Somedays, fieldwork isn't so terrible

In stark contrast to last week's high-emotion interview with a mother who clearly needs a lot of help (I say this not tongue in cheek, but rather, quite sadly), I had a very useful and informative interview today. The mom had been a presenter at one of the group meetings I've attended, and she's one of the few mothers I've met who has kids old enough for the vaccine I initally started studying. She had been a bit flakey about nailing down an appointment time, and I stopped following up, since I feel that if someone wants to do an interview, usually they'll agree to a specific time. I hate harrassing people, and there is often a lot of back and forth emailing, regardless of a participant's willingness.

One issue that I keep hearing (and admittedly this is because I've only interviewed mothers so far) is the women's role in caring for the children. I know this isn't a huge shock, but the ways in which health care decisions or schooling decisions are made is usually quite imbalanced. The mothers tend to decide and then inform their partners/husbands. I realize I was raised in an alternate universe, for the most part, but it's disappointing to me to hear how little many things have changed. (This follows nicely with my last post -- the burden of motherhood and Rebecca Walker's disappointment in her own famous mother.) Most of the moms with whom I speak are fairly unconventional, at least on the surface. I find it fascinating to hear, what seem to be to me, though probably really aren't, the inconsistencies of resisting medical authority and standardized western medicine while still preserving very normative ideas of gender roles in the care of children, for example. Or maybe they don't seem inconsistent and they don't feel problematic to those who experience it. And I certainly don't mean to suggest that choosing to be the caregiver is a lesser choice. What I find intriguing is the process by which decisions are being made in these households. At the same time, I feel that there has been a note of wistfulness or even down-right resentment in many of the mothers' recounting of how health decisions happen in their household. Although one mother seemed to see it as a point of pride, having that level of power was important for her.

Anyway, having this interview in comparison to last week's gave me a bit more hope. I had been feeling so frustrated and disappointed with my work, but when I hear the recurrent themes emerge in an interview, especially when I have to ask relatively few pointed questions, I get a little more than pleased. It's kind of a great way to end the time in LA (soon I will have to update my blogger location) -- and I'm glad that this is how it wraps up.

The CDC struggles will continue, and I will return to LA every month or so for the next few months, so it's not goodbye for good. It's simply an extended hiatus. There are so many things I need to do -- I need to re-envision the project, I need to apply for funding, I need to spend 3 weeks at an institute, honing the last 2 years of focusing on one vaccine so that I can move forward with the rest of the project...I've been avoiding this laundry list, but once the move happens, it's time to be a little more disciplined with regular work hours and extended hours of concentration. I'm starting to feel a little antsy not having read anything in-depth for weeks or thought about long-term plans for the research. Living in the moment has never been my strong suit, even when it's necessary.

Rebecca Walker reflects on motherhood

Rebecca Walker has a piece in Britain's Daily Mail about being raised by a feminist and her subsequent estrangement from her mother.

I found her writing to be extremely moving and compelling, but I think her underlying premise, that her mother's disinterest in mothering is the fault of 2nd wave feminism to be wrong. Her mother, Alice Walker, of The Color Purple fame, among many other important feminist writings, sounds like a typical narcisstic parent. I may be projecting far too much, but I do think artists, especially ones that have had to struggle to get where they are because of racial, economic, gender prejudices, or being undermined by their families or communities, have a tendency to be incredibly egocentric, as parents, as partners, as friends. What saddens me, however, about R. Walkers' interpretation is that she attributes it to her mother's feminism. I think this is too simplistic.

While Alice Walker may have made many bad parenting choices (and I think it's important to try to resist using the term "mothering," as "fathering" has a totally different connotation, and there are central principles that I think mothers and fathers both share as people responsible for children), I think blaming feminism is a serious disservice on Rebecca Walker's part. At the same time, I understand how one might attribute one's parent's philosophical and social practices as the source of the problem for one's childhood, as that is what frames many of their actions. What is clear is that Alice Walker was deeply ambivalent about being a parent, and about being a mother, and Rebecca clearly suffered as a result. I do not think, however, that feminism is the cause.