September 13, 2012

On breastfeeding professors

Remember the freak snowstorm we had on the east coast of the US last October? In the leafy town in which I lived, it brought down quite a number of power lines. Almost every house in town was without power, not to mention all the schools, which were closed for almost a week.

Round about Monday evening, when it became clear there would be no school the following day, I tried to figure out what to do about the college composition class I was supposed to be teaching the next morning. I could have easily gotten a babysitter, since the high school was closed, except that no babysitter wanted to come sit with three kids in a 58 degree house, shivering under blankets. Since the power was out around town and the class was early, there was no place for a sitter to take them.

That left two options: 1) cancel class, or 2) bring at least one child with me to class. I was extremely fortunate because (here comes another list): a) I have a co-parent, and b) said co-parent worked across the street from the campus where I taught. We divvied up the children.

He took Lilah because I didn’t want to have to deal with getting a toddler to the bathroom during class. I took Benjamin because we knew he’d be on his best behavior with college kids around but on his worst behavior in an office building. Zach took a book and went with his father. I packed up some Legos and some Cheerios and off we went.

To the credit of my department chair, when I had emailed asking if this would be OK, she responded immediately that she had been known to bring a kid to class when no other options were available. To the credit of my students, they said “hi” to Ben, smiled at him, and then proceeded to be as interested in supporting evidence as college kids are capable of being at 8 AM. To the credit of my son, he played with Legos for most of the class except for the ten minutes he ate Cheerios.

The situation wasn’t ideal, but we all rolled with it because, hey, people have kids. It is what it is. When class was over, I cancelled office hours, and drove over to my husband’s office building to pick up the rest of my children. By the next class meeting, New Jersey Power and Light – or whatever they’re called – had fixed our power but not the schools’. I got a sitter.

What would I have done if I had been a single mother with an infant and no support system nearby? Probably exactly what Adrienne Pine did. Is a baby more distracting than a five-year-old? Sure. Does that mean that single parents shouldn’t be allowed to teach college classes until their children grow up old enough to eat Cheerios and play with Legos?

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  • Reply Devon September 13, 2012 at 1:12 am

    If you don’t want me bringing my kid to class on the rare occasion when it’s absolutely necessary, give me vacation days and/or sick days. I realize that teachers and professors have lots of “free time” throughout the academic year (oh wait, that’s the time when I’m not actually employed but when I’m still expected to be writing and showing up for admissions events) due to being 9-month employees, so we don’t really need vacation/sick days. However, until my kid being sick, school being closed, etc. all magically lines up with my “free time,” you may just have to put up with me showing up with kid in tow. And honestly, somehow I imagine that aside from the possible exposure of a female nipple, my efforts at feeding the baby a bottle are going to be far more of a distraction than someone breastfeeding.

    And finally, my comments above don’t even begin to capture what the majority of college professors (who are adjuncts and thus without even the benefits that I get) probably deal with.

  • Reply Anjali September 13, 2012 at 1:27 am

    How infuriating. She brought a sick child to class. Who cares? And why does the breast-feeding change that?

  • Reply magpie September 13, 2012 at 1:47 am

    i brought my kid to work every day until she turned 8 1/2 months old, at which time we moved out of the city. and since then, i’ve brought her to work from time to time, because it’s actually nice for everyone – her, me, and my office. it’s a good thing, actually. it’s humanizing. it’s real.

  • Reply Melanie September 13, 2012 at 3:08 am

    I don’t think there should be an issue at all about what or how she fed her child at work, but I do sort of take issue that its necessarily ok to take our kid to work with us. Is this just ok in a professor role? What about my son’s second grade teacher, should she be allowed to bring her ill child to the school? Would it be ok if my kids pediatrician brought his baby in the room during my child’s checkup? Should the single mom working the checkout lane at Target get to bring her baby? When I was in college there were on occasion, cancelled classes and I would have expected the Professor to do just that, parents make these tough decisions all the time, and if her students were noticing the paperclip, then to me that might mean they were taking more notice of the baby than of the lecture taking place anyhow. Yes I realize we need more resources for working parents, undoubtably, and yes its ridiculous that the only reason this became a story was become of the method of food delivery, but I can see how just by her presence alone the baby could have been a significant distraction.

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