Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Presenting at a Conference with Your Baby: It Takes a Village and Realistic Expectations

I meant to put up this post months ago, but completely got side-tracked by excessive need to chat about anything other than what I mean to talk about.

One of my first posts when I re-started blogging was about how difficult I found it to travel with my family because it was hard to let them act as childcare, because they were doing me a favor. Well, I realized that this desire to minimize the help I received was not leading me to accomplish any of my goals and I began to be more vocal about what I needed and expected if someone was so kind as to offer me their time.

I had a paper accepted at an international conference. A big one. The paper presentation was in October, when Z was not even 2 months old. I needed to take her with me. I needed to give the paper. I needed to see some of the other papers/attend some meals/do some schmoozing. I needed help.

My dad offered right away. I didn't think it was going to work out. My dad likes to attend the conferences. He would want to hear the papers. If left with a 2 month old, he would not be able to join in the fun (and, yes, to us, this is fun). However, after considering hiring a local sitter to watch the baby and seeing if my sister was available, I decided to go with my Dad, because he was willing and could pay for his own flight.

I now feel bad because he did excellently, although I do think that this trip was such a success because I both stated my objectives and what I expected of him as my child's caregiver, but, also, I lowered my expectations about what was truly possible. Also, most of the historians I hung out with were women - many medievalists are women - and, even though I'm sure some will be surprised as they are all ardent feminists, they LOVE babies. The only person there who tolerates babies is my adviser and I knew this going in. My adviser, however, is completely realistic ABOUT babies. She is the oldest of a large family and knows what they demand.

What I'm saying is: you want people to remember you and you are a medievalist? Bring your baby to a conference. Everyone loved her, cooed over how well-behaved she was (she's an infant, she sleeps), and were also so impressed with my Dad, who basically followed me to a foreign country, so I could give a paper.

Here's what I told my Dad: I would leave him with the baby for only two hours at a time and then I would switch with him. He would not be able to bring the baby to my paper. No matter what, he needed to watch the baby while I gave my paper.

Here were my hopes: Attend at least one panel a day. Attend one conference gathering around evening. Go to the "big" conference lunch. Go to dinner with adviser and fellow panelists. Give paper.

Here were my expectations: Give paper.

Honestly, I went into this weekend with the belief that if I just could give the paper all would be well. I embraced Dr. Sear's mantra that even if Z cried for the 90 minute panel, she would be crying in loving arms. Luckily, it wasn't an issue.

I left Z with my dad for two panels on two different days as well as my own panel. I brought her with me to the lunch, to the evening gathering, and to the last panel of the conference. She started the dinner with my adviser hanging out with my Dad, but ended up joining us, screaming in the restaurant on my shoulder for 5 minutes, and passing out. She hung out in a bar with me and some other attendees. For some of this, my dad hovered outside, just in case. For some of it, I let him wander off.

Ultimately, it was a success, because after traveling with Q and trying to figure out what to do and how to handle everything, I decided that I wasn't going to handle everything. If I brought Z somewhere and she became upset, we'd leave. It was life. She was a newborn. Everyone would and did understand. All I wanted to do was give my paper and I did that and more. I had a great weekend. Z loves her PawPaw. As of right now, it is my favorite conference, which I have attended ever.

Also, it's always cool to bring your baby into a bar. Z is so hardcore.

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