Thursday, March 13, 2014

The youngest conference attendee

The biggest regional conference in my field (TESOL Arabia) is going on right now in Dubai. I am presenting there on Saturday. Today, I headed over to catch a few sessions.

And I took baby Sterling with me.

I know, I know, maybe you're thinking I'm one of THOSE PEOPLE. I thought long and hard and seriously about it before I did it. I came to the conclusion that Sterling is still a nursing infant unaccustomed to being away from me, and I told myself I would take him out of any session if he made more of a disturbance than, say, a mobile phone buzzing during a presentation. The choice seemed to be go with Sterling, or not go at all, which technically made me bringing my baby to a conference the more professional option, not the unprofessional one.

And it was all smiles and sunshine at first - everyone I met through the picking-up-packet process was kind as could be, kidding me about Sterling being the youngest attendee, etc. But then I walked through one credential checkpoint and an employee of the hotel where the conference is hosted pulled me aside and said that children were not allowed to enter.

I may have actually looked from side to side to confirm that he was talking to ME. The one holding the tiny baby-in-arms. He was. And he was serious. He very nicely asked me to wait so he could call the conference organizer to speak with me about the no-kids policy.

She (the organizer) informed me that 1. this was a professional conference, not a crèche; and 2. it was for paying participants only, which Sterling technically was not. She felt that if she let me in with my baby, other people would wonder why they couldn't bring their kids with them, and so on. She said she didn't know where to draw the line, so she was drawing it at zero. I suggested that maybe she could draw the line at, say, nursing babies? Maybe? We went back and forth on this issue for a few minutes. I totally understood where she was coming from. And fortunately, she understood where I was coming from and eventually let me in, somewhat reluctantly.

As I walked into the venue proper, an attendee at a nearby stall who had seen the whole thing go down surreptitiously offered me a spare credential so that if anyone else gave me trouble, Sterling was now officially a "paying participant."

Not only that, but completely by chance I ran into a friend at the first session who took Sterling out in the hall for me so I could attend for an hour or so without worrying about him making noise. What a blessing.

What do you think about all this? Was I wrong to bring Sterling in the first place? What is the proper policy for situations like this? On the one hand, I see the organizer's point that it's an event for adults and it simply wouldn't do to have small children running amok. However, I am a legitimate participant in this conference and by shutting my baby out, you shut me out. I'm so sure this woman is tired of being the poster mom for people like me, but: Licia Ronzulli brings her baby to work at the EU Parliament. Just sayin'.

Do we as a society lose something when we expect mothers and their nursing infants to stay tucked away, out of sight, absent from the professional activities of their field?


27 comments:

Liz Johnson said...

YES, we absolutely lose something when we expect mothers and their young children to be invisible. It's ridiculous. I'm so glad you went with him, and so glad that they let him in. It's not unreasonable at all to allow NURSING INFANTS to remain with their mothers. Heck, I'm militant enough to say that you would be find to nurse him as you sat in the conference (and even during your presentation, but hey, I'm one of those people, I guess). Motherhood, and especially breastfeeding, should not preclude people from activities. AT ALL. Period. Babies are people, too, and it's totally possible to be professional with a baby as it is without one (following the guidelines you proposed, like taking him out if he was too fussy, etc.).

I wonder when society moved away from having children visible in the workplace. You still see it sometimes (women having their children with them as they run stores), but it's so rare. Why is that? When did it happen? There's hardly even "bring your kid to work day" anymore. Why? I'm so curious.

Jeremy Palmer said...

Bridget, you were totally right on. Good job.

Bridget said...

Given that Sterling is in the pop-on, pop-off stage of nursing, I'm not such a fan of nursing during my presentation, ha ha. It would not be a pretty sight. But agreed on the rest!

Nancy said...

I agree with Liz. I'm about to get ranty...so that's all I'll say. :)

Alanna said...

I just got in an argument this weekend with my father-in-law (of all people!) about this! He was unhappy that two women had nursed their babies while he was doing their taxes for them. Now, I certainly would not want to feed my baby while sitting in a tax consultant's office, but if the baby was hungry, what other option is there???

His claim that he was "old fashioned" was met with me hollering that breastfeeding was as old fashioned as it gets! As old as the human race!!!!

You go, girl!

kaylee said...

This is right on: "The choice seemed to be go with Sterling, or not go at all, which technically made me bringing my baby to a conference the more professional option, not the unprofessional one."

Some of the science conferences I went to had babysitting at the conference. I think you had to pay for it. I didn't have kids at the time, but I do remember thinking how strange it would be to leave your kid with a total stranger.

Caz said...

