“You need a haircut. Your hair is out of control.” That’s not what I expected a student to interject during what I’d hoped was an insightful and informative lecture on the politics of slavery in the antebellum United States. But Lauren (not her real name) had a habit of interrupting with socially inappropriate comments, as students on the autism spectrum are wont to do. Shocked, the other students in the class awaited my response.
Not long ago, I might have subjected Lauren to a withering tirade concerning the gender politics of her remark. But as the mother of a precocious five-year-old, I’ve grown accustomed to dealing with such personal and public challenges to my authority—and I now take them in stride. I’ve developed a thicker skin and, hopefully, a healthy sense of humor. So instead of chastising her, I laughed and said, “Thanks for the observation,” and moved on. Only after class did I take Lauren aside to explain that, while I did need a haircut, it was inappropriate to say so in the middle of the lecture.
I think of small episodes like this whenever I read one of the scores of articles about the difficulties of juggling career and family. The two are often cast as being deeply at odds, and having children generally figures as an obstacle to professional fulfillment.
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