Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Elemental MoThEr

Do you know how to tell if someone is a chemist? Ask them to pronounce: unionize. If they say "un-ionize" rather than "union-ize" -- they're a chemist!

How do I see mother? Sometimes it's Mo, Th and Er....

The pressed flower card taped to the wall next to my desk at home is carefully inscribed to "MoThEr" in a scrawl poised somewhere between kindergarten and first grade. I smile as my minds eye produces an image of the often sticky ball of ebullience that is my youngest son. The next time I spy the pink construction paper talisman, Christopher has vanished and in his place is a litany of chemical elements: "Molybdenum, Thorium, Erbium." I have the same sensation as when I look at the women in the classic optical illusion of the young woman and the old. Who do you see in the picture? At any given moment you see only one woman or the other, yet both are always there. The images cannot be separated —no line exists that divides the image of the beautiful woman from the crone. The whole of each is present within the other. You have only to switch your focal point, and the image changes. There is no blurring of the two images, you see one — or the other. This is my life. I am a mother and a professor, my life flicks back and forth between the two personae. Change the focus, and mother becomes Mo, Th, Er.

From an essay I wrote entitled "Elemental MoThEr" collected in Parenting and Professing: Balancing Family Work with an Academic Career (edited by Rachel Hile Bassett, Vanderbilt University Press, 2005) and published this month.

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