Long time lurker here - I have been enjoying your blog for years and this post really resonated with me as I have 10 week old girl who is b/f. I am afraid I have to disagree with you on this one. I started a new job six weeks before I went on maternity leave and I found it particularly frustrating that my new colleagues only wanted to talk about the fact I was pregnant - not what my professional skills and experiences were - but the fact I was growing a human (don't even get me started on how people felt the need to comment on my physical appearance). This approach was in stark contrast to the way the other two people who started at the same time were treated. My point is that being pregnant was a non-issue in the working environment for me as I presented myself as a qualified professional, but became an issue as everyone kept banging on about it! I can't speak for how you were perceived at your conference, but if I saw you, I would see you as "the weird woman with the baby" and not the professional I am sure you are. Secondly, Licia cited above I think actually did a massive disservice to new mothers. In her rush to return to work, she undermined the principle of maternity leave. Here I talk from a European perspective where you get a minimum of 6 weeks but usually take 3-12 months. The message she sent was that maternity leave wasn't really necessary, which ups the pressure on women to return to the workplace before they want/need to. In the UK there is growing hostility to maternity leave, and in a bad economy, women are often forced back into the workplace to keep their jobs. We should be striving to be like Scandinavia which recognises the importance of the 1st year of a child's life (and the role BOTH parents should play in their development). Finally, the UK's favourite debate is b/f versus formula - if you made it about nursing mothers, the formula gang would go nuts. I am attending a two day training course next month at work - will I take my daughter? No - I will express and enlist my husband (who will take time off work) to care for our child. At work I am a professional, who happens to have children; I am paid to be that professional and with that pay comes decent maternity leave and flexible working. I guess my point is that I actively want these spheres to be separate. Apologies, I realise I just wrote an essay - but your post really made me think!

Crys said...

Don't hate me, but I probably lean toward I wouldn't take a baby with me. For me personally I'm just not able to concentrate on anything fully when my kids are with me, which explains why I haven't heard anything in sacrament meeting in nine years. Plus I sort of agree with the organizers...where do you draw the line. I'm sure there had to be other participants who had to jump through weird child care hoops as well. Like I said, don't hate me. I totally understand why you took him because I take my little ones everywhere with me but I also totally see her point and lean toward it. I like the idea of having babysitting at the conference. Then mothers and fathers could pop out to check on kids or feed them and then pop back in. I think that is one of main ways that we could make working easier on both mothers and fathers....good quality affordable childcare close at hand...the kind that you could slip over to quickly and back to work quickly. SO I realize your actual job and a conference are different things, but speaking of taking your baby to work, at my mom's school last year the assistant principal who also taught 5th grade in the afternoon had her husband drop her baby off at school so that she could watch him while she was teaching and he was taking a class. When the situation finally came to light the assistant principal defended her actions by saying that the class had a special bond with her child and the baby wasn't a distraction at all. Of course this didn't fly with the district folk but I think the interesting thing to note is the person who turned her in was another fifth grade teacher and she told my mom that the reason she did it is that she had a baby at home as well and just felt it was unfair that this other teacher was using her position to gain a special favor for herself that she couldn't have. It was seriously crazy town there for a few weeks. Good luck on your presentation tomorrow! Throw up you slides or something so we can all enjoy them!

Bridget said...

Maybe you should show him these "old fashioned" pictures of women breastfeeding in church and while crossing the plains. :)

here

here

Bridget said...

Ooh, babysitting at the conference could have been nice. I heard from a fellow attendee that there was a husband/wife co-presenting team and they had their baby with them while they presented. I think they traveled here from another country so yeah, what could they do? Conference babysitting could have worked for them.

Bridget said...

And your comment really made me think! I appreciated your point of view as well. I do wonder, however, if you would see me as "the weird woman with the baby" if this thing were slightly more normalized. If in lower-key professional (like conference) situations women with nursing babies were more common, it wouldn't be weird anymore, right?

I still remember the great joy I felt when I went back to an MA and then work when my youngest (pre-Sterling) was 2 and then 3 years old. It felt so great to be, as you said, a professional who happens to have children. I'm not sure why I have swung back in the other direction. I think that mothers (and fathers!) can have a more positive experience in the workplace when we are more open, not less, about the fact that we have families who demand our time.

Which brings me to your comment about the Italian woman at the EU Parliament. I confess I had not seen her actions in that light. I recall when Marissa Mayer did not take a maternity leave from being CEO of Yahoo and I was horrified at the precedent that set.

Anyway, just thoughts. Thanks for yours.

Bridget said...

Yes, I see your point as well as the conference organizer's. I don't know the right answer. I'm just glad I was able to attend yesterday, and glad that I present on a Saturday so that Jeremy can hang out with Sterling near the venue.

Nancy said...

Andrew and I were talking about that last night. It's very difficult to take maternity leave when you're an elected official (ie. voting). When people have chosen you to represent them for a specific number of years, it's difficult to then "appoint" someone to fill the gap while you go off on maternity leave.

I think that's different from regular employment, though she does say that women should have the choice on how soon they want to return to work and that they should be supported in their choice (whether it's 48 hours or 1 year or somewhere in between) and that she made hers. She also seems to support children in the workplace—because families aren't invisible (or shouldn't be).

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/sep/24/licia-ronzulli-baby-parliament

Liz Johnson said...

HA! That might be a bit distracting, yes. I think you could pull it off in some rural, less-developed settings, but probably not at that conference. :)

Alanna said...

I seriously thought about it! I had just been looking at the link you'd had on your outsourced page that same day we had the argument!

Eevi said...

