“My mother the _____ “

I read this beautiful tribute to a mother today: “My Mother the Scientist” by Charles Hirshberg. It’s about his mother, Joan Feynman, who retired about a decade ago as a senior scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

To become a scientist is hard enough. But to become one while running a gauntlet of lies, insults, mockeries, and disapproval—this was what my mother had to do. If such treatment is unthinkable (or, at least, unusual) today, it is largely because my mother and other female scientists of her generation proved equal to every obstacle thrown in their way.

Ms. Feynman is a hero. Her mother told her, when she was eight and enthralled by science (and just shy of our daughter’s age) that “‘Women can’t do science… because their brains can’t understand enough of it.'”

Even after that, Ms. Feynman overcame indignity after indignity and obstacle after obstacle. Institutional and personal sexism. Shortsightedness and utter stupidity, etc. And then in 1971:

“[T]he economy was in recession and NASA’s budget was slashed. My mother was a housewife again. For months, as she looked for work, the severe depression that had haunted her years before began to return.” With no solace even from her rabbi, she told her son “I know you want me here… [b]ut I can either be a part-time mama, or a full-time madwoman.”

Now, I’m not sure how she would define herself subsequent to that (read her bio, read her son’s tribute), but would define her as a full-time mama and full-time scientist. Period.

I asked what a scientist was, and she handed me a spoon. “Drop it on the table,” she said. I let it fall to the floor. “Why did it fall?” she asked. “Why didn’t it float up to the ceiling?” It had never occurred to me that there was a“why” involved. “Because of gravity,” she said. “A spoon will always fall, a hot-air balloon will always rise.” I dropped the spoon again and again until she made me stop. I had no idea what gravity was, but the idea of “Why?” kept rattling around in my head.

A fantastic mama. A fantastic scientist. All. The. Time.

I wrote a post last year in response to another. Mine was called “Why I [Don’t] Regret Being a Stay-at-Home Mom.” Last year, it’s what I was. This year? We’ll move to a new place, I’ll meet new people, and I will introduce myself. As a mother, and a writer. I’m happy for a lot of reasons, lately. But that right there is the best reason.

I still don’t regret having been a full-time mom. It allowed me to be a part-time writer.

I am a mom. And a writer. Wherever I am. It’s fantastic. All. The. Time.

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