Back from a long, jam-packed three days in Seattle, where I both talked about my book, and heard people's stories, most of my readings and events being times for us to talk aloud in public. Here are some of the more poignant moments, good and bad.
At a reading last wednesday night at Third Place Books in Ravenna, a new mother was there who had recently moved to the US from Vancouver. She was shell-shocked, not just because she was the mother of an infant, but because she couldn't believe the lack of support for mothers in the U.S. And she wasn't just talking about general, informal support. She was referring to solid things like paid family leave, and state-supported daycare. When a few days later I was in Vancouver and some of the islands of the coast, I found the same thing among mothers who had moved back and forth between Canada and the US--a sense of shock at the difference.
At a luncheon I did last thursday at the University of Washington Law School, I learned lots about how women in their twenties are doing motherhood. I was surprised, because when I was a graduate student, there were no women at Duke law school who were pregnant. Yet, things have changed, and women headed for a professional track no longer feel that to succeed they must put off childrearing till they've acheived professional success. I think this sense of entitlement will be part of what fuels change (and more on this, later). At UW, I learned that 10% of the students enter with kids, and by the third year, 20% of the students have children (this includes men and women). During my talk, someone referred to the remote room, and after, the organizer of the talk brought me to see it. When the new law school was built several years back, it was designed so that every classroom is high tech and wired for video and sound. On the second floor, there is a room filled with four stations, each with headphones and a TV monitor, where students can watch and listen to the lectures. So, if they need to breastfeed, or they have infants, or their daycare falls through, they can sit there, with kids, and still see and hear the lecture. There are two lactation rooms, one with a monitor, and plans are underway to install a hospital grade pump, so that nursing students need only bring their own tubes, and they can nurse quicker and faster than ever. There are some cribs, a small bed and toys, a refrigerator and some other kitchen appliances. What struck me is how easy it is to make student-parents feel welcome, and to do something so simple that immeasurably improves their lives. What struck me, too, is how it helps student-parents feel a sense of community and support, rather than the marginality and isolation they feel elsewhere. Kudos to the University of Washington Law School for setting such an amazing example.