I think you should allowed to go to a professional setting with an infant. Of course if that mother/infant duo would cause problems with noisiness or whatever, the organizer should have the right to ask the mother to leave (until the infant is not a distraction) but I feel like you should be "innocent until proven guilty" of being a problem just because you have a child with you.

Alli E. said...

Just one interesting point. Mothers are not allowed to bring any babies, including nursing infants to BYU Women's Conference...

Bridget said...

Ooh, that is very interesting! I wonder how that policy came about and what their rationale is.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

I know what BYU's rationale is. How many hundreds of LDS women would show up w/ a nursing baby? Probably several hundred. It just wouldn't work.

Cait said...

And to defend Marissa Meyer, she didn't take a long maternity leave because she had a nursery in her office practically -- her baby was with her at work, and when not with her at work, with her husband at home (I think Sheryl Sandberg mentions in her book that he was a SAHD). If I had the privilege of having my baby with me at my office, or the option of leaving the baby at home with my partner, I wouldn't take a lot of time off either if I was needed in a position such as hers. I was horrified at first, but when Sandberg laid it out, it made much more sense.

And maybe it does undermine the need for maternity leave, but no one in the US cares about that anyways.

Bridget said...

Your last sentence FTW.

Alli E. said...

That is probably true Suzanne! The sheer amount of babies that would be there-woah! Ha ha!

Cait said...

Ok, prepare for my long rant. Ready? Good.

There is absolutely no reason why you shouldn't be able to bring a nursing, non-mobile infant to a conference. Ok, maybe there are a few reasons, but I think you nailed it with so many of your points about why you should bring him. You were a participant of the conference (heck, you were a presenter!) and Sterling would be taken out if distracting others... and right on that your friend took him for a while (he or she was probably happy for the break from the conference... those things can get long). It is so irritating to me this work/family divide in our society. At BYU, Tim took Atticus to class for at least a year. Finally, his professor asked him to not do it anymore, not because he cared, but because another student complained. We were cool with it because he was like 14 months or something and walking all over the classroom, and looking back he was probably getting a little old for it. BUT, a nursing baby is another issue entirely. I took Atticus to every class for the semester after he was born. Mind you, this is BYU, which is proclaimed to be much worse for mothers/fathers since there are so many of them, but my professor loved it. He loved it, the class loved it, the situation was perfect all around. I nursed him discretely, took him out to change when needed, stood up in the back and bounced him occasionally. I was able to be a participating member of the class (I got an A!) and I was able to normalize breastfeeding and mothering as a student for 20 of my fellow students. Now, this is BYU so a different story than UW. But I would not hesitate to take a baby to my seminars here should I have another. Tallulah was just getting at the age where she was crawling and moving about when I started back to school and since Tim was able to be home with her full-time I never took her to classes. I did take her to a conference presentation once, which turned out sour and made me all huffy. Every time I hear this scholar's name mentioned or read it, I can't help but think of how she stopped her presentation until I left the room with Tallulah. Her awkward long pause was more distracting than my quiet exit with a slightly disruptive baby (I think she was maybe quietly babbling).

I loved our meetings when I worked at WIC. Babies weren't allowed at work because of health reasons (germy kids and they didn't want our babies getting pertussis or something) even though some WIC offices do let workers bring their babies, but all babies/toddlers under a year were welcome at all of our meetings. The best part was all of the attention fawned on the babies, but also they proved to be useful props on occasion with giving presentations (I once taught a class on baby-wearing so the other employees could show new moms about it, and used my friend Camila's newborn as my model). I loved seeing all the babies crawling and toddling around, and because it was normal, they could make noise and nurse and play and it wasn't distracting and our meetings were just as productive as if they weren't there! This was a great example to me of how to integrate work/family balance in a productive way. It is a unique workplace (one I miss so terribly!) but it works so well.

Our office parties every fall and Christmas are also attended by the kids (or just younger babies, in the case of the Christmas party, it's a bit more formal) of the professors and students. I always thought that was cool.


Cait said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cait said...

And I do not think we can turn this into "but I formula feed so I leave my baby at home so why can't you" because when you're the one who supplies your baby's nourishment, and said baby won't take a bottle (*cough cough* both of my babies), then you can't just jaunt away for several days as easy as that. But I also think if a formula-feeding mom wants to bring her small baby, she should be able to as well. We shouldn't base our perception of what is good and natural on the actions and/or constraints on women who either can't or choose to not breastfeed. We should base on our perception on those who breastfeed and allow the formula-feeding moms to do the same as them.

Bridget said...

I like your "innocent until proven guilty" idea. Yes, let's assume the baby WON'T be a problem, that mom will take him/her out if necessary. Then if there IS a problem, address it. I like that!

Suzanne Bubnash said...

I agree with Cait: "There is absolutely no reason why you shouldn't be able to bring a nursing, non-mobile infant to a conference." You are conscientious enough to take Sterling out if he got noisy. On the other hand, the gal in charge would not have known that, so I can see her point. And she did not want to be inundated with other requests. I can just see moms of busy toddlers thinking their child is not a disruption. But again, a nursing non-mobile baby should be welcomed.

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails