Fifth Anniversary Update: Leah Bradshaw

January 13th, 2014

Since Mama, PhDwas published, much has changed for me. On the mothering front, all the babies have gone. Emma is at the thesis stage of her PhD in Political Theory (same field as her mother), Jacob is in his final year as a theatre arts major at a university far, far away on the east coast of Canada, and Lucy, my youngest, is in her second year of a liberal arts degree, living in an apartment in Toronto with friends, and following in the footsteps of her older sister, waitressing part time in a restaurant to save for a summer trip to Europe. We had a dreadful scare with Lucy a few years ago, when it was discovered that she had a very serious heart condition, requiring a sixteen hour surgery in which doctors built her a new aorta out of gortex. Lucy made a magnificent recovery from this, restored to health by the wizardry of modern medical technology.

I have missed my children terribly, their youthfulness, their energy and their capacity for spontaneity, but I am grateful to be in the university with the surrogate student/children. I continue to teach and write, was promoted to full professor, and was nominated by my graduate students for a mentorship award. I started yet another phase of life, buying a massive old home with my partner Paul, big enough to accommodate the in and out of our combined five adult children and their expanding lives. I brought my elderly parents to live near me, nursed my dad through a final illness, and continue to care for my incorrigible, impressive, matriarchal mother.

As for the combining of mothering and the intellectual life, not much has changed in the way I think about this. I still see it as a kind of tragic scenario. I watch my younger female colleagues struggling in the same way I did, torn between their love and concern for their children, and their commitments to their careers. This past year, we have been bombarded with the ‘lean in’ controversy (Sheryl Sandberg’s advice to women to go for the big jobs, dedicate with zeal and singularity to the competitive ethos), but the Canadian author Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Munro, mother of three girls, lives not far from me, in a small town on the shores of Lake Huron, and her stories are all of the minutiae of intimate and domestic life in small town Ontario. There is a cosmos in each of these stories, attending to the cycles of birth and death, and all the love and torment in between. Monro did not travel to Oslo to accept her Nobel, sending in her place a daughter to accept her award. She is old, and she remarked to the press that when you know that you are going to die soon, you are happier as a spectator on life, than as an active participant. Alice Munro keeps me grounded.

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