How much science has influenced my upbringing I don’t know. I’ve never asked what kinds of parenting books my mother read to prepare for her two children or what articles she found most interesting in the newspaper. I’ve never even understood what she does as a lab technician at Staten Island University Hospital. In fact, when a student reporter from the Staten Island Advance asked me what a day in my mother’s life is like, I couldn’t answer. What I do know, is that she taped my “I’m not sure what my mother does” response to the bulletin board at work.
As a science journalist, my job is to ask people about the role science plays in their lives. I question their motives, their choices and ask what is exciting and beautiful about their research. When I’m interviewing, I’m speaking to Dr. Carter the surgeon or Ms. Dunwoody the sociologist – not the mother, the wife, or the daughter.
Has science influenced my mother as a mother? Perhaps, but when she was microwaving dinner or driving my brother and I to school, she wasn’t thinking as a lab tech. Would it have been nice to see more than one part of her identity? Yes. I think I would have appreciated the kind of person she was when drawing blood or looking at malformed cells under the microscope, but she often kept that part of herself hidden.
There were times when it did show, however, especially science projects. My mother helped me put together an excellent exhibition of sink and float, barometers and p.h. during my elementary school years. Then there were the offers to analyze her children’s urine samples rather than doing it at the doctor’s office, which I would have none of.
Over the years, my mother has also expressed her regret for not going further with her education. She wished she could have been a doctor, but didn’t think she was smart enough. A career change as a high school biology teacher has also crossed her mind. Instead, she stayed loyal to the Hospital lab, a thankless and underpaid job, working night and double shifts.
Could this have been different? Science is still a paternal field, and history bears a lot of the blame. There are about a dozen fathers of science, but not one mother. Maybe it’s time for historians to take another look and find those women who did make a difference. Why isn’t Rosalind Franklin, Watson & Crick’s partner in the discovery of DNA, the mother of molecular biology? I’m sure, if we reframed our lenses, we could make their contributions more prominent.
Happy Mother’s Day. And thank you Mom.