I just wrote this week about how I’m giving myself permission to take all this blogging and social media stuff more seriously because I actually think this is the road I was meant to be on all along. I can’t wait for updates from NYC! I’ll try not to let the jealousy make me hate you :)

    Tanya H September 9, 2011 at 1:12 am

    I’m blown away by the amount of ‘pride’ I feel FOR you. I can’t think of a better word. I would give you a high five in person–or perhaps just a congratulatory hug. Go forth and represent!

    To have been your own conductor of this incredible symphony of your past/present and future lives. To create something where there was seemingly nothing before. Inspiring.

    I’ve never seen mentioned what your husband does for work–I can only hope that the doors are swung WIDE open for him as well. Felicitations!

    Her Bad Mother September 9, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Kyle makes TV commercials. I hear that there’s something of a TV/ad industry in NYC :)

    red pen mama September 9, 2011 at 9:12 am

    So cool. I am so excited and happy for you. You have always been one of my favorite voices, and you are one of the reasons that I started my own blogging and social media journey more than four years ago. And now… Well, NYC isn’t THAT far away from Pittsburgh. :)

    Good luck to you in your travels. God bless.

    agirlandaboy September 9, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Thank you for being a driving force all these years. And welcome to America!

    misstraceynolan September 9, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Excellent post, and a great reminder to all of us that our paths aren’t always what we thought they were going to be. Enjoy NYC and all your new and wonderful challenges. Hurrah for synergy!

    Alexicographer September 9, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Congratulations, this seems like a wonderful opportunity for you and I have no doubt you’ll use it wisely :) .

    At the same time I find myself a bit miffed by your claim that you’ve chosen a path that brings together your personal and professional interests thereby allowing you to embrace motherhood wholeheartedly. This goes beyond @Team Suzanne’s point, above; it’s not just about what’s possible, but about what’s desirable (for any given mother-kid pairing). I believe I’ve embraced my motherhood wholeheartedly, but I’ve done so in a way that includes keeping my professional interests, activities, and expertise happily discrete. Your claim to me implies (though it does not state) that this is not possible — that my embrace of motherhood is less wholehearted than yours.

    Her Bad Mother September 9, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    I *totally* didn’t mean to imply that any arrangement other than my own would involve a less wholehearted embrace of motherhood (that would, after all, suggest that beyond the narrow scope of the path that I’ve established for myself, no mother could consider herself wholeheartedly involved.) And my point was actually a little different – it’s not that this path has allowed me to embrace motherhood wholeheartedly (some would argue – wrongly, I think, but still – that leaving my work-at-home arrangement, whereby I spend lots of time with my kids, to work outside the home, where I will almost certainly spend less time with them, represents a slackening of that embrace), but that embracing motherhood wholeheartedly (and what that looked like for me) contributed centrally to the flowering of the skills and interests that led me down this path.

    I’ve no doubt that I could have stayed on my academic career path and been equally as ‘wholehearted’ about my motherhood – I just wouldn’t have been on the career path that made me happiest, personally. Not because it didn’t involve some crossover with my interest in parenthood (as I note above, it actually did), and not because it wouldn’t have allowed me to spend lots of time with my kids (I’d probably have more time; summers off!), but because it didn’t draw upon the full complement of my talents and interests.

    Lisa September 19, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    My friend, you are looking to be miffed.

    HER path brings together HER personal and professional interests thereby allowing HER to embrace HER PERSONAL EXPERIENCE AND WISHES FOR HER OWN MOTHERHOOD wholeheartedly.

    Her claim has nothing to do with you. I suggest the possibility that you have some sensitivities or insecurities about your own choice – or maybe someone else is giving you heat? or maybe you’re just having a bad day? – since you seem to think her comments were aimed at you or anyone who made different choices.

    I, for one, have never embraced motherhood so wholeheartedly as when I got a break from my beloved child in the from of preschool. Works for me, just like HBM’s path works for her.

    Vive la difference!

    Alexicographer September 9, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    Catherine — thanks for replying. And yes, fair enough. I’ve read you long enough, and feel I “know” you well enough, that I did not imagine you meant to suggest that, but it does seem to me implicit in at least one reading of your words. And I enjoy discussing this stuff with you so figured I’d go ahead and grumble about that (possible) interpretation even as I did not imagine it was one you had intended.

    I look forward to reading about your experiences in NYC and of this different work-life intersection you’ll be managing now that you are not, you know, in your pajamas.

    Joanne September 10, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Congratulations on taking this step. The Academy holds me in its arms while I work towards completion of my PhD. My own work is grounded in social media communities (my Masters was on mom bloggers, my dissertation will be on communities recovering after disaster and how social media can better support their efforts). We have much in common – mothers who blog can and will change the world. :)

    MainlineMom aka Sarah September 10, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    Wow, congratulations and welcome to the U.S! Sounds like a job you are very wonderfully suited for. I like the idea that Babble is hiring a veteran mom blogger…one of us.

    Kristen September 11, 2011 at 10:41 am

    Best of luck to you on this journey. Your voice and passion are so fierce and inspiring, and I am one of the many who are excited to see where this all takes you.

    I am also one who knows a bit about that choice between an academic career that one has worked and planned for and then…something else, something completely different and unexpected. I’m writing the last chapter of my dissertation while pregnant with my third child, and I’m only finishing it for the sake of finishing it. I’ve already chosen another path, a path informed both by my philosophical commitments and by my particular experience of motherhood. You story makes me even more excited to see just how I end up fashioning my own career, no matter how different it is from what I thought I’d be doing ten years ago.

    Tina C. September 11, 2011 at 11:52 am

    lucky you. i’d love to live in manhattan. i’d love to be able to afford to live in manhattan… you will ENJOY!

    Chantal September 12, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Congratulations Catherine. Well deserved. Can’t wait to read about all your adventures. I have always dreamed of living in NYC (thank you Sesame Street).

    Michelle Horton September 12, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    Hi Catherine. I’m so happy to hear you’re working at Babble! I worked in the Babble offices for a few months before switching over to full-time freelance writing for Babble. (I also write for two of their blogs, so hopefully we’ll be working together now!) It’s an incredible team there, and such a fun work environment. I hope to meet you when I stop in some time! (Maybe you can nudge them to have a big welcome party for you. I’d love to get all the Babble bloggers + editors together again! :) )

    Amy September 13, 2011 at 9:16 am

    My comment here is going to be almost completely selfish because I’ve told you in person how amazing I think this is. But Canada is going to miss you. I am going to miss you. I will miss knowing you’re right around the corner, always interested in talking about motherhood over eggs in a tiny, greasy diner. So thanks for all of those friendly and all too brief coffee and breakfast dates. (Your post is also inspiring to me in that I have recently begun to feel as though I’m on my own road, at last. It feels GOOD, doesn’t it?)

    Lisa September 19, 2011 at 10:51 pm

    You’re an academic! This makes so much sense now. No wonder your posts are so long. ;-)

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