JM, the Bean, and I visited Philadelphia last week so that I could give a lecture at Temple's Center for the Humanities. Sue Wells, Eli Greenblatt, and Shannon Walters were such wonderful hosts. The usual food and conviviality were amped up on all sides.
But their hosting went beyond the usual. When they asked me to come give a talk, I was a little apprehensive, because I needed to bring JM and the baby with me, and we wanted to take the train, which adds further complications. But from the moment I mentioned these extra concerns, both Sue and Eli (the point people on the arrangements) helped make it not just possible but very easy to bring the Bean along. Sue very sweetly offered to borrow a car seat and meet us at the train station. Eli even arranged for a *babysitter* so that JM could join us all for dinner the night before the lecture.
As a bonus, Sue took me and the Bean for a fun trek through the "Anatomy Academy" exhibit at the PA Fine Arts Museum. How lucky am I to get a tour of medical sketches, paintings, and displays from the leading scholar of rhetoric and medical training in our field! We peered at 19th century surgical instruments while Bean dashed from a bench to an electrical outlet, running out any heebie jeebies from the train ride. Here she is at right in the museum proper, taking off after my favorite fox painting (visible in the background).
The next day, when Sue and I were heading up to the building before my lecture, I mentioned to her that it strikes me as decidedly feminist to be so supportive of my little entourage. I feel very fortunate to have had a string of hosts this year who have been exceedingly accommodating: the Chicago Humanities Festival offered to pay for an extra room for my mother-in-law, who came along to keep the Bean while I gave a talk one day and interviewed KAJ another; folks in the Comm department at Pitt booked a larger room to allow for her pack-n-play, and welcomed the Bean to their happy hour. Such hosting graciousness is, yes, a feminist act--it makes it possible for me to say yes to a handful of invitations.* Or as Sue put it in her friendly, blunt reply to my gratitude, "what, are we just going to not hear from you for seven or eight years?"
While we were driving around Philly the next day, she told me about how she took her 6 month old daughter to a conference in Italy, and when she and her friend asked one of the conference organizers if it would be all right to have the baby at a session as long as they promised to rush her right out of the room as soon as she made a peep, he responded in Italian (Sue translated for me): "The baby needs to be outside. Fresh air is good for it." We had a little laugh about this response.
And while the Italian conference organizer's attitude is still, twenty years later, remarkably commonplace, it is refreshing to have flexible, accommodating hosts, hosts who recognize not all scholars fit into a standard itinerary, hosts who embrace the difference.
*I would be remiss if I didn't mention the family members who have given so generously of their time to help make this year's travel schedule work as well: JM, JM's mom, my sister, and my mom.