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My maternal blind spots

One of the things you learn as you read and discuss theoretical thinking in graduate courses is that we all have substantial blind spots and that we tend to idealize some things and demonize others. Through the years, I’ve learned that I have a tendency to romanticize motherhood. This comes in part from having grown up in Venezuela, a country with vigorous ties to the Virgin Mary, who for us is half Catholic miracle, half indigenous fertility goddess and whose image and story pervade our culture and our real and metaphorical dreams. The other reason is my own mother, who for over four decades has brought love, stability, and staggering amounts of wisdom to her children and grandchildren’s lives, all while remaining professionally active as a programmer.

Now that I’m a working mother myself and have fellow mother friends, I realize how tricky it is to decide whether to stay at home with our children or to keep working, and how both options come with their share of regret, and, of course, happiness. I am lucky that academia gives me a flexible schedule that has allowed me to be present for my children even as I work long hours. Still there are days when I wonder if it’s okay that my boys have a working mother who sometimes misses their events and who goes away to conferences every year.

Kathleen McGinn from the Harvard Business School published a 2018 study in which she surveyed over 100,000 women and men in 29 countries and found that the children of working mothers grow up to be as happy as the children of stay-at-home mothers. She found that daughters of working mothers are more likely to work and to have supervisor roles. Although McGinn found that having working mothers doesn’t affect sons’ likelihood to work as it does with daughters, she learned they spend more time caring for their family members during their childhood and, when they grow up, have a much more egalitarian view of gender divisions at home. While I’m lucky to be sharing childcare with my husband, my mom spent five years raising me as a single, working mom. I am thankful for all the love and effort that went into those years and for the fact that she inspired me to be a working mother myself. I believe her influence will help make wonderful feminists out of her grandsons. I’m too idealistic about mothers, I know, but I’ve been surrounded by the types of mothers who make it hard to be cynical about the love they bring into the world.

We filmed one of our final scenes for The Weeping Season

This week we worked with my frequent collaborator and fellow MSU filmmaker, Pete Johnston, to film one of the closing scenes for The Weeping Season. My husband Nate and I filmed the opening scenes for the documentary in 2004 with a borrowed camcorder and no sense of what we’d find as we traveled to the depths of the Amazon in search for answers about my father’s disappearance. Over the last 15 years, we’ve grown in our understanding of my father’s life and vanishing, and in our sense of how to capture and tell a story through words and images. We hope to be able to share the film with audiences soon.

Unearthed Photo of the Month

At some point after my dad disappeared, my mom began working for Ana María, a Venezuelan woman who owns a jewelry store in Miami and with whom she still collaborates to this day. Almost every year in my childhood, Ana María would pay for my mom’s ticket to the US and have her stay in her home for a week. My mom would sit at the computer and program at the jewelry store during the day and have dinner with Ana María and her family at night. She’d find breaks to go shopping and return with suitcases full of fashionable clothes and some beloved childhood treasures. My favorites were a Barbie whose dress had stars that glowed in the dark and a hand-painted parasol with my name written on it in ornate pastel lettering. I would stay with my grandmother, my aunts, or with friends while she was gone, finding myself distracted by the new surroundings, enjoying the rare childhood treat of getting a long-term inside look at someone else’s life—their routines, their rhythms, their family quirks. As the week wore on, I’d blend in enough to see the way their lives unfolded when not having to entertain outsiders. And yet, the day before my mom arrived, I invariably missed her with earth-shattering intensity. Of course I was curious about the gifts she’d ceremoniously take out of her suitcase in our living room, but above all else, I wanted her near me, my mom lifting me in her arms, listening to my stories and telling me her own. I was ready to go home and to return to our own rhythms and quirks, to the world we’d woven together that defines every world I’ve woven with others ever since.

My podcast interview discussing filmmaking and academia

I had the honor of having a fantastic conversation with Chris Long, the Dean of my college, in the Liberal Arts Endeavor Podcast titled “Alexandra Hidalgo – The Art of Storytelling Through Film.” Check out our discussion on the role stories can play in academic work, film, and ways in which we can engage with each other.

My film Teta screens in Brazil

My short documentary Teta: a nursing mother tells her story screened in Belo Horizonte, Brazil this week at the Coletiva Malva’s Mostra de Cine Feminista as part of their screening on contemporary motherhood. It is the film’s 23rd film festival screening and its first in Brazil.

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