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Lyxi y su mamá: Confrontando desafíos de academic mothering con el apoyo de la familia

Ser madre es una de mis bendiciones más preciadas. Mi corazón se llenó de amor, admiración, y agradecimiento al ver la carita tierna y ojitos radiantes de color café obscuro de mi preciosa hija, Alyxia. Lyxi, como le decimos de cariño, was born at the beginning of my third year on the tenure-track, four weeks into the Fall 2015 semester, and amid the establishment of a new university, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). My husband, Javi, and I were hesitant to become parents for different reasons; I was mainly concerned because I received messages from former professors and colleagues who warned me against the challenges of writing and publishing while also caring for a child. Mi deseo de ser madre fue mas grande que cualquier desafío. When I found out we were having a baby, I was ecstatic, but it was also the moment my fears emerged: Will my baby be healthy? How will I grow professionally while being a mother?

Lyxi and UTRGV letters

Lyxi’s birth arrived over two weeks early. One week after her birth, I received feedback from journal editors on a manuscript; I recall working on revisions with my newborn baby by my side. I wrote the manuscript throughout the spring and summer months while pregnant, so I dedicated it to Lyxi. She has been on many academic adventures with me—and I am fortunate and grateful to have el apoyo de mi familia who have helped to make this happen. I recognize my privilege in becoming a mother after earning a Ph.D. and securing a job, privilegios que mis padres no tuvieron como gente trabajadora que hicieron todo lo posible, con mucho esmero, para que yo estudiara. I also recognize there are other emotional challenges that women in academia rarely share. For instance, the semester after Lyxi was born, I felt pressure to “make up” and “catch-up” on academic achievements.

The first time I left Lyxi to attend a two-day professional development workshop on resiliency was heartbreaking. She was three months old. My husband’s Tía Amy cared for her as both Javi and I attended the workshops. I checked on her during every break, and Tía Amy also sent pictures. During the training I wondered how I could become resilient enough to feel at peace as an academic mother? I knew I needed to draw on el apoyo de mi familia. When I was invited as keynote speaker at an English as Second Language Parent Symposium in San Antonio, Texas, Lyxi was six-months old. She had developed an ear infection and she was on antibiotics. Mi Tía Rosa drove to San Antonio with us to help me and also visit her daughter. Mi Tía Rosa and prima Linda were both so gracious in caring for Lyxi. The following day and evening, Lyxi became very sick with the stomach flu. As I sat in the bathroom giving her a bath with my little cousins by my side, I was overcome with sadness that I put her through this. I should’ve cancelled my keynote event, I thought. Pero, una de las primeras veces que mencioné a Lyxi en un discurso fue cuando le dije a los padres: “Yo le leo a mi bebe libros en español y en ingles todas las noches y ella fascinada con los libros! Aquí esta ella con un pequeño librito sobre los colibríes. Nuestros hogares deben de reflejar el amor hacia la lectura, escritura, y el aprendizaje.” Deep down in my heart, I knew I had the right intentions traveling with her to deliver this address.

When I presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication 2016 in Houston, Texas, mi Tía Martha, que en paz descanse, helped me care for Lyxi. While I felt guilty for putting both of them through a six-hour car ride, I was also so grateful for my Tía as it was one of the last moments I got to spend time with her. Para mi Tía, el ayudarme as an academic mother was a joyful experience that she bragged about to her amigas en México. That same year, I presented at the International Writing across the Curriculum conference. Mi mami decidió usar días de su semana de vacaciones para poder ayudarme. Mi mami es mi gran ejemplo de vida—ella es honesta y trabajadora y ha podido destacarse como madre trabajadora. Ahora pienso que yo también lo puedo lograr, pero en ese momento, I felt it was too much balancing my life as a mother and professional and I felt selfish for bringing Lyxi and Mami on this trip.

With the start of the new 2016 academic year, I was committed to being both a good mother and successful academic. I was nominated for the Regents Outstanding Teaching Award (ROTA) and the UTRGV Excellence Award in Teaching by one of my colleagues. While the application was rigorous for both awards, I was committed to completing them por mi hija. If I were to receive these prestigious recognitions, Lyxi would know que como mujeres podemos lograr lo que nos propongamos. After rocking her to sleep each evening, I wrote well past midnight. While these awards represent my commitment to teaching, they also represent mothering as an academic. Lyxi’s presence is in everything I do. In my interviews for the 2017 UTRGV Teaching Excellence Award and ROTA award, I mentioned how my views toward teaching shifted with her presence as I realized that the way I teach my students will ultimately impact my little girl and future generations. My husband’s Tía Luti, who graciously drove to Austin from San Antonino, helped us care for Lyxi as we attended the awards ceremony. When she shared with me that Lyxi asked for her mami every time she saw a book, I realized I have instilled in her a love of reading. Soy un ejemplo a seguir para mi niña. Una madre trabajadora como mi mama que a creado un camino hacia la excelencia para mi y que bendición poder hacer lo mismo para mi niña.

Javi has traveled with me to two academic conferences: the Conference on Community Writing 2017 and the Conference on College Composition and Communication 2019, most recently. I have felt at ease because Lyxi is with her Daddy and she also explores new environments—nature, mountains, rivers, bridges, parks, and museums. On the last day of the Conference on Community Writing, I felt guilty as my mother-in-law experienced health complications, and I felt it was my fault that Javi wasn’t there to care of his mother. I questioned the worth of my academic pursuits. When I attended the final event at the conference, which was a performance by the Playback Theater West, I was inspired to share my academic motherhood feelings. The segment was about capturing contradictory emptions. I shared challenges in navigating motherhood as an academic; I was in tears as I shared mis emociones. The actors played back my feelings, and as they claim on their website, they captured “the heart and essence” of my professional life: they said I was “leading by example,” used the Spanish word, “mi’ja,” illustrated the craziness of being a mother, and reproduced a beautiful moment of embrace between mother and daughter. Unbeknown to the actors, this moment of embrace was a recreation from the evening before after dinner. Lyxi was acting up. A bit frustrated, I stepped out of the restaurant, so Javi and my students could finish their dinner. As Lyxi and I sat on a sidewalk in downtown Denver, she gave me the sweetest kisses and hugs and rubbed my cheek. She just wanted to feel close to her mami—a special moment of academic mothering.

When I am at work, I look forward to picking up Lyxi from her escuelita. I know I miss learning moments when I am not with her, but, one day mami asked her, “¿Quien te enseño a hablar íngles y español? ¿Como sabes tanto, Lyxi?” She responded proudly with a grin: “Mami.” Que lindo que me considere su maestra. I treasure each moment I have with her even when those moments are filled with tantrums, lack of patience, regaños, and tears. I push against dominant narratives that say como mujeres no lo podemos tener todo—no podemos ser profesionistas y buenas madres. I don’t see it as wanting to have or be everything. Mi familia y mi trabajo y mis lenguajes existen y deben de existir en sincronía y no en oposición. As academic mothers, we should use our voices to carve our own spaces of lived experiences where familia and academia transcend boundaries. Spaces where all mothering experiences are valued and respected and spaces where our familia and academia coexist with the support of all the people in our lives who we trust. I see academic mothering as a way of life I want Lyxi to know and value; my only hope and dream is that she grows up to become a strong, independent, and compassionate ser humano.

Image of author, Alyssa G. Cavazos, and her daughter.

Alyssa G. Cavazos is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Writing and Language Studies at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). Alyssa emigrated with her parents from El Barranquito, un pequeño ranchito near Monterrey, Nuevo, León, to San Martin, California when she was eight years old. The challenges learning English as a second language and adjusting to foreign learning environments formed her commitment to valuing students’ diverse linguistic resources in their writing. Her research interests include: translingual writing, multilingualism across communities, linguistically inclusive teaching strategies, and Latinx writers in higher education. Her work strives to investigate the strengths and assets of multilingual writers and how educators can create inclusive and equitable spaces of learning for all students. She thrives when learning from and with her students, and she loves spending time with her family, especially with her hija Alyxia.